I came across Simply Fostering last week on Twitter. I had always assumed that foster carers had to be under a certain age but in fact over 50’s are now recognised as some of the most skilled childcare workers in the UK. Annette Webb of Simply Fostering got in touch to explain further. Here is what she told me.
Over 50’s foster carers or ‘empty nesters’ are now seen and recognised as some of the most skilled childcare workers in the UK. This is because of the childcare experiences they have gained over the years. They have often dealt with and coped with numerous difficulties and challenges. The over 50’s still have plenty to offer in caring for vulnerable children, including stability, energy, commitment and in our experience plenty of time on their hands to use when working with vulnerable children and young people.
Their own children have left home or are soon to be leaving home, leaving a void in their once busy lives. In fact, numerous over 50’s foster carers have actually said to Simply Fostering that they are bored without having children around the home and would like to do a worthwhile job.
Some Fostering Agencies and Local Authorities are actively seeking to recruit foster carers who are over 50, as they generally don’t have younger children living at home, they are financially secure and they have comfortable and stable family lives from which foster children can benefit.
At any one time there are approximately 80,000 children in care in the UK. It is generally accepted that there is a shortfall of 10,000 new foster carers every year which compounds the growing problem of foster children being separated from their brothers and sisters, having to live a long way from their family and friends and being denied placement stability which impacts on their education, self esteem and as a consequence causes further disruption in children’s lives.
Along with placement breakdowns, one of the potential outcomes of the lack of placement choice are the 50% of care-leavers who do not enter education, employment or training and end up drifting. Very significant proportions are leaving care on their 16 birthday through their own choice, with very few options available to them.
The more people approved as foster carers, the more likely it is that a good match can be found for a child in terms of location, culture, lifestyle, language and interests. More foster carers means reducing the damage that instability causes to the most vulnerable children in our society.
A published research document produced by Professor Bob Broad of London South Bank University analyses the views and experiences of children and foster carers as part of a ten year longitudinal study.
Professor Broad says: ‘It is especially important that children in foster care feel valued within a safe, stable, loving family situation. Their health and well-being are connected to their participation in family life, and decisions about their foster placement’.
This research study evidences the high value children in foster care place on their current foster carer whilst also wanting further contact with their birth family. The study points to the positive yet often difficult journeys they make as they seek to sustain friendships, achieve a good education, and in some cases, improve their mental health and behaviour.
Simply Fostering is a response to the shortfall of foster carers. It is a unique, not for profit web based service designed by fostering social workers to encourage interested people to apply to become foster carers who might feel confused and/or uncertain about their suitability or which Agency to contact.
Simply Fostering help by providing easy to understand, impartial, comprehensive information about fostering and how to become a foster carer. General enquiries are answered and if the enquirer completes the registration form, recruiting fostering agencies are identified who will then contact the enquirers.
Simply Fostering is not an Agency therefore the free service is able to provide people with choices to find the right Agency for them and their family as recommended by government and Fostering Network.
Whilst almost anyone can apply to be a foster carer, people need to have or to be able to demonstrate potential parenting skills which are adaptable to the fostering role. Foster carers are optimistic, good listeners, flexible and with a good sense of humour, which also helps.
In our experience one of the most difficult issues for people has been discussing finance. Looking after children and receiving a fee is a difficult concept at first and many foster carers have told Simply Fostering that they found it embarrassing to talk about payments.
Times have changed and fostering is no longer seen as a voluntary service. In order to recruit and retain foster carers it is now accepted that foster carers need to be financially rewarded as are any other workers in social care. Local Authorities and Independent Fostering Agencies provide fees and allowances to enable foster carers to care for children and young people on a full-time basis. Foster carers are now paid allowances of between £350-420 tax free, per week, per child.
Many people are choosing fostering as a career choice and committing to fostering on a full time basis. Generally, the more available you are the more placements you will be offered.
Anyone interested in fostering and becoming a foster carer should go to www.simplyfostering.co.uk where all information, practical support and choice is just a registration form away or contact Annette Webb at firstname.lastname@example.org