Fostercare Fortnight May 12 - May 25
With May playing host to Fostercare Fortnight, ni4kids takes a look at the situation here in Northern Ireland. Twenty-four-hour support, ongoing training and the opportunity to gain new qualifications are making it a more attractive alternative to working outside the home.
It’s a sobering thought that almost 192 more carers are needed next year in Northern Ireland. That’s almost 200 children who are being denied the right to live in a secure, safe family home.
Paul McConville, assistant director of children’s services at children’s charity NCH, points out the difference it’s possible to make to a child simply by being a foster carer:
“Fostering maintains a family home environment. It gives the child a family experience – consistency, role models, routines - rather than the high staff turn-over which can take place in residential care”, he says.
“Research has found that children who don’t get a place in a foster home experience a lot of disruption. They’re more likely to be suspended or excluded from school and be brought to the attention of the police. The small family environment is much better for the majority of children.”
The NCH offers advice to those who are considering becoming a foster carer, as well as ongoing support for people who are already carers.
“We provide general training, in addition to specific courses for people fostering children with illnesses or who have suffered abuse. A dedicated support worker remains in contact with the family. We encourage everyone to avail of peer support groups,” David says.
A payment for skills initiative is being launched by the Northern Ireland Trusts for those involved in fostering. Helen McCrindle, senior practitioner in Carrickfergus family placement team, explains that there is a drive to make fostering an attractive career option. Like any career, updating skills and learning new skills is important: those who take part in fostering can gain new qualifications.
The NVQ Level 3 in Caring for Children and Young People looks at promoting children’s development through the observation and assessment of children and young people, as well as planning to promote development. Those who take the course also learn how to maintain a safe and secure environment for children: the module in health and safety is particularly relevant for those fostering younger children. Developing and promoting positive relationships and identifying appropriate play spaces for children are also covered.
Those who wish to take an online course leading to a BTEC qualification also have the option of doing so.
In addition to gaining new skills, those who progress to the top tier of education can earn £18,000. Again, Helen points out, fostering is becoming more like a career in that those with the highest relevant qualifications can earn more. The initiative helps to make staying in the home a more attractive, viable career choice.
So, who’s eligible to foster? Just about anyone is the short answer. People who are married, single, co-habiting, those who rent a house, own their own home: no body is excluded.
Helen says that the Northern Ireland Trusts welcome anyone: “We love to hear from people from every background. We run a police check and they undergo a medical examination from their own GP. Because we’re also looking for foster carers who are prepared to provide respite care, and short-term care, people who have a condition that may prevent them from committing to full-time care won’t be excluded. We’re very open to everyone coming forward.”
Kindercare Fostering is an independent fostering agency. It works in partnership with local authorities, trusts and agencies to find the right family for children and young people – many of whom the authorities have found it difficult to place. Julie Rainey explains that the service is designed to compliment and support existing statutory provision, not replace it.
Of course, there are many people who are interested in fostering, but feel that they just don’t have to time to commit to looking after a youngster fulltime. For those in this situation, the organisations that help place children with families have come up with a solution.
Julie says: “The Kindercare service includes short or long term fostering, bridging and respite care, parent and baby placements, sibling group placements and emergency placements. We also provide outreach services to trusts, including escorting for contact, supervision for contact and contact facilities.
“Our carers come from a wide range of religious, cultural and economic backgrounds, and can often offer specialist provision.”
Age is no barrier to fostering. From individuals in their 20s to those who have retired, the fostering organisations are keen to hear from people of all ages. Everyone has something different to give: while a younger person may have boundless energy and enthusiasm, an older person has the benefit of invaluable life experience.
In fact, the Northern Ireland Trusts are keen to point out that it’s often experience that makes for a better foster parent. “People are often worried that because they haven’t had a perfect life, they won’t make good fosterers,” Helen McCrindle says. “In my opinion, if you’ve had a perfect life, that means you mightn’t have learnt to roll with the punches. People who’ve had to overcome difficulties are more able to understand the children’s issues and concerns.”
NCH foster carer Margaret says: “Challenges in your own life are a bonus – you might not think you are strong enough but you are. NCH’s training and assessment are excellent and will prepare you.”
One question commonly asked of those in foster placement organisations is which qualities does a foster carer need? Apart from a genuine concern for the well-being of children, there’s no definitive list. It can be a useful exercise to look at yourself, and make a list of all your strengths and skills. Are you intuitive? That could help you ‘read’ a child who may not be forthcoming about any concerns or worries. Are you a good listener? You could listen to the child and communicate their thoughts to their social worker. It’s all about looking at what you can offer someone else.
Paul McConville from NCH points out that the foster child also enriches the family home. “The sense that you’re making a real, positive contribution to a child’s life is one that adds to the cohesion of the family unit.”