We also spent a year gaining invaluable experience of being around children who weren’t related to us. We became Cub Scout Leaders at our local hut, and suddenly had seventeen pairs of eyes looking to us for guidance. It was a fantastic experience, and we now feel we have many tools and activities up our sleeves to keep most children engaged. It was also great doing this as a couple because we were able to see how we both interacted with young people, and could later talk about what we’d done well and what we needed to work on.
With our nest properly feathered and a couple of Scout badges under our belt, it was time to reach out to some fostering agencies. We started by reading the ‘Fostering in England’ Report. This told us about the industry we were planning to move into, because, as we kept reading, “foster carers are professionals”. This gave us a balanced view of the reality of looking after children in care, and of working with other professionals. It also offered an unbiased look at fostering via a Local Authority (LA) and via an Independent Fostering Agency (IFA).
We reached out to a couple of IFAs for a quick chat. Some didn’t respond at all, which we had come to expect after reading the ‘Fostering in England’ report. That made our decision easier. They were struck off our list. It’s clear that some agencies still have some work to do in following up potential leads.
In the end we chose an agency that was warm, communicative and had positive reviews online.
The day the agency came to see us I was nervously pacing the floor, fluffing the cushions and checking the window every two minutes. Thankfully, my husband was as cool as a cucumber. He always is; one of his defining attributes. They came to look at our home and spent around three hours having a chat and getting to know us.
They left and we looked at each other. This was it! We’d officially started the assessment process to becoming foster carers.
Many people are surprised when they hear how in-depth the assessment process is. Some are shocked that applicants have to “jump through hoops” when clearly we would make amazing parents. But the thing is, our friends and family have known us for years or for our whole lives. Social workers haven’t. On one hand they have children who have already experienced varying levels of trauma. On the other, they have people eager to make a difference. They’ve got to make sure that applicants are mentally prepared to deal with the challenges that can come with looking after children in care.
We went into our assessment period feeling positive and I have to say, came out of it even more enthused. We haven’t found it ‘intrusive’. That’s not the word we would use. It’s been rigorous and no stone has been left unturned. It does feel a little odd that our social worker knows everything about us, but we know next to nothing about her. However, she built rapport with us quickly and put us at ease from the first conversation. This was just as well, because another 30 hours of conversations would await us.
Oh I forgot to mention… We’ve never actually met our social worker. You see, the whole world went into lockdown.
We were able to get a couple of face-to-face workshops in; the first two days of our Skills to Foster course. Our third day had to be postponed because the UK experienced severe flooding and many people were evacuated from their homes. I’d almost forgotten about that. It was then eventually cancelled because everyone had to ‘stay at home, save lives and protect the NHS’.
There’s a level of anxiety that is normal when anyone goes through an assessment process. Now add to this mass unemployment and the very real risk of people you love contracting the virus and dying, and you start to place things into perspective. In a way, it helped with our process. We took a more relaxed approach to it all, and basically went with the flow. Just as we had to do with every other aspect of our lives. To gain control, we had to give it up.
There were initial worries about our jobs. Would we still have one? How would this impact our plans to foster? Fortunately, they were quickly put to rest as we were both informed we were ‘key workers’. We’ve been busy working throughout lockdown and will continue to do so. Once we are approved, my husband will become the primary foster carer leaving his job to do this full-time. That will be an interesting time, as not only may we have children, but we’ll both see more of each other as I work from home. I’m sure he‘ll have gourmet lunches prepared every day for me… at least until the first of many meetings are booked in. He’s actually an amazing chef, so I’m very lucky in that respect.
Would our social worker really get a feel for who we are if she can’t meet us? That was our next concern. This is where we can be thankful for video conferencing technology! We had many face-to-face conversations, although every so often one of us would freezeframe on screen…usually me! Not so great when your lockdown hair looks out of control.
We recorded a video tour of our home, inspired by many of the ones you find online. This was well received and we hear it has been showcased across the agency as a good example of how to adapt to a more digital way of working. We put together a trailer, and then two individual videos of our cats. I mean, who doesn’t love cat videos? They went down a treat!
With lockdown suddenly in place, very little to do and nowhere to go, we’ve had a good three months to expand our reading on trauma in children and therapeutic parenting. This has been invaluable. Books from authors such as Sarah Naish, Sarah Dillon, Dr Amber Elliott, Kim Golding and Betsy de Thierry come with my fullest recommendation. We feel like we have a good understanding of trauma, how they can manifest certain behaviors in children and we feel like we have a toolkit of parenting strategies. Of course, we may very well forget them all when we are in the midst of a challenging situation. However, it’s good to know we have them to refer to and once we’ve put into practice what they suggest, I’m sure those strategies will become second nature for us.
As I wrap up this article, our social worker is writing up our ‘Form F’. We feel like it’s the big red book from the old TV show ‘This is your life’. It will be presented to the panel members before we meet with them (which may be face-to face or digitally) and it will help them get to know us.
If you’re thinking of becoming a foster carer and have space in your home and a place in your heart to look after a young person, then definitely do some research and give your LA or a couple of IFAs a call. Start reading some of the authors I’ve suggested so you can find out about some of the challenges these young people have faced, and how you might respond. Absolutely read the latest ‘Fostering in England’ report to take an honest look at the industry you’d be stepping into. As a ‘corporate parent’ there’s responsibilities and a lot of teamwork involved, which is great as it means the young people you look after will have a good chance of getting the support they need. That being said, be ready to put your diplomatic hat on because teamwork usually means compromise.
If you’re already a foster carer, then again I recommend the authors. It would also be great if you could share your own stories. It will be really interesting to read about them.
One last thought… I’ve just realized I didn’t mention that we are a gay male couple. I guess that’s a good indicator of how important a role it plays when applying to become a foster carer. I was recently asked if we’d faced any discrimination for wanting to foster, either from our agency or anyone else. I’m glad to report that we haven’t. In fact, it’s been a ‘non-issue’. What’s important is that you are able to provide a loving and supporting home, which is exactly the way it should be.