There are many reasons why a child or young person can’t live with their birth families. When this is the case, fostering is just one care option. In the UK, around 80% of children in care live with foster families but what is fostering?
As of 31 March 2017, there were 72,670 looked after children in England, an increase of over 2,000 since the year before. That means for every 10,000 children in England, 60 live with foster families.
Foster families provide a fostered child with the stability, security and nurture that every child needs to grow and develop.
For many of these children, being part of a foster family is their first experience of a positive family life.
Why children enter the care system
There are many different reasons why children enter the care system. Not being able to live with their birth parents or extended family can be because they have been subjected to abuse and/or neglect, two of the most common reasons why children are removed from their families.
A dysfunctional family setting is also a common reason why children need to live with a family other than their own. Domestic violence, drug and alcohol misuse are also reasons why a child may not be safe living with their birth families.
There are other reasons too. For example, a child may live for a short time with a foster family while they parents recover from an illness or as respite because their parent is disabled.
The shape of modern fostering
Fostering is not a new or modern concept. It was common practice throughout the centuries that when a family couldn’t care for a child, someone else did. It may have been a relative, or it may have been someone outside of the family.
Without boundaries or backed by laws, some fostered children were subjected to abuse and neglect away from their birth families.
Over time, the state did become involved, and now, fostering is a profession with foster carers offering specialist fostering placements.
Fostering has to meet a whole range of needs but always at the centre of the process is the child and their wishes;
- Location – wherever possible, children are fostered as close to their birth families as possible. With support and help, some birth parents are able to parent their children and close contact is essential. But there are times when this is not desirable, and children may be fostered ‘out of county’.
- Important links – it is important that a foster child maintains links to their birth families, whether that is seeing grandparents or staying in close touch with their siblings, or letters to their parents.
- Breaking the cycle – in some instances, the input from foster carers can ‘break the cycle’ of abuse and poor parenting, staying in touch with foster children when they are adults.
What could you offer as a foster carer?
Fostering doesn’t come in a one size fits all solution. Children who are vulnerable have complex and different needs, and this is why foster placements vary.
Short term foster placements, for example, can be anything from a few days to years, common when a child is waiting for adoption.
It may be decided that a child needs or wants to stay in long-term foster care. Some children can stay with their foster families to adulthood and beyond.
Emergency and respite care are two other forms of foster care that are needed, as are foster carers who can look after disabled children and young people.
There are also specialist foster carers who work with young parents and their babies to help, support and guide them to become better parents.
And all of this is done by foster carers looking after children and young people in their own homes, providing them with a safe and nurturing environment.
There are few barriers and exclusions to people becoming foster carers – why not contact Fostering People to find out more?