Words: Sali Walker
The decision to foster is a very important one for every family, whether that family is one person, or a couple with children, the process to make that decision is the same. You need to be confident that the agency you select is going to be the right one for you.
The things you may want to consider are:
1) Size matters!
Some people will want to join a large agency that is well established nationally and all the systems and processes are embedded.
Some people might prefer a smaller agency, where they feel they know everyone who works for the agency, and although it may not be 100% perfect, the agency is more likely to have a ‘family feel’.
2) Who owns the company?
For some foster carers it might not matter too much who owns the company they are working with.
Some fostering agencies, which is often a surprise to potential foster carers, are owned by venture capitalists. This can often mean that their main incentive is financial. Within these agencies, some foster carers have felt under pressure to take on children that were not entirely appropriate for their families, because there was pressure from the agency, who didn’t want to have vacant beds, which would be losing them money – sad but true.
Some agencies are value driven, rather than finance driven. They will have a different approach to placing potential foster children with you, and will take time to carefully match your family’s requirements with the child you take.
You might have a home with young children, or you may feel if you’re just starting out, that you want to know support is there when you need it.
One of the key questions to ask here is, what types of children does the agency place? Some agencies will cover a full range of young people, while others will specialise in, for example, siblings, parent and child fostering, or children with disabilities.
Your agency should share the referral details of a young person who might be placed with you. There should also be a pre-placement meeting, between the child’s social worker, the agency social worker and the foster carer – the child’s school, any behavioural issues and any support they might need should be discussed. When a child is placed in your home, it should be a positive experience for both you and the young person involved.
Any agency should be able to provide you with (or you should be able to find some online) testimonials from existing carers about how effective the agency is and how supported the carers feel. Also, when choosing an agency, ask to speak to a foster carer that has not only fostered for them, but who has also fostered for another agency. The reason for this, is that if you’ve only fostered for one agency, you have only had one experience, and you don’t know what you don’t know. You should be able to find testimonials on the agency’s website, Trustpilot or Google.
Don’t feel embarrassed to ask about payments! Most agencies will pay you a fostering allowance around the needs of the child. The more complex the child’s needs, the higher the fee. The fostering allowance is tax free to a set amount and all the information you need can be located on The Fostering Network.
6) Geographical Areas
Some fostering agencies only operate in one area. Some operate nationally. You need to think about what is going to be important for you and your surrounding support. Some agencies have very active foster carers who support one another. They offer regular training and offer events in the holidays and they have a peer support mentoring team – where new carers receive added support from other people in the same situation. It’s important that foster carers are involved in shaping the direction of the agency they work for.
Another good question to ask is how many fostering households the social workers are supporting? The higher the number of families social workers are supporting, the less support you are likely to receive. Lower numbers mean that the social workers can develop positive relationships with foster carers and children and react quickly if there is a problem.
Whatever you decide, if you feel after a while that you did not make the right decision – all is not lost. As a foster carer you are self employed and have a right to transfer to another agency or the local authority. Your current agency should make this as easy as possible and there are good practice guidelines produced by The Fostering Network.