Foster carers look after children of all ages, from babies to 21 year olds, whose family is experiencing problems. This is often as a result of drug/alcohol dependency, mental health issues, relationship breakdown or violence. In other cases, care is provided for parents who need a break from the pressures of looking after a child who has special needs.
Some children will need care for only a few days or weeks, others will need months and some will need all of their childhood. Some will be adopted and become part of their new family for life.
All children need individual care and stability in a family. They need guidance, advice and lots of reassurance. And they need help to understand what’s happened to them and to be confident about the future. As a carer, this is what you would do.
Some of the tasks and responsibilities involved in working with children:
Ensure the safety of the child
The safety and well-being of children is always of utmost importance. You need to be alert to all kinds of risks to which children can be exposed. Thought needs to be given into ways in which the child can be protected and, as far as possible, learn to safeguard themselves against unnecessary risks. This may be particularly significant if a child has experienced abuse in the past. There is a strong emphasis on safe care practice throughout your training, which you’re expected to understand and practice, and this training is followed up through ongoing support by your liaison social worker.
Work in partnership with social workers
We ensure that every child who is looked after has a social worker who will visit you and the child, as well as work with the child’s family. You need to keep the social worker up-to-date with the child’s progress, to keep records, and sometimes to prepare reports for meetings to discuss the future plans for the child. Likewise, the social worker is a key person who will work in partnership with you. You can expect the social worker to keep you up to date with significant developments in the child’s family, to advise you of any changes that need to be made to the plans, visiting arrangements, and any special needs the child has.
Help children make the most of their education
The child’s education can become disrupted due to the changes that have occurred. You should encourage school attendance and achievement, extra curricular learning experiences, and support the child with their homework. This may involve a lot of contact with schools and other agencies.
Promote the physical and mental health of children
Good diet, regular dental checks, and plenty of exercise are part of the general well-being of the child that carers need to promote. In addition, the emotional health of the child is aided by you spending time listening to their concerns supportively, and reassuring them when they are anxious. Children who are looked after may have many fears about what will happen to them and their families, and you have an important role in helping the child talk about these feelings.
Keep information confidential
Confidentiality of information about the child and the child’s family is also very important. It protects the child and the child’s family and it helps build trust. There may be times when that confidentiality has to be broken – for example, to protect the child from risk – and it is crucial that you learn what to say, when, and to whom. Training for this is provided.
Involve the whole family
When you care for a child, your own family is involved automatically. This has an impact on your family and can put pressure on relationships in the home, especially if your own children feel they are losing out. Training and support is provided to ensure that the impact is manageable for your and your family.
Comfort and reassure
Children who are looked after will need to be comforted and reassured that their family members still care about them even though they are not currently looking after them. At times, distress and anxiety can lead the child to behave in difficult ways. You play a key role in helping children understand what is happening in their lives, and support them in finding ways to cope positively with their situation.
Acknowledge and respect heritage
In the same way that all carers have a specific cultural, religious and ethnic background, so too does the child. You need to ensure that the culture of the child is treated with respect, that their cultural traditions are recognised and encouraged, and that there are opportunities for children (as much as possible) to participate in their usual cultural and religious activities whilst they are living with carers.
Welcome and encourage family contact and visits
Parents often feel very vulnerable, deskilled and guilty when their child is looked after by someone else. You play a key role in helping parents recognise how important they remain to their children. You can encourage contact between the child and his or her family by welcoming family visits, where appropriate, in your home. You help the family keep in touch with the child in many ways, such as telephone conversations, sending cards and photos. You are a vital link in giving the family information about the well-being and progress of their child, whether in terms of physical development or educational attainment.
Read more about the steps to becoming a carer >