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Can I foster if I have birth children?

Fostering alongside birth children – what do I need to know?

Fostering is something that is often considered by people once their children have left home. Or by people who have not had children of their own. Increasingly we’re getting questions from people wanting to foster who have birth children living in the home. This month sees the Fostering Network celebrate Sons and Daughters Month. This marks the contribution children make to fostering. Therefore, we thought it was the perfect time to address the subject.

What should you consider if you want to foster alongside your own children?
  • Involve your children in your discussions, fact finding and in the application and assessment. Eastern Fostering Services have many carers who have their own children still living at home. We go to great lengths to ensure that children feel ownership of the decision to foster.
  • Make sure your fostering provider has the capacity and desire to support children of fostering families. Our supervising social workers support the children of our carers. They spend time with them, listening to their feelings and opinions and supporting them alongside the carers.
  • Matching is always important. However, it is made even more so where carers are fostering alongside their own children. Speak to your fostering provider about how they will ensure the well-being of your children when it comes to placing with you.
  • Ask your fostering provider if they can or do provide training or pastoral care for children of fostering families.
What are the advantages of fostering alongside your children?
  • Birth (or adopted) children can play a vital role in modelling how things work in your family. It can be difficult for a fostered child to come into a new family and try to suss out what the rules and dynamics are, how you treat one another and what is and is not acceptable within the family. Children model this and can really help others to settle in to family life.
  • Looked after children are often under a high degree of scrutiny which can be hard to handle. Having other children in the household dilutes this scrutiny and can help to normalise things.
  • Foster carers can learn a lot from their children. Generally, children are great at meeting people where they are at. They don’t overanalyse and can often help diffuse tricky situations. They are often able to form good relationships with fostered children as they are unthreatening (where matching has been well thought out).
  • Fostering encourages children to look outside of themselves and helps them to develop empathy and insight. In successful fostering, brought about by good matching, children build resilience and can gain great value from the fostering experience.
  • Many of our Sons and Daughters play a major role in fostering and we hugely value their contribution. We’d like to thank each and every one of them.

Should you wish to talk to us about fostering, you can email us at, visit our Facebook page at or you can drop in to one of our events. Our next one is in Peterborough on 29th October at the Queensgate shopping Centre or you can pop into our offices on 7th November. Check out our events page on facebook for more information.

Which children are most in need of foster carers?

Every month we get between 150 and 190 referrals for children who are in need of foster carers. Contrary to popular belief these are not all tiny babies; rather they include a variety of children and young people.

This month we have had numerous requests for carers for young mothers and their babies, small and large sibling groups and children entering or well-established into their teen years.

To cope with the demand for carers across a wide range of children, we need carers of all sorts. There isn’t a “one size fits all” mould for carers. Carers can be of all backgrounds, religious persuasion, sexuality, race or standing. What we hope to find in potential carers is a desire to make a difference in the lives of vulnerable children and young people and to promote their needs.

It may be that you feel an affinity to teens having had a colourful or challenging adolescence yourself. Perhaps you believe that mothers should be given every opportunity to parent their own children with confidence. It may be that you feel strongly that siblings who are unable to live with their birth families have the right to remain with each other. Fostering can cater to all these beliefs and motivations and indeed much of the above is simply impossible without a wide pool of carers to do the hard work.

If you are interested in making a difference to young mothers seeking guidance, to teens who need someone to believe in them or have enough space and time to help siblings thrive. If you want to nurture, guide and advocate for young people or children, please get in touch to find out more.

We hold events across Essex, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire. Our next events are in Peterborough on 29th October and we will be holding an informal drop in on 7th November at our offices. Drop us a message and try to come along. For further information visit our events page or email us at

Why foster?

“Why am I doing this?” is a question all foster carers will ask themselves at some point and it’s an important question to ask yourself as it enables you to keep your motivations central to your fostering experience.

So why do people foster?
Most people who foster feel passionately about the wellbeing of children. They want to give opportunities to children who may not have had the best start in life; they want to share something of themselves, if you like.

For many, this is not centred around sharing material wealth, this is about loving, nurturing and caring for a child and for others there is a sense that “I have so much and want to share it.”

Most foster carers have a strong sense of social justice – they believe every child deserves the same opportunity to live a good, healthy and happy life and that this is not just the right of any one group of people. Carers also see the value of the “one child at a time” mentality which values the commitment to justice for one child at a time.

It’s true that many carers have had difficult times in their lives; things they’ve lived through that have made them stronger or more wise. Often people wish to share what they’ve learned with children going through similar things and can teach them resilience and a sense of hope for the future.

Carers understand that they are working in an imperfect system and are often at the mercy of government policy and rules and regulations. They do, however understand that it is often the children who pay the price. As such, carers realise that they have a unique opportunity to be the one good thing in a child’s life during difficult times.

There are many carers who are driven to fostering because of what their belief system is. Faith can play a huge role in a person’s desire to foster. Looking after the most vulnerable in our society is an important way for many to live out their faith.

Whatever the initial reason for fostering, all carers will say that they want to make a difference in the lives of children and this is at the root of their motivation.

If you can relate to any of these key motivations to foster and would like the opportunity to discuss fostering with us, please come along to our drop in session next Thursday 13th September at 10.30; we’d be delighted to talk to you.

Our address can be found at or email us at fore more information.

Why isn’t more done to keep children with their birth families?

Here at EFS, we get some really encouraging comments from foster carers from all around the country and from people who as children experienced foster care and have positive things to say about their experiences. We also, however, get comments accusing us of taking children away from their families and asking us why more isn’t done to keep children with their birth parents. The idea that foster carers are somehow stealing children is obviously an extreme view deserving little response BUT we did want to take the opportunity to share a little about the hard reality of many children’s experiences and to explain a little about the efforts that are taken to reunite children with birth families or maintain relationships with birth parents.

The first thing to say is that we believe that there is no better place for children to be than with their birth families, with the people they know and love. The reality is, however that sometimes birth parents are unable to keep their children safe and protected from significant harm or they may actively be harming their children. When children come in to foster care, there is undoubtedly a tension between love and loyalty towards their parents and relief at being safe and well cared for. It is a difficult and confusing time for these children and one which carers have to navigate with great skill and sensitivity.

It is true to say that by far the most common reasons for children coming into foster care are domestic violence, neglect due to substance abuse or severe ill mental health and child abuse – more often than not, many children experience a combination of these factors which lead to them being significantly harmed and traumatised. Clearly, we have a significant problem in this country with the way we support people who struggle with ill mental health and addiction problems, often sufferers are criminalised or left to cope alone. Local government services have been stripped of funds and can be overwhelmed by the social problems needing resolution. That said, however difficult it can be for parents trying to cope with these issues, the fact remains that many children are living in untenable situations where their lives and mental well being are at significant risk.

We receive requests from Local Authorities to find homes for all manner of children and we often get to see what efforts have already been made to support these families. We see parents being offered support and we see children being kept with their birth families for long periods of time. We see children coming into foster care to offer parents an opportunity to put in place coping strategies or to give parents space to make decisions about the future. Often our carers are supporting plans for children to move back with their birth parents.

We also see children who have returned to birth families from foster care coming back into foster care time and time again following subsequent breakdown in their relationship with their birth family or a failure on behalf of parents to put the needs of their children first. We see with each breakdown that children are more damaged, feel a greater sense of rejection and struggle with poor self esteem and trauma-related difficulties.

It’s also important to note that many parents are able to turn things around and provide a safe and stable life for their children following a break and some robust support from the Local Authority. This is the outcome all foster carers want because they know that this is where the best interests of the child are served.

We also regularly see children who have been catastrophically damaged. Often because they have remainedfor too long in families where they were neglected or subjected to great harm. This is often not because their parents did not love them but because they had little or no capacity to keep them safe from harm.

Foster carers work within a system that can do very little right! There are many times when good decisions are made concerning children and there are times when poor decisions are made. This is true of any system made by human hand. However, foster carers can testify of the many professionals who care deeply about the families they support and the children they protect and work tirelessly to secure good futures for them. What cannot be denied is that these damaged children exist and without foster carers to take them in and keep them safe, to nurture them and to help them heal, they will simply fall through the gaps and have only one destructive, dark path to follow.

Many foster carers increasingly foster young parents and their babies. This arrangement can be very effective in keeping babies with young, vulnerable parents and in interrupting the cycle of children entering foster care. Foster carers looking after parents and babies will share knowledge, help parents to bond with their babies, provide parents with coping tools or support access to mental health provision. We have seen this work fantastically well for many young mothers and fathers and of course we have seen it fail despite efforts on the part of carers and young parents alike.

The fact is that a lot of great work is put in by foster carers to understand the needs of the children or young people they care for and to facilitate a healthy and positive relationship with their birth families where this is appropriate. This is no easy feat and carers come up against many challenges but all good carers will have the interest of the child firmly and resolutely at the centre of everything they do.

Your fostering questions answered – personal checks and references

What personal checks and references are needed for my assessment to become a foster carer? And why?

Eastern Fostering Services wants to recruit foster carers who can meet the individual needs of children and young people and provide them with a safe and nurturing environment in which to grow.

When they apply, all prospective foster carers undergo a fostering assessment which takes on average 4-6 months. The assessment includes:

  • An initial home visit
  • A medical report – carried out by the GP and paid for by EFS
  • At least 3 personal references
  • Identity checks including an enhanced DBS
  • Previous partner references
  • Health and Safety assessments
  • 6-10 home visits and interviews including some with birth children and other household members
  • A full Coram/BAAF form F assessment detailing the qualities, competences and suitability to become foster carers
  • Skills to foster training

Sometimes we get asked why the process takes so long and why so many checks are involved. The simple answer is that foster carers are charged with looking after some of the most vulnerable children in our society and we need to make sure that children are going to be safe, secure and given the best quality care. The assessment process is also about preparing prospective carers for the task ahead. Applicants are given time, space and guidance in considering what their strengths and weaknesses might be and preparing them for the reality of fostering. Being aware of what you might feel, how you might respond and understanding your core motivations are all things you will draw on again and again during your fostering career.

It is important that the assessment report (the Form F) presents a full, faithful account of who you are, how your experiences have shaped you, what your motivations are, how well prepared you are and what you are going to bring to fostering. As such it needs to be in-depth. The checks that are carried out are important as a means of establishing you are who you say you are, whether you have anything in your history that could prevent you fostering (there is very little that could stop you but violent crimes and crimes against children would certainly rule you out), what your employers say about you and whether close friends and/or relatives would support your application.

Sometimes people worry about the previous partner checks. These are necessary for previous partners with whom you have had children, been married or where the relationship is classed as significant. We would only not carry out checks where there is evidence of domestic violence or other criminal activity on behalf of the partner whereby approaching them might put the applicant at risk or if the whereabouts of the partner is unknown. We are always mindful of the fact that by their very nature, ex-relationships can be tricky and full of nuance and we always use our judgement in these circumstances. We typically find that previous partners are supportive of applications to foster. Where this is not the case, we would use the assessment to explore why this might be.

The assessment is an opportunity to showcase you; to show your skills, attributes and motivations. The form F document should present a rounded picture of who you are, the experiences that have shaped you and how you might use these experiences to empathise, nurture and advocate for children. It is not designed to catch you out, pull you apart or look for reasons not to approve you – quite the opposite!

Of the assessment, one of our recently approved carers said, “I found the assessment to be a really good experience. It’s not often you get to reflect on your life and the person you’ve become. It was empowering to realise how many relevant skills and attributes I had and I learned so much about fostering, which I am now putting to good use with the young lad we’ve had placed with us.”

If you have further questions on the assessment or indeed any aspect of fostering, please post your comments on Facebook, message us or email us at Or of course, you can drop into one of our information events or informal coffee mornings.

Do I get paid to be a foster carer?

When it comes to fostering, money is an emotive and often controversial topic of conversation. Nonetheless, in the interest of answering the questions we get about finances, it is a topic we’d like to address.

We’d like to start out by making it clear that good foster carers are always motivated by a deep desire to make a positive difference in the lives of children. The best foster carers seek to nurture, love and advocate for the children in their care. In our experience, very few carers are ever motivated by financial gain and it is very important to us that they are not.

However, one cannot escape the fact that it costs money to raise a child and it is for this reason that Local Authorities pay a fostering allowance to foster carers.

The money foster carers receive will cover the cost of caring for a child. It includes the cost of food, clothing, pocket money, savings for the child, personal items such as toys or toileteries. It will include extra-curricular activities, school uniform and equipment, school meals, lesiure and sports activities. It is expected to cover other incremental household costs associated with caring for additional children, such as utilities.

Many people want and rightly need to know how much money they could expect to receive for fostering when deciding whether it is a viable option for them. The answer to this is that the amount will vary and is dependent on the needs of the individual child.

For example, a carer who looks after children with profound care needs would receive a higher allowance because there might be significant costs associated with providing the required level of care. Children and young people whose care needs are less challenging might require less round-the-clock care and a lower care-related expenditure and therefore carers looking after these children would expect a lower allowance.

It is worth saying that Fostering Providers will differ in what allowance they pay foster carers. We would strongly urge prospective carers to look at the whole package offered to them by Fostering Providers. Whilst we would expect no foster carer to be out of pocket when caring for a child, when it comes to fostering there are some things that money can’t buy and which are vital to ensure stable, positive and fruitful fostering experiences. When looking for a fostering provider, we recommend you check:

  1. How child focused the fostering provider is – talk to fostering providers and gauge how invested they are in the children they support. Their policies and activities should be child-centric and should promote stable, nurturing and successful fostering experiences for carers and children alike.
  2. What support you will be given: does the provider offer 24/7 support? Is the team small enough to get to know you, your family and the child(ren) you care for?
  3. What additional support is offered: does the provider offer services to promote emotional wellbeing and resilience amongst its carers? Is there an active and supportive fostering community who can meet regularly to support and encourage one another? Is there a sound Social Worker to carer ratio, ensuring carers and their families can be seamlessly supported and listened to?
  4. What training and development opportunities exist – a good fostering provider will provide varied, relevant and tailored training and development for their carers. It should be easy for carers to communicate their training needs and aspirations and fostering providers should be able to demonstrate that they are responsive.

If you would like to talk to us about any aspect of fostering, including the finances, please contact us at or call us on 01206 299775.

Alternatively, pop into one of our events. Our next drop-in session will be on Thursday 19th July from 10.30-12.30 at our offices in East Bergholt, Suffolk.

Showing Affection

“I was told you can’t cuddle a child or sit on their bed to read a story!”

This is a comment we get all the time and in the majority of cases, it couldn’t be further from the truth. In the fostering household, we want to replicate all the positives of growing up in a nurturing family. We want children to feel listened to, cherished, nurtured and advocated for. In lots of families, this sense of security and being valued comes from physical affection too, something that many of us take for granted.

One of the differences between fostering and parenting is that as a foster carer, you have to be a lot more intentional around things like physical affection. In other words, you have to tailor your approach to the individual child in your care.

It may be that the child you are caring for thrives off physical affection and that this is a very important part of the healing process for them. But for others, it might be a very different story.

Some children might be over-physical, indiscriminate with physical affection, even with complete strangers. This can put them at risk and therefore as a carer, you would need to think carefully about how, when and with whom physical affection is shown. For children who have a propensity to be overly and inappropriately affectionate, carers might consider helping the child develop boundaries by giving them alternative ways to show affection.
For some children, physical affection is something to be mistrusted and feared. Some abusers will dress up their abuse as affection or a means of showing love to a child and this can make any form of physical affection confusing for the child and can be interpreted as a prelude to abuse.

It’s really important then, that carers take time to understand the child before wading in with a bear hug. It’s true that carers will have some information on the background of the child, and that this background will help the carer develop an approach towards that child. That said, there might still be things that are unknown about what that child has been through.

Whilst allegations of abuse made by children towards carers are not common, carers should be aware of the possibility of this and should take steps to protect themselves and their families. It is possible that children could misinterpret affection or that it could trigger a trauma response, which leads to angry and confused behaviour. This is why it is so important to tailor your approach to the specific child and their circumstances.
To the average person, the idea of setting out a caring plan could be looked upon as overkill, but the purpose of a Safer Caring plan is to make sure that the carer and the child are comfortable with what nurturing and staying safe looks like for that particular child. Many of our carers can happily cuddle up with their child at bed time to read a story. Many of our children need a cuddle in front of the TV to help them feel loved and secure. And of course of a good proportion of our children wouldn’t be seen dead cuddling their carers! Some carers have been free to show affection from day 1; for others it has been a slow, laborious process of trust building and for others it has never been appropriate to hug and the hi-five has become king.

Why do I need a spare room in order to foster?

This is a question we still get asked a lot! So we thought we’d tackle it as the first topic in our series of videos answering your most common fostering questions.

The short answer is that it is a mandatory requirement to have a spare bedroom to dedicate to fostering when you apply to be a foster carer*. Many people find this very frustrating and we often get further questions asking us why this policy exists for Local Authorities and Fostering Providers.

Here are just a few reasons:

Would you move into a house and share a bedroom with a complete stranger?
Moving in with a new foster family is a frightening and confusing time for children, no matter how young or old they are. It can take time for a child to trust carers and to establish that they are safe from harm. In order to process events, change and transition, it is crucial that children have their own space. When in their own space, children are much more likely to examine their feelings and therefore be able to deal with them than they would in a shared or more public space.

For many children the bedroom might have been a dangerous place..
Many children might never have had their own bedroom or safe space and may have witnessed or been subject to inappropriate, harmful or frightening behaviour. The importance of having a space that is respected and not compromised by others is not to be under-estimated.

Sometimes it’s about you too…
It is not unusual for children who have suffered loss, grief, trauma, abuse or neglect to have a range of issues with sleep. There might be nightmares, bed-wetting, aggression at bed time, insomnia and even sexually inappropriate behaviour. Careful thought must be given to respecting the privacy of children grappling with these issues but also the impact on other family members, particularly if you are expecting that particular family member to share a room with the child.

*Please note, some fostering providers might allow applications without a spare room for babies under 12 months old but after that stage, if there was no room set aside for the child, alternative arrangements would need to be made.

We’re here to answer your fostering questions

As we speak to people across Essex, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire about the shortage in foster carers, we are always struck by the fact that the same questions get asked and that many similar misconceptions are held.

In a series of videos we’d like to answer the questions we hear most frequently. But of course we’ll also answer any other questions you’d like us to. Please feel free to message us or comment with your questions or tell us what’s stopping you from taking that step towards fostering.

If you’d prefer to ask your questions in person, you can come to one of our events or drop in to our offices. For all dates and details please visit our Facebook events page at or call us on 01206 299775.

#ProudToFoster – Paul

I’m Paul. My wife and I are from Suffolk and have been fostering now for 3 years. Before fostering I worked in the Caring sector, caring for elderly people and young people with learning disabilities. I am now a retired grandfather. My wife contuinues to work part-time as a counsellor and whilst we share the care of our foster child, I suppose you could say that I am the main carer.

We began to foster our child pretty much as soon as we were approved and she has been with us ever since. Fostering has been a life-changing experience. We have come to love our child and have invested significantly in her emotionally. We have loved to watch her begin to overcome some of the difficulties she experienced in early life and to get a glimpse of the young woman she could become. We’ve seen her grow emotionally, academically and socially. But of course, it hasn’t all been plain sailing.

We have learned so much about child psychology, about the impact of early life experiences on behaviour and development. But we have also learned a lot about ourselves. We’ve often had to stand back and look at our own responses, reactions and feelings to situations. We believe that this has been a hugely positive and empowering thing.

Our overriding feeling is that fostering is a rewarding and life-affirming thing to do but it is very important to be well supported. Eastern Fostering Services has been particularly good at being available to listen and to respond to problems or concerns that we’ve had. They have arranged for us to have regular respite so that we can get space and perspective and enjoy time with our grandchild. They’ve spent time with our foster child and know her very well. Whenever we call the office, we know that whoever we speak to will know who we are, who our child is and will understand any of the issues that she might be experiencing. Believe me, this makes a big difference.

To anyone thinking of fostering, I would strongly recommend it but I would advise careful thought and discernment when choosing the right fostering provider. Make sure you get a strong sense that they can offer you excellent support and training.

If you want to find out more about fostering, visit us at or come along to one of our events in Essex, Suffolk or Cambridgeshire.