All posts by Lucy Stevens

How do I transfer foster agencies?

I am already a foster carer but am not happy with my fostering provider

This image shows a question mark made up of all the questions you might ask if you want to transfer foster agencies.
Making the decision to transfer foster agencies is not easy and you will have many questions.

Foster carers need a lot of support from their fostering provider in order to confidently and successfully carry out the enormous task we ask of them. As a fostering agency, we do not pursue existing foster carers, however we are sometimes approached by carers who are looking to transfer foster agencies.

By far the most common reason people tell us they want to transfer foster agencies is that they do not feel well supported by their current provider. In these circumstances, we feel it is really important that foster carers make the right choices about who to transfer to. In addition to this, foster carers need to know what they can expect and what the obligations of the fostering providers are.

Transfer of foster agencies: The process at a glance

  • Do your research – find out who your local providers are
  • Meet prospective foster agencies and ask to speak to some of their carers
  • Communicate your intention to transfer to your existing agency
  • Attend transfer of foster agency protocol meeting
  • Agree a transfer completion date with your new agency
  • Transfer should be completed between 1 and 3 months depending on whether or not you are caring for children currently and in line with the timings that have been agreed according to your notice period.

How do I choose which fostering provider to go to?

If you are feeling poorly supported by your current fostering provider, you need reassurance that the new agency will provide the best service. Therefore, we have given you tips to help you get it right if you want to transfer foster agencies:

  • Make a list of the fostering providers in your area. The Fostering Network has a facility that will enable you to see local providers
  • Contact each agency and make initial phone or email contact
  • If you like the sound of them from this first contact, arrange a face to face visit
  • Note down what is important to you as a foster carer and ask the agency how they will respond to your needs
  • Ask them if they can put you in touch with one or more of their carers so that you can ask them their experiences of the agency

What do I tell my current fostering provider?

Once you have made the decision to transfer foster agencies, you need to write to them to inform them of your intention to transfer. It is worth noting that you are not handing your notice in at this stage.

You are not allowed to be a registered carer with more than one fostering provider at the same time. Equally if you resign before you have transferred, you risk being deregistered as a foster carer. Therefore, we make sure we correctly advise you along the way. Usually we will give you a panel date and advise you to hand your notice in to coincide with the panel paperwork all being signed off.

Eastern Fostering Services will advise you of each step you need to take and when. We will provide you with the correct legal wording and ensure your protection. Moreover we will ensure that we do things according to protocol.

The Fostering Network have produced a comprehensive guide to the Transfer Protocol which we would suggest you read.

What responsibilities do agencies have towards me and the child I’m fostering?

If you have a child in placement with you, you can transfer foster agency without losing your child(ren). A protocol meeting will take place to agree timescales and any practical actions that need to take place. Present will be you, the Local Authority, your current fostering provider and the provider to whom you are transferring. The Local Authority will want to know that the agency you are moving to will be able to support you and that they will not compromise the care of the child.

The provider you will be moving from has a responsibility to share your information with your chosen provider. We will ask them for your original form F and other documentation submitted at the time of your approval with them. In addition to this, we will ask for your annual reviews.

Your new provider has a responsibility to ensure the continuity of care for the child. Additionally, they will need to ensure that they meet the timeframes you have agreed.

What about my fostering allowance?

Your new fostering provider will do their best to match the payment you have been receiving for the child you are fostering. This is because the Local Authority will not change the amount they are paying for your care of the child. You might discuss this at the protocol meeting. However, the detail you will cover in conversation between you and your new fostering provider.

How long will it take to transfer?

The time it takes to transfer will depend on how quickly your current agency provides information to the new agency and whether you have children in placement with you. Typically, however, we would expect to complete the process in between 1 to 3 months.

Rather than starting the fostering assessment from scratch, we will do an update. This will focus on what has happened since your original approval. It will take into account any major changes to your life circumstances and your experiences of fostering.

What do carers who have transferred to us have to say?

“We transferred to Eastern Fostering Services because we felt our old agency wasn’t advocating for us or the children we care for. We didn’t take the decision lightly and tried to make it work with our old agency. Sadly, to no avail. We are so glad that we made the decision to move. Eastern Fostering Services have given us such great support and have not been afraid to fight our corner in difficult discussions. They have taken the time to understand our needs and those of the children we foster.”

They have taken the time to understand our needs and those of the children we foster

“Our agency shut one of their local offices but still expected us to travel a long distance for training. Our support fell away and we were left feeling isolated and unsupported. Since moving to Eastern Fostering Services, we have felt part of a close community of carers and have been supported in many tricky situations. We have successfully cared for some lovely children and are looking forward to welcoming more children very soon.”

we have felt part of a close community of carers and have been supported in many tricky situations

Find out more about what our carers have to say about us.

 I want to transfer to Eastern Fostering Services. What should I do?

If you’d like to speak to us about transferring, you can call us on 01206 299775 or email us at info@easternfosteringservices.com.

Alternatively, you can messsage us on the website at www.easternfosteringservices.com

We hold frequent events and coffee mornings so it is worth checking out our facebook events page for more information.

The Fostering Panel: step 5 to becoming a foster carer

What is the fostering panel?

Once your fostering assessment is complete and the report known as the Form F has been submitted, you will get a date to appear at panel. You are now well on your way to becoming a foster carer.

A group of people sit at a table, smiling. They represent the mix and informality of the fostering panel.
The Fostering Panel are a group of people who will put you at ease.

We always maintain that fostering applicants should not be brought to panel if there is any doubt around their ability and motivation to foster.

For many prospective foster carers, the fostering panel can be a daunting prospect. However, the panel at Eastern Fostering Services are all keen to approve foster carers. As a result, they are there to ensure you are well prepared and that there are no glaring reasons as to why you should not be approved.

We always maintain that fostering applicants should not be brought to panel if there is any doubt around their ability and motivation to foster. The fostering assessment is robust and thorough and the Form F report should leave no stone uncovered and should fully cover any areas for future development and have addressed them appropriately.

Who is on the fostering panel?

You can find a list of our panel members at the bottom of our “meet the team” page.

Don’t worry, not all of the panel will be present! Usually there will be 6 people on the panel and you will be accompanied and supported by your fostering assessor, with whom you will have already built a good relationship.

What will they want to know?

In advance of the panel, the panel members will read through your Form F. Before you go in to the room, the panel will have spent some time talking about the assessment and will agree what questions they want to ask. Normally this is one each but sometimes there may be fewer questions.

Typically, the panel want to understand your motivation to foster. They may also ask you about the other important people in your life such as birth children or close family. In addition to this, the panel members may want to give you a few scenarios to respond to, “what would you do if…”

Remember, the panel are on your side. One of our panel members recently said, “I love approving new foster carers. It always give me such joy to see the start of the journey and to watch as foster carers make a real difference to children.”

For a foster carer’s view on the panel experience, you can read this blog written by one of our carers.

Good to go!

Once the fostering panel have made their decision, they will call you back in to the room and will let you know their decision. They will give you full reasons for your approval, what they like about you and what they feel your strengths are.

Once the paperwork is all signed off, you will be an approved foster carer and will be ready to be considered for children. Then the fun really begins!

If you would like to know more about fostering, call us on 01206 299775 or email us at info@easternfosteringservices.com. You can also find us on Facebook or visit our website.

The Fostering Assessment – Step 4 in becoming a foster carer

What is the fostering assessment for?

The image shows a smiling man in conversation with a woman who is making notes. Both look relaxed and this is a good illustration of the fostering assessment process.
Your Fostering Assessment will be carried out by one of our friendly, experienced assessors.

Once you have completed your application form and we have carried out the necessary checks, we will begin your fostering assessment.

A fostering assessor will be assigned to you and your family. All of our assessors are friendly, keen to put you at your ease and experienced in producing fostering assessment reports.

The job of your assessor is to provide a detailed report on you, your partner and your family. This report will look at your life experiences, motivation, strengths and qualities . It should also flag up training opportunities. In addition to this, the report will give your fostering provider pointers on how best to support you.

What will my assessor want to know?

The assessor will produce a final report, ubiquitously known as the Form F. If you want to have a thorough look at what the report contains, you can see a sample here. However, this blog summarises it nicely for you!

Your assessor will focus on the main body of the report. Through a series of face to face visits, conversations and informal interviews he/she will cover a range of topics.

Your early life experiences

A big part of who you are today stems from the experiences you had as a child. Your early experiences shape you, your views and often give you motivation in life. We do not expect our carers to have idyllic childhoods. In fact, we often find that carers who have had difficult times in life are able to empathise with our children and young people. Difficult situations and circumstances often help us to build resilience; something foster carers need in buckets! That said, if you had a wonderful childhood, this can also serve as motivation in wanting to share this with others.

Your adult life including relationships and employment

Your assessor will talk to you about the other experiences you’ve had throughout your life. This will include your experiences of significant romantic relationships, what you learned from them and how they have shaped who you are today. We’re interested in all the facets that make up who you are, including your professional life. The assessor will seek to demonstrate what transferrable attributes you will be bringing to fostering.

..we often find that carers who have had difficult times in life are able to empathise with our children and young people..

Your personality and current relationship

Who are you as a person? What are your strengths? What is important to you? The fostering assessment will paint a detailed picture of who you are and what motivates you. If you are in a long term relationship, the assessment will be detailed for both of you. Therefore you will both meet with the assessor together and separately.

When it comes to your relationship, we’ll want to understand how you work as a team. What are your complimentary strengths and qualities? Why does your relationship work? How do you expect to share the fostering, practically and emotionally?

Birth children and support network

If you have children, they will form an important part of the fostering assessment. We will want to ensure that their feelings and views are taken into account, even if they are fully grown and living away from home. It may be that they envisage being part of your support network. Perhaps they are still living at home? Either way, we will need to ensure that they are fully included in the support package that we put together for you.

Foster carers do need good support from friends and family and we will want to ensure that your support network is robust and reliable.

Your capacity and motivation to foster

The assessor will be looking for evidence to support your application. Fostering involves a variety of areas in which you will need to develop skills. How can you demonstrate warmth, empathy, encouragement. What are your attitudes towards diversity (race, gender, sexuality, religion)? How can you demonstrate that you will support a child in their education? What skills might you have in advocacy? How will you support contact with the birth family? How might you work with other professionals?

Your assessor will ask you a variety of questions to help include all the strengths and competencies you will bring to fostering. By their nature, the questions will require you to dig deep but you should NOT feel judged or interrogated.

What do our carers say about the fostering assessment?

We were a bit anxious that it would be intrusive but the process allowed real soul searching and was actually very liberating!

Our assessor was friendly, open and we never felt judged. We built a good relationship and trusted her to represent us faithfully in the Form F.

What happens after the Form F is written?

Once the assessor has finished the fostering assessment, you will be ready for panel! This will be the subject of our next blog. Stay tuned!

Want to find out more?

We have regular events and coffee mornings which offer you the opportunity to meet us and ask your questions. You can also meet some of our foster carers. Our next event is in Ipswich on 23rd September. Check out our Facebook page for more details. Alternatively, call us on 01206 299775 or email us at info@easternfosteringservices.com

The Fostering Application form

The next step in becoming a foster carer.

How do I proceed with the Fostering Application after the home visit?

A young lady sits next to a child as she completes a paper application form. The image illustrates the Fostering Application process.
Completing the Fostering Application form is not difficult…just a little time consuming.

Last week we shared a blog about the home visit. Once you have had your home visit and you, your family and the fostering provider are keen to go ahead with your fostering application, you are ready for the next stage of the process. The fostering application form.

What information does the fostering application form require?

We need quite a bit of information from you in order to proceed with your fostering application. The assessment will consist of information gathering both behind the scenes and directly from you in the form of face to face meetings. The application form helps us to start both of these processes.

Behind the scenes

There are some checks that we will need to carry out with Local Authorities, the Police and Due Diligence Services (DBS). In the application form, we ask you to list previous addresses so that we can contact the Local Authorities. This enables us to check facts and to gather a narrative of your history.

We also ask for references, both personal and professional, where appropriate. If you do not yet want us to approach your professional referees, you can state this and we can leave it until a later date once things have progressed further. The aim of references is to build a picture of your skills and personal qualities and is a useful way for us to get to know you better.

Many excellent foster carers manage long term health conditions and might also have a history of mental health conditions.

We’ll need to know about your general health and will ask for details of any health conditions on your fostering application form. Moreover, we will write to your GP and request them to carry out a health check. The GP then completes a report which will help us to assess your physical and mental fitness to foster. Please do not be worried about this. Many excellent foster carers manage long term health conditions and might also have a history of mental health conditions. These medical issues in themselves will not stop you from fostering but will allow us to assess what additional support you might need.

We will ask you for details of any previous long-term partners. We know that sometimes approaching previous partners can be difficult and we will talk to you about this. For some people there are valid reasons not to approach ex-partners and we will always take your views into account and discuss it with you.

The face to face

The fostering application form will ask you some more general questions which help us to get a feel for your family, lifestyle and home situation. In addition to this we will ask some initial questions about your motivation to foster. Why do you want to foster? Why now? How long have you been thinking about it?

You will provide details of any birth children, living away from home or in the family home. Your children will form an important part of the fostering assessment. We will need to understand their views, feelings and expectations. Where birth children are adult and living away from home, we would want to contact them to speak to them about you and their views on what you might be like as a foster carer. Younger birth children, living at home, will be spoken to by a social worker as part of the assessment process. In addition to this, their feelings, needs and circumstances will be assessed so that we can ensure the best possible package of support for the whole family.

Then what?

Once we have received your fostering application form, we will commence all the background checks. Additionally, we will assign you an assessor. This assessor will be responsible for producing your report, known as the Form F.

This document will form the subject of our next blog, so do keep an eye out for it.

In the meantime if you have any questions about fostering, you can email us at info@easternfosteringservices.com, call us on 01206 299775 or you can come to one of our fostering events, see here for further details.

How do I become a foster carer?

Step 2: The home visit

Once you have done your research and have decided you want to become a foster carer, you can arrange a home visit.

A child holds a model house in his outstretched palms. The picture illustrates the home visit which take place when people ask themselves "How do I become a Foster Carer?"

An important part of your journey to become a foster carer is to ensure you are well informed. To this end, the home visit is an excellent opportunity to ask any questions you have about fostering and becoming a foster carer.

I want to become a foster carer.What questions should I ask?

Deciding to become a foster carer can open up all sorts of questions and worries. Therefore it is important that the fostering service you are speaking to are open and responsive to your questions. You can find a list of the most commonly asked fostering questions on the Eastern Fostering Services website.

When visiting you at home, the Fostering provider should give you ample time to ask the questions you need to ask about how to become a foster carer and what happens afterwards. It is a good idea to ring round fostering providers in your local area first and get a feel for them. You can find a list of fostering providers on the Fostering Network website.

What will they want to know about me?

As well as giving you the opportunity to ask your questions, the fostering provider will want to check a few things too. It can be a bit nerve wracking, having strangers in your home and you may feel a little exposed.

Any good fostering provider will not expect your house to be a show home..

Don’t worry! We want to see the real you!

Often people can feel under pressure to have the perfect home and for everything to be immaculate. Any good fostering provider will not expect your house to be a show home! They are not there to judge you or to make you feel under scrutiny. There are a few simple things they will be looking for:

The spare room for fostering

Everybody who wants to become a foster carer needs to have a spare room set aside for fostering. However, this room does not need to be palatial! It is simply useful for the fostering provider to understand what age child might best suit the room.

Understanding the fostering needs of you and your family

When it comes to fostering, it is important that the fostering provider knows you and your family well. The reason for this is to enable good matching. The home visit allows us to get a good feel for you, your family, your lifestyle and what is important to you. It is about ensuring that your fostering journey is a positive one for you and your family.

Why do you want to become a foster carer?

This is one of the most important questions of all. It is important that a fostering agency understands your motivation as this too will inform the matching process. What do you want out of fostering? How will you keep yourself motivated? What do you think you have to offer? These are all important questions to ask yourself before contacting fostering providers.

If we all want to go ahead after the home visit, what’s next?

If you wish to apply to become a foster carer, you will need to complete an application form. This is the subject of our next blog, so keep your eyes peeled!

If you have any questions about fostering, you can contact Eastern Fostering Services at info@easternfosteringservices.com or on 01206 299775 or you can look us up on Facebook.

5 steps to becoming a foster carer

Step 1  – Register your interest

Thinking of becoming a foster carer? How do you find out which fostering providers to approach?

As with anything in life, when it comes to becoming a foster carer, you should do your research. As a foster carer, you will need excellent support so you should look for local fostering providers who offer quality, 24 hour support. Smaller agencies are often better placed to offer quality, tailored support.

A young child holds up a scrap of paper on which he has drawn a rainbow and the words "Love makes a family". This represents how becoming a foster carer can create a loving family for a child.

The Fostering Network have a tool on their website that allows you to search for local fostering providers. Moreover the internet is an excellent source of information. However, you need to know what you are looking for when deciding which fostering provider might best suit you and your individual needs.

I want to become a foster carer, shall I approach a fostering agency or the Local Authority?

Deciding who you want to foster with is a personal choice. The Local Authority prefer to place children with their in-house foster carers and will give them priority. Therefore you might get a greater choice of children. Increasingly, however, due to the shortage in foster carers, fostering agencies also receive a high number of requests.

The main difference between fostering agencies and Local Authorities is in the quality and level of support you will receive. In particular, smaller agencies such as Eastern Fostering Services will know you, your family and the children you foster very well. This means that when you need to call for help, you will speak to a team member who knows your situation – no need for lengthy explanations!

I have found some fostering providers – what now?

Ask yourself, are these people you could work with?

You can contact fostering providers by phone, email or web enquiry form. Indeed some fostering providers can be found on Facebook. Simply get in touch with them and ask them for more information.

Fostering providers should offer you the chance to talk either over the phone or face to face.

Here is a quick suggestion of what you might ask them:

What support do you offer carers?

Can you tell me about your matching process?

How does the assessment process work?

What positive outcomes do you achieve for children?

What training and development do you offer?

Which children do you need carers for?

In turn, Fostering providers might ask you:

Why do you want to foster?

Are there birth children living at home?

Do you have a spare room available for fostering?

Have you got experience working with children or vulnerable adults?

What type of child (age, gender etc.) do you feel would suit you best?

What do you do for a living?

Can you drive?

Do you have a criminal record?

A more in-depth conversation is now needed.

When you have decided which fostering provider(s) might be the best fit for you, you can request a home visit. This is a great opportunity for you to ask any other questions. In addition you can get an even better feel for the fostering provider. Ask yourself, are these people you could work with?

To get the best out of your home visit, keep your eyes open for our next blog: Becoming a Foster carer, step 2 – the home visit. You can access all our blogs from our homepage.

Independent Fostering Agencies: right to reply

On Tuesday 27th August, the BBC covered a news story relating to fostering, and in particular, to the role of independent fostering agencies in fostering. Radio 4’s Today programme devoted a large swathe of their air time to the subject and a written article can be found on the BBC News website.

Eastern Fostering Services, as a small, independent fostering agency, were disappointed to find that the independent providers were yet again vilified as cash counting mercenaries who are only working in the fostering sector for financial gain. Such broad-based assumption feeds in to the negative associations that are held in relation to fostering more widely.

A group of adults work together to throw a young girl into the air. The image represents team work between independent fostering agencies and public sector to provide excellent care to children.
The private and public should be able to work together to provide the best care for vulnerable children

The bigger picture

We believe that there is a way for Local Authorities and independent fostering agencies to work together in the best interests of the children. Sadly, there are systemic failures that make this incredibly difficult for the small agencies such as Eastern Fostering Services.

It is fairly typical for Local Authority commissioning to weight their tender invitations to independent fostering agencies towards cost rather than quality. A common 70% onus on cost versus 30% on quality of care provision means that both measures are naturally driven down.

There have been innumerable conferences, consultations and collaborations focussing on more ‘intelligent’ commissioning but in over 20 years of our experience in the sector, little has changed. Local Authorities continue to have unmet needs and the tension between the public and private sector continues, translating to a poorer service for vulnerable children.

We well understand the enormous financial pressures that Local Authorities are subject to but whilst a view persists that the independent sector are a threat rather than an opportunity, unhelpful myths and misapprehensions will continue to fester further debilitating the system.

What do the experts say about independent fostering agencies?

As was correctly pointed out in the media, the Nairey report concluded that although independent agencies were slightly more expensive (we would note this is an average and does not reflect the huge price range that exists in the sector), the difference in cost is negligible versus the quality of outcomes for children who are living in foster care.

We were disappointed that this information was very much an afterthought rather than the presiding point and we are left yet again trying to justify our position as child-centred practitioners, rather than financial opportunists. Such a portrayal is damaging to our working relationships with Local Authorities and other professionals, to the public perception of fostering more generally and ultimately for the children to whom we have all made a commitment to serve.

Along with our carers, who are supported to provide long-term, stable placements, we are an important constant for these children.

Anecdotally as a small fostering agency, we are increasingly one of the few constants in the children’s lives. Many children experience changes in social worker on a frighteningly regular basis and often the agency social workers support and advocate for the children and carers and provide a safe base for exceptional care to be carried out by our foster carers. Along with our carers, who are supported to provide long-term, stable placements, we are an important constant for these children.

Is there hope?

Many small independent fostering agencies work tirelessly to promote the well-being of the children in their care, challenging poor decisions and speaking up for those most vulnerable children when their voices are not being heard. Equally, we work creatively to find solutions to problems that might impede the very best care, often supporting and bolstering Local Authority resources.

In short, we want to work with other professionals to put the needs of children first. We believe that dialogue, cooperation and a change in the cultural perception of independent fostering agencies would really help unlock creativity, efficiency and ultimately better outcomes for the children.

Fostering children: a new PATH?

A boy of about 6 holds a kite over one shoulder, the sun is low in the sky. The boy is starting to run and is aiming the kite for the sky. This image represents the empowerment of children.
Fostering should empower children to make a better future for themselves.

When fostering children, how do we ensure we keep children at the heart of everything we do?

Many foster carers are highly driven to provide child-centric care to the children they are fostering. This takes many forms from therapeutic fostering, advocacy, support in education and providing boundaries. And let’s not forget good old fashioned love and nurturing. All foster carers however need to work within the system and its associated requirements and constraints. It is within this arena that many foster carers see the child-centred approach turn on its heels and disappear.

Is a child centred approach to fostering children always adopted in meetings with professionals?

many foster carers see the child-centred approach turn on its heels and disappear.

Fostering involves meeting and liaising with the professionals who are responsible for fulfilling statutory obligations towards children. This is obviously an important part of the overall fostering picture. Professionals need to ensure that the needs of children are met in every area that forms a part of their care. And rightly so.

Fostering professionals perform a good deal of this box ticking during the Child in Care Review meeting (misguidedly acronymed to CIC). During this meeting a range of professionals and other individuals will be present. Often the child, the foster carer, birth parents, social workers, teachers or other advocates might sit together for all or part of the meeting. The aim of the CIC is to establish progress of the child in a number of areas. In addition to this professionals make plans for the future which will be reviewed at subsequent meetings. At their worst, they are an excruciatingly boring exercise in box ticking which means little or nothing to the child. In fact they can bear little relation to what is truly important to them. At their best they can be an opportunity for the children’s views to be heard and acted upon.

Anecdotally, children who are present for all or some of this meeting can struggle with the monotony of examining everything with a  fine-toothed comb. They can feel scrutinised and vulnerable. One Eastern Fostering Services carer reports, “Our child would stay for the entire meeting. Whilst he was always keen to give his views on certain things, this took a relatively small part of the meeting. About mid-way through, his eyes would glaze over and I don’t think he once left a CIC review without a crushing headache. I suppose he and I saw it as a necessary evil.”

So how do we get it right for the children we’re fostering?

When fostering children, carers can feel it’s like the little girl with the curl in the middle of her forehead. Indeed when she is good she is very, very good and when she is bad she is horrid. Of course, all foster carers have some horror stories to tell. Furthermore, when things don’t work, we are quick to hear about it in the media or from colleagues. But sometimes the professionals do get it right and when they do, they get it very, very right.

The PATH to good fostering is not paved with gold.

It would be grossly unfair to suggest that the fostering journey is furnished with anything but good intentions; both on the part of foster carers and the myriad professionals responsible for the holistic care of children. However, whilst it is difficult to make statutory box ticking child-centric, children’s views can be heard. Suffolk Virtual School has developed excellent child-centred ways for their social workers, schools’ staff and foster carers to hear and act upon children’s views. The process that they use is called PATH (Planning Alternative Tomorrows with Hope). This was a process originally designed by Inclusive Solutions who trained Suffolk’s Psychology and Therapeutic Service to deliver the process to children and young people in conjunction with Virtual Schools.

“Two years on, it’s having an amazing impact,” says Dr Imogen Howarth of Health, Wellbeing and Children’s services, Suffolk. “Their latest Ofsted Inspection showcased dozens of PATHs across the county with Children and Young People’s services and schools being able to explain their PATH contents and how the children and young people’s views captured in the process were being translated into real world practice.”

Image shows a boy dreaming of space, possibly he wants to be an astronaut.
Children are encouraged to verbalise their dreams with no restrictions.

How does PATH work?

PATH is a process that creates a vision of a positive future for the child which is shared with those who are important to them. This might be foster carers, birth family, social workers, therapists and teachers. It is completely child-centred and therefore is focussed on the young person and their very personal dreams for the future.

The session is delivered by a facilitator who guides people through each stage of outlining the dream and what needs to happen to make it a reality.

The first stage is to set out the dream. The child or young person is asked to verbalise their hopes and dreams for the future. There are no limitations or constraints during this part of the process and a good deal of time is spent in understanding the dream so that it can inform the rest of the PATH.

It was all about the child. There was so much positive feedback to build her esteem and you could see that she felt heard, loved and empowered.

The next part of the process involves some good old fashioned time travel as the group journey to a year from the present and articulate all the positives that will have been achieved in that year. Thereafter the child is brought back to the present to express how they feel about what is happening now.

The child will then identify some key individuals who they will need on their path. This list will invariably include all those who the child considers important to them and others who will be important in the realisation of their dream.

Goals and aspirations require strength and perseverance. The next stage of the process is to encourage the child to think about what they will need to stay strong. This might be the learning of new skills or the support of their carer. It might involve buy in and enthusiasm from the birth family or additional support from school.

Finally the child decides on their next steps. These steps might be large or small but aim to give very practical means for the child to make progress in the actualisation of their hopes and dreams.

Where does the PATH lead the child?

At the end of the session that was geared around the child our carers support, a beautiful piece of art had been produced. This masterpiece pictorially laid out the dreams and the path that would be taken. It was peppered with positive words and phrases that described all the attributes of the child and laid out a hopeful vision for the future. This art work takes pride of place on the child’s bedroom wall as a constant reminder of what the future might look like and a map of how to get there. No glazed eyes, no crushing headache, just the hope of what the future could look like and the very real possibility that she can make it happen.

“This was an amazing process to be part of,” says Samuel Perryman, Supervising Social Worker at Eastern Fostering Services. “It was all about the child. There was so much positive feedback to build her esteem and you could see that she felt heard, loved and empowered.”

No glazed eyes, no crushing headache, just the hope of what the future could look like and the very real possibility that she can make it happen.

For more information on PATH and the part it can play in supporting the positive fostering of children, click here.   

For more information on the process, please contact IF@suffolk.gov.uk

If you would like to find out more about Eastern Fostering Services and the work we do in Suffolk, Essex and Cambridgeshire, visit us at www.easternfosteringservices.com

Fostering Refugee Children

What should carers know when it comes to fostering refugee children?

When it comes to fostering refugee children, carers must learn to navigate a whole new world. Let’s start with semantics. The language people use when discussing the needs, provision and challenges associated with fostering refugee children is specific and fluid. In the UK we tend to brand all migrant children as refugee children or vice versa.

In fact, whether someone is a refugee or not is specified in law. Moreover, it often directly relates to that child’s legal status at the time. It is highly likely that if you are fostering a refugee child, you are actually caring for an Unaccompanied Migrant Child. But you could equally be looking after an Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Child (UASC) whose status has yet to be decided by the Home Office. How we love to label these children!

Yet for the purposes of this article, I will be using the publicly recognisable but perhaps technically inaccurate term: refugee.

A teenager in a hooded fleece, standing against a dark wall, looking down so that his face can't be seen. This illustrates the identity issues faced when fostering refugee children
Young people are frequently labelled at a time where their identity is in crisis.

What’s the difference?

The definition of a Refugee is someone who has been forced to leave their country of nationality and cannot return due to a “well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of:

  • race
  • religion
  • nationality
  • membership of a particular social group (including gender and sexuality)
  • holding a particular opinion

1951 Refugee Convention

The definition of an Asylum Seeker is someone who applies to be given refugee status in a country other than his or her own under the 1951 Refugee Convention. This person will be waiting for a decision on the application.

An Unaccompanied Migrant Child is one who has moved across an international border or within a state away from his or her habitual place of residence, regardless of their legal status. These children are separated from parents and are not being cared for by an adult.

IOM (International Organization for Migration)

What misconceptions might you face when fostering refugee children?

We live in a time where there are widely differing views on migrants generally. Confusion and misunderstanding mingle with political and economic strategy (often built on fear) to create a melting pot of misinformation and division. So what do we know?

  • Women and under 18s together make up 70% of the world’s displaced people
  • In 2017 650,000 asylum claims were made in Europe.
  • 31,800 unaccompanied or separated children arrived in the EU in 2017.
  • 89% of these children were male.
  • 77% were 16 years old.
  • Of those children just 7% made asylum claims in the UK.
  • Germany continues to be the top European destination for refugee children accounting for over 40% of all EU asylum claims in 2017.
  • 84% of refugees and asylum seekers are hosted by low and middle-income countries such as Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon, Iran and Uganda (amongst others).

Carers fostering refugee children often come up against the strength of feeling that exists in our society. It is one of those issues that divides people right down to the nucleus of family. Foster carers must ensure they are educated as to the real facts surrounding migration and displacement. This will equip them for the task they will undoubtedly have in educating others.

Confusion and misunderstanding mingle with political and economic strategy to create a melting pot of misinformation and division.

Whatever our views on the issue of displacement, migration and the ensuing refugee situation, we have to agree that it is not going away. We face increasing displacement not just from war, ideology or a shifting political landscape but also due to climate change and its associated repercussions. Therefore, we need to learn how to care for the most vulnerable amongst the 68.5 million people forcibly displaced worldwide.

Fostering refugee children: just like fostering any other child?

There was a school of thought not so long ago that fostering refugee children was an easy option for carers. Anecdotally, this group of children did not tend to present with many of the behavioural difficulties that might be found in children born and raised in the UK.

Many professionals recounted that these children often had a good grounding within a loving family before they had had to make their journey to the UK. In short, they were and are often subject to generalisation, lumped into a faceless group and as a result children feel misunderstood or inadequately supported.

The reality is that refugee children come from a variety of countries, religions, cultures and families. They will have differing life views. Many will have different experiences. And of course, they will have a range of beliefs and expectations. These children are individuals. There are, however, some things that unite them.

Children will need some specific support from foster carers.

All children who arrive in the UK seeking asylum will need to go through the Asylum Process. This is the process by which children apply for asylum through the Home Office. Carers report it to be complex, fraught with deadlines and responsibilities and often a total unknown. Children are often stressed, frightened and re-traumatised by it. Undoubtedly foster carers face a steep learning curve.

Many carers report that the process is one that is founded on suspicion and in which the onus is on the child to justify the reasons for their claim, to answer questions consistently with little allowance given for confusion, fear and trauma.

Children who are going through the asylum process will need a good deal of practical and emotional support. They will need to know what the process involves, who the key players are and what the system expects of them. And very frequently, children are expected to grapple with this strange new world in a completely foreign and unmastered language.

They may struggle to communicate the impact that the uncertainty of the process is having on them emotionally.

Trauma will be a thread running through the lives of refugee children.

Foster carers widely report psychological distress, sometimes leading to mental health disorders in unaccompanied migrant children. As children try to get to grips with the loss of their families and the cultural leap they are having to make, they often feel isolated and displaced.

Children are frequently worried about the family they have left behind or lost on their journey. Many children have experienced trauma in their home countries as well as during their journey. They are grieving and in many cases do not have the tools to express or process this grief. Often this loss, separation and trauma is happening at a key developmental stage and as such can take a significant toll on a child’s well-being.

Foster carers can often recognise the signs of trauma or mental anguish. Therefore, they will be in a position to advocate for the appropriate support for them.

In the children, foster carers might notice and flag up:

  • Anxiety and panic attacks
  • Headaches
  • Sleep disorders including insomnia and nightmares
  • Detachment
  • Depression
  • Self-harm
  • Hypervigilance
  • Flashbacks
  • Explosive anger
  • Eating disorders
Teenager seen in silhouette against the sun, walking on cracked earth. When fostering refugee children there are many challenges but with support there is hope.

Children who are going through the asylum process will need a good deal of practical and emotional support.

As a foster carer you will need support too.

Foster carers are the primary carers for refugee children. Indeed they deal with the impact of loss, separation, abuse and trauma every day. This has an effect on the carer that isn’t to be minimised.

Foster carers can experience Secondary Traumatic Stress to varying degrees as a result of caring for children. Therefore it is really important that foster carers are well supported by their fostering provider, their support network and other professionals.

One of our carers who has been fostering a refugee child for 3 years recently said,

“Caring for our child has presented untold challenges as fostering often does. Bearing witness to his Post Traumatic Stress and supporting him in it has had an impact on us as a family who foster. It is hard to describe how you feel when you are faced with such pain and stress and when you are living with it 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Without the support of my social worker, friends and family it would have been impossible at times to maintain.

I am pleased to say that because of the excellent support and the quality of the professionals involved in his care, our child has thrived and now faces a bright and hopeful future, despite all that he has been through.”

More information

Fostering any child requires carers to learn, grow and develop. With each child, whatever their background, new challenges await and new lessons are learned. Carers have to understand the systems they work within. This is the case regardless of the child they are caring for.

The subjects I have touched on in this article are complex and as such I have given just a broad overview. There are lots of fantastic sources of information available.

As a first port of call, I would recommend The UNHCR and The Refugee Council. Further valuable information can be found in Children on the Move – Data Brief UNICEF 2018 and Harrowing Journeys Report IOM-UNICEF 2017.

Refugee Week begins on 17th June 2019. This is a good opportunity to listen to stories and find out more about the problems facing displaced people across the world.

At Eastern Fostering Services, we have built up a lot of expertise and knowledge around fostering refugee children so if you have questions, get in touch or visit us on Facebook.

Fostering trans young people

Transgender flag used to illustrate fostering trans young people.
Transgender flag waving in blue cloudy sky, 3D rendering

7 things trans young people need from their foster carers

We know that children and young people in foster care are highly vulnerable and need their foster carers to support and advocate for them. We also know that trans young people are vulnerable to discrimination and oppression. So how should carers prepare for fostering trans young people?

What should foster carers know about what it’s like to be a trans young person?

One could say that generally our society does not treat young people well. Teenagers are often treated with suspicion and criticism and a degree of contempt. For young people in foster care, these attitudes are largely exacerbated. When it comes to fostering trans young people, the challenges can be even more pronounced.

  • 81% of trans young people will avoid certain social situations out of fear, for example over 50% have said they avoid public toilets (Trans mental health review 2012)
  • 62% of trans young people have experienced harassment by the public in a public space (James Morton, Scottish Transgender Alliance, 2008)
  • 30% reported that a health care professional refused to discuss a trans-related concern with them (Trans Mental Health Review, 2012)
  • 84% have considered suicide at some point (Trans Mental Health Review, 2009)

Should trans young people be treated any differently when it comes to fostering?

Of course the answer is a resounding no! All children in foster care should expect their carers to support, encourage, respect and advocate for them. Trans children and young people are no different. But it would be naïve to assume that a one-size-fits-all approach will cover all eventualities. Trans young people may be dealing with additional problems related to their identity and it is this that foster carers need to be mindful of and prepared for. In short, foster carers need to educate themselves.

Metaphor for the challenges around fostering trans young people
Gender gap, sex inequality concept as male and female stand on different size cliffs. Metaphor of discrimination social issue, women superiority, feminism idea dominance.

What do trans young people need from me as their foster carer?

Most young people desire to be accepted and understood. Some trans young people will feel this need more keenly amidst rejection and ridicule by peers or society at large. As a trans young person in foster care therefore, you may be looking even more closely at your carer’s actions and reactions.

Trans young people may be dealing with additional problems related to their identity and it is this that foster carers need to be mindful of and prepared for.

  • Be empathetic.

Foster carers need to be able to put themselves in the shoes of others. How important is your identity to you? How would you feel if your identity was questioned or denied? Do all that you can to understand the young person’s perspective. Read blogs, articles, research and TALK to your young person.

  • Create a safe space.

In order to understand a young person’s point of view, you need to create trust and opportunity to share conversation. Always be led by the young person and go at their pace but the aim should be to normalise discussion. This allows a young person to feel heard and accepted.

  • Be accepting.

We all want to be accepted for who we are and foster carers have a duty to accept children and young people and meet them where they are at. Trans young people might have experienced rejection, abuse and alienation as a direct result of their identity. They have a right to be respected and accepted in the home environment.

All children in foster care should expect their carers to support, encourage, respect and advocate for them.

I also need you to…

  • Find out what is important to the young person.

What pronoun do they want you to use for them? What name? How open do they want to be with others? Do they want to access support services? Do they want to explore their identity further and do they need help to do so? Don’t assume. Ask.

  • Support the young person to educate themselves.

There are many good sources of age appropriate information which can help trans young people to understand their feelings. Seek these out and offer to share them with your young person

  • Advocate for your young person.

Once you know their experiences, expectations and desires make sure other professionals understand and abide by them.

  • Challenge other professionals!

Correct stereotypes. Be sensitive to mis-gendering. Try to engage those who don’t listen.

Fostering a trans young person? Start right here.

Trans Youth in Care have produced an excellent guide and toolkit. In addition to this they have a great list of further resources. Well worth a look!

If you think you have what it takes to foster a young person, get in touch with EFS at info@easternfosteringservices.com or visit our Facebook page to learn a bit more or find out about our information events near to you.