The sons and daughters of foster carers have to take on a lot. They are expected to share their home, belongings and families with children they don’t know, children of different ages and backgrounds and who can present upsetting or challenging behaviour. We teach them about difficult subjects and expose them to parts of life their peers might not be able to comprehend. Birth children often play a vital role in a foster carer’s support network and we owe it to these children and young people to give them recognition, to listen to what they have to say, involve them in decisions which affect their lives and provide them with services which help them deal with the challenges of the role.
Foster families are at the heart of Futures for Children including foster carers, looked after children and birth children. We strive to support birth children throughout their family’s fostering journey, so they can continue to make an amazing difference. However, The Fostering Network sadly recognises that this practice is neither widespread nor constant among all agencies. They have made a number of recommendations which aim to strengthen regulations and guidance concerning sons and daughters and ensure that social work agencies, and other relevant bodies, develop strong policies and consistent practices which meet their needs.
The Fostering Network’s Recommendations to Support Birth Children:
Supervising Social Workers and IFAs.
In order to ensure that the experience of sons and daughters of fostering is felt as positive and supportive, in accordance with existing guidance, the Fostering Network recommends that fostering services:
2.1 In line with good practice and regulations, consider the views and the well-being of sons and daughters of foster carers at all stages in the fostering process and provide appropriate support as required:
- at the initial recruitment stage, holding a profile on their views and thoughts about fostering and the types of child/young person they would be happy to welcome into their home
- identifying what information and support they need in order to understand their role in a fostering family and to be comfortable within it
- during placements when discussion can take place during foster carers’ reviews
- as placements end, in considering issues of loss and separation and the possibility of ongoing contact with the foster family.
2.2 Designate a worker from the fostering team as the key contact for sons and daughters at the start of the process so that there is a channel for them to register their questions, concerns or complaints. This worker should be responsible for developing appropriate mechanisms that will support the son/daughter in their fostering role, will ensure that services respond to their needs, and that sons and daughters know how to gain advice directly from the service, particularly when needed urgently.
2.3 Provide sons and daughters of foster carers with a range of services which promote their well-being, which assist them in the challenges they face through their involvement in foster care and give recognition and reward for this role.
Access should be age appropriate and available through many sources including web sites, email groups and face to face contact. These include:
- The opportunity to build a relationship with a key individual in the fostering team and to be able to speak with them from time to time and on request
- Access to a support group that is fully funded on a permanent basis and that provides an opportunity to meet with other sons and daughters
- Opportunities to receive further information/awareness raising on matters related to foster care
- Appropriate recognition from a person in authority (e.g. an annual letter of thanks, a trip or a thank you present).
2.4 Take the necessary steps to ensure that fostering panels are properly trained and informed so that they fully understand the impact of fostering on sons and daughters and take into account the views and welfare of sons and daughters when making their recommendations and decisions. In order to ensure that panels are fully representative, fostering services should encourage and support sons and daughters who might be able to make a contribution as an independent panel member that is valued equally to that of other members of the panel, and provide appropriate preparation, coaching and/or training for them.
2.5 Seek the views of sons or daughters before making a placement which involves a fostered child sharing a bedroom with the son or daughter. These should be taken into consideration alongside other issues such as culture, gender and age, and other implications for the family, such as what would happen if a son or daughter returns home from university at holiday times etc.
2.6 Ensure that sons and daughters have quality time with their parents, away from the fostered child so that they can re-experience their family as a unit. Good practice suggests that fostering services should provide a flexible package of respite from the fostering task for the whole family that meets everyone’s needs. In order for this to happen with the least disruption, fostered children need to know from the start of the placement what the fostering agency’s policy is on breaks. Fostering services should ensure it is clear that foster carers are entitled to a break. If respite is part of a plan in a permanent placement, it is important that it is handled sensitively so that children can feel positive about arrangements that are made for them when their foster carers take a break.
2.7 Have clear policies regarding safe caring and the management of allegations which state clearly:
- The expectation that sons and daughters have the necessary age appropriate knowledge in order to function in a safe caring environment
- The support available to the sons and daughters of foster carers should they become the subject of an allegation of abuse and the support available to them should another member of their family become subject to an allegation of abuse
- That the safety and protection of sons and daughters of foster carers is given the same weight as that of other children
- That they will provide legal protection insurance for the sons and daughters of their foster carers who are aged 18 and over.
2.8 Satisfy themselves that the sons and daughters of foster carers have an understanding of any requirements to keep information confidential. This includes guidance on the use of social networking sites and requires that age appropriate guidance on the need to hold some information in confidentiality is freely available and accessible.
2.9 Ensure that the supervising social worker sees the sons or daughters on their own at least once a year at a time suitable for the son or daughter, and more frequently if that is requested, in order to build up a positive, trusting relationship with them.
How can Foster carers support their birth children?
3.1 Recognise and be sensitive to the impact of fostering on their own sons and daughters, acknowledging the impact it has on their sons and daughters’ immediate and wider family relationships, on their friendships and the ways in which they live their lives.
3.2 Ensure that their own sons and daughters can access, interpret and understand the information given to them by fostering services
3.3 Ensure that their sons and daughters have information about support services available to them and encourage their sons and daughters to contribute to support groups or take part in other events or networking opportunities for sons and daughters
3.4 Enable their sons and daughters to give their views in whichever way suits them (e.g verbally, in written form etc) to supervising social workers or others in whom they have confidence
3.5 Ensure their sons and daughters understand the need to share information to safeguard the well-being of a fostered child and have age appropriate guidance
3.6 Access and take up opportunities for breaks and family time that balance the needs of their own children with the needs of the fostered child
3.7 Ensure that sons and daughters have guidance that is age appropriate on their responsibilities to share information to safeguard the wellbeing of a fostered child.
The Fostering Network said:
“We recognise that the sons and daughters of foster carers are a key component of the success of a placement and, therefore, are key to promoting positive outcomes for children in foster care. Most sons and daughters state that they are happy fostering and recognise the benefits of this for all. A proportion of sons and daughters go on to become foster carers themselves or enter the caring professions and many feel that fostering enhances their social understanding, empathy and skills.
However, sons and daughters also report that the role involves substantial challenges for them and that some of their experiences are negative or difficult to handle… Where sons and daughters have formed a close relationship with children who are fostered it can be very hard for them to see these children move on. Other difficulties include sons and daughters feeling responsible for helping the child to adjust to the family’s expectations and rules, feeling that they have less privacy and having their belongings taken or broken. Some sons and daughters have also been exposed to difficult information, either through a child disclosing to them, or by having contact with the foster child’s birth family.”
When the fostering network completed their Policy Paper, they made the following recommendations to government:
1.1 Commission research on the long-term impact of, and contribution to, fostering of sons and daughters, foster carers and fostered children.
1.2 Strengthen the regulations, guidance and standards that govern how agencies work with and support the sons and daughters of foster carers, in order to ensure that the views and welfare of sons and daughters are taken into account throughout the fostering experience. This includes:
- during the assessment process, and whenever possible before making a placement
- how panels and decision-makers take sons and daughters into consideration in making their recommendations and decisions
- when decisions are made about placing children
- ensuring that sons and daughters have the opportunity to express and contribute their views to the foster carer’s annual review.
1.3 Introduce a requirement on fostering services to provide a range of services that offer appropriate and consistent levels of support and advice and training to the sons and daughters of foster carers, providing the necessary toolkit to help them do this and make sure that inspectorates satisfy themselves that fostering services meet this requirement
1.4 Ensure that inspectorates recognise the valuable perspective that sons and daughters can provide on the quality and nature of the fostering service, and take account of the views of sons and daughters when inspecting services
1.5 Consider the contribution of sons and daughters to foster care and the impact of foster care on sons and daughters when agreeing frameworks for post qualification awards for social workers
1.6 Ensure that social workers’ training includes a focus on the sons and daughters of foster carers, their contribution to fostering and the impact that fostering has on their lives.
Click here to read the Policy Paper in more detail.
Think you’ve got what it takes to foster?
Find out by taking our quiz below: