Once you have decided you would like to be a foster carer, your next critical decision is choosing an agency to be a foster carer with. This decision really will set up your foster care journey. A recent national survey showed that the key area carers wanted improvement was linked to the quality of support provided by their foster care agency and team that supported them.
You actually have plenty of choice when it comes to picking a foster care agency. When you start enquiring with agencies, don’t be afraid to say ‘no thanks’ if the agency does not feel like a good fit for you. I ended up going with the 3rd agency I contacted as they reflected what I was looking for in my foster journey. This included ruling an agency that did not get back to my enquiry in a few days. Whilst the recruitment team are unlikely to provide you ongoing support, they do reflect the organisational values.
Foster care agencies are all funded the same way and should provide you with a similar service, but best to check for yourself about what they offer and if you find their approach a good match for you.
Key points in relation to researching & deciding on an agency:
1. A simple web search ‘foster care agencies your location‘ should provide a list of options.
2. Some agencies specialise (Aboriginal, multi-cultural, religious) and the majority are generalist. All agencies should welcome and provide support to single people as well as LGBQTI people.
3. Ask if you can meet some of the team that will support you if you go ahead. The questions below are a good starting point but do think about what else you may wish to know:
- what type of support do you provide your carers other than the allowance?
- do you provide online and face to face training for foster carers? if so, what type and ask to see an example of a current training calendar
- do you match new carers with experienced carers to help learn the role?
- what type of support do you offer to foster carers in terms of working well with birth families?
4. Having some understanding of what type of carer you are interseted in becoming. The key ‘categories’ of carers are:
- RESPITE CARERS – Respite carers support children in care and their carers. A respite carer can become a key part of the support network around the child/ren when done well. Respite carer is probably the best way to start your fostering journey as you get a good understanding of the fostering. Respite carers may just care for one child or one sibling group once per month or every 6 weeks. Respite carers can also care for multiple children if they have the time.
- EMERGENCY CARERS – Emergency carers will take a child or sibling group at any time of day/night and are supporting children who have just entered care or who have have to leave a foster carer home. This role is for people who have time to respond to the unplanned needs of the fostering sector.
- SHORTER TERM CARERS -Shorter term carers is hard to quantify but could be anything from a few weeks (while family is found to care of a child/ren) to a couple of years (to support restoration work). The other aspect of short term caring is that if the sector cannot find family or for whatever reasons a child or sibling group is unable to return to parents, then you may be asked to continue to care ongoing.
- LONGER TERM CARERS – Carers doing long term work are providing a second family for life to children in care. Longer term carers may become Guardians or Adoptive parents if this is the in the best interest of the child/ren in their care.
5. Once you have decided on a foster care agency and decided what type of foster carer you want to be, there is a process of authorisation which is to ensure you are safe and appropriate in terms of caring for vulnerable children.
Like any form of parenting or caring. foster will at times be challenging. It is however also incredibly rewarding to be able to provide care to a child, young person or children in need and help them to feel safe, heal and remain connected to family that do love them but are unable to provide day to day care.
note – children and young people who are entering into the statutory care system are most often doing so as the result of intergenerational disadvantage, parent’s own trauma, untreated mental health, homelessness, domestic violence (and often a mix of these are playing out at the point of children coming into care). I personally acknowledge there are prevailing systemic issues such as racism and a lack of services to support families earlier that are exacerbating this issue.
A key solution is earlier intervention solutions – ideally co-designed by the people that experience these impacts. I also acknowledge that children in care, wherever possible should be living with family (including their siblings).
Whilst foster care is a ‘back end solution’, it is a requirement to ensure children and young people in need of care and protection can do so in a safe loving home environment instead of motels and group home models.