Welcoming children and young people into your home can be an incredibly rewarding experience. Foster care can have a transformative effect on the lives of foster children, helping them heal, learn, and grow in a safe environment.
Yet, the idea of fostering can also seem a little daunting. While rewarding, being a foster parent also comes with its challenges, and over 73% of our foster carers said they thought about fostering for more than a year before applying.
Choosing to become a foster carer is a big decision, with plenty to consider along the way. But Compass are here to answer anything you might want to know during your deciding process.
Questions to Ask Before Becoming a Foster Parent
The first step in your fostering journey should include a lot of research about foster care and the various fostering agencies available to you. But alongside gathering plenty of information on fostering, what kinds of questions should you be asking yourself?
In this guide, we’re looking at the things to know before becoming a foster parent, including the kinds of factors you should take into consideration before making any decisions.
1. Do I Meet the Fostering Criteria?
Before you even begin to consider fostering, it’s important to make sure you meet the fostering criteria. Foster parents come from a range of backgrounds, with varying life experiences and skillsets. At Compass, we try to see the potential in everyone.
However, there are a few key criteria that we ask all our foster carers to meet before submitting an application. Some of our key criteria for fostering include being over the age of 21 years old and having a spare bedroom. If you do not meet these criteria, then it is unlikely you will be accepted as a fostering applicant.
2. Am I Prepared for the Assessment Process?
To be approved as a foster carer, you will have to go through something known as the fostering assessment. Assessment helps fostering agencies get an understanding of what you would be like as a foster carer, as well as ensuring that any children placed in your care will be happy and safe.
Whether you’re prepared to go through the assessment process is important. This process can be time consuming – taking between 3-6 months, depending on your availability and how quickly your checks and references can be completed. It’s also a very personal process, as much of the assessment requires us to look into your past and speak with various people you’ve met throughout your life.
One of our foster carers, Terri, said: ‘what I wish I knew before becoming a foster parent is that the assessment delves into every aspect of your life and it’s a very emotional journey. However, Compass was very supportive throughout – and there was always somebody to talk to.’
3. How Will Fostering Impact My Family?
Fostering can have an impact on not just yourself, but your family too. Having a vulnerable child or young person in your care means sharing your family home with them.
The first few months can be an adjustment period. Any birth children you have will have to learn to share their space, toys and parents with other children. While, long term, welcoming a foster child into your home can be beneficial for everyone, it’s worth thinking about how you’ll navigate those first few months with your family.
Julie and Neil have been fostering with us for a few years now. When they first began, they were concerned about the impact fostering would have on their birth children. However, Julie told us that though her kids ‘have had to adapt to the fact (she) might not be around for a few hours, they’ve ‘adapted brilliantly’ and both Julie and Neil ‘can see how much (their) birth children have got out of it.’
4. Do I Have a Strong Support Network?
One of the most important things to know about fostering a child is that it can be stressful at times. Providing care for vulnerable children and young people who have had adverse experiences requires a lot of time and patience.
That’s why it’s essential that foster carers have a dedicated support network surrounding them that they can lean on during tougher times. This includes family, friends – and fellow foster carers. After all, no one knows the ups and downs of fostering quite like another foster parent.
At Compass, we understand how important it is to support our carers to continue doing what they do. We regularly organise support groups for our foster carers to meet, connect and draw on each other’s experiences. Once you’re approved, be sure to participate in any support groups – as these will help you begin building links with other foster families.
5. Do I Have the Time to Foster?
Another of the most important things to know before fostering a child is that fostering can sometimes be demanding timewise. While it is possible to continue working alongside fostering, being a foster carer is an in-depth role which requires flexibility.
Foster children cannot be in full-time day-care, nor should they be spending each of their mornings and afternoons in preschool and after school care. You’ll need to be able to attend meetings, drop them off at school in the morning and pick them up, as well as taking them to any appointments they have, or any contact time with their family.
Consider your current responsibilities in your day-to-day life, and how these might affect your availability when it comes to foster a child. The safety and wellbeing of the foster child should always remain a priority, so it’s good to think about how you’ll be able to meet their needs on a daily basis.
6. Can I Stick Around When the Going Gets Tough?
Many foster children come into care having experienced trauma like abuse or neglect. As a result, they might act out or behave in a challenging way, like swearing or being aggressive or destructive.
If you’re wondering what to know before becoming a foster parent, consider how you’ll cope when a foster child might be displaying behaviour that challenges you. Will you be able to remain calm? Can you continue to love and care for them, regardless?
In these situations, patience and understanding are essential. Sometimes referred to as ‘stickability’, foster parents need to have a certain level of resilience. Foster children need security and stability to thrive, allowing them to form healthy attachments and positive relationships.
At Compass, we give our carers all the necessary support and training to know how to respond therapeutically in these situations with the help of our REACH approach. As our foster carer Haley says, ‘you have to be prepared for anything. But, when a child says they love you, when a month or two ago they wouldn’t even acknowledge you – that makes it all worth it.’
7. Will I Be Able to Say Goodbye?
There are lots of different types of fostering. Some fostering arrangements last only a few days, while some can last anywhere between a few weeks to a year. However, unlike adoption, fostering is not a permanent arrangement.
No matter how long your foster child is with you, the truth is they will one day move on – whether it be into a different care arrangement, back to their family (once any issues have been resolved), or on to independent living. Consider how you’ll navigate these feelings, and the kinds of things you might need to prepare yourself for.
After all, forming strong, trusting attachments is what fostering is all about. It’s natural that you’ll get attached to the children and young people in your care. Some birth parents, adoptive parents or other foster carers allow past foster carers to maintain a relationship with the child once they have moved on – but this is not a given.
Goodbyes are never easy but are a necessary part of being a foster carer. As foster carer Mark says, ‘there are some sad times, like when a foster child moves on. But seeing them blossom is what keeps us from giving up.’
8. Do I Have a Lot of Love to Give?
Fostering can be challenging at times – which is why it’s crucial that foster carers have a lot of love to give. People foster for different reasons, but most carers share the same goal: to provide children and young people with the love, care and support they need to succeed.
Foster carers have the unique gift of sharing in some of the most important moments in a foster child’s life. From their first words spoken, to their first proper birthday party, to decorating their first Christmas tree – foster parents support children in learning to trust others and celebrate their achievements.
For our foster carers Mark and Nick, one of their most memorable experiences so far has been seeing one of their foster son graduate from university: ‘having seen the children grow from strength to strength and achieve awards for everything they put their minds to is reward enough for us.’
Having a lot of love to give is one of (if not the) most valuable traits that a foster parent can have. As Mark and Nick say, ‘you don’t just open your home when fostering. You open your heart, your mind, and a whole new way of life for all involved.’
As with most big decisions, deciding to become a foster parent will take lots of time and plenty of consideration. However, if you can answer ‘yes’ to most of the questions above, it’s likely you’d make a brilliant foster carer!
At Compass, we understand that the fostering journey is a lengthy process. You may still have a number of questions about fostering – and we’re happy to answer them all! Read our guide on how to become a foster parent or get in touch with a member of our team to find out more about fostering with Compass.