Opening your doors to a child or young person in need, becoming a foster carer is a tremendous experience of providing someone with a sanctuary of safety. Ahead of Foster Care Fortnight, run by The Fostering Network, one disabled foster carer shares her experience of why she cares to encourage others to get involved.
Anyone can become a foster carer, providing a safe, welcoming shelter for children and young people experiencing a challenging time in their family life. Similarly, fostering children or young people can be a positively transformational experience.
Annually, it is estimated that tens of thousands of children and young people across the UK need foster carers. A child will be placed into foster care when they can’t live with their own family. There can be a range of reasons a person is put into foster care, from temporary illness in the family, temporary issues in the family, or more serious events such as witnessing domestic abuse.
Although you may be caring for a child or young person that has lived through some trauma, the benefits of helping this person feel secure and watching them flourish is the reason fostering is such an enriching experience.
Having always been aware of fostering after her parents became foster carers, going onto adopt a child, Alison was no stranger to foster care. Working as a teacher and travelling as part of her job, when Alison became a wheelchair user, despite being unable to work, she still wanted to be useful and having something challenging to do.
Alison explains: “I still enjoyed working with children so hoped to be able to do something within the field, ideally using the qualifications and experience I had. Fostering seemed like a good fit.”
Becoming a foster carer is an important decision. For Alison, there were initial worries. “Initially I was concerned that I wouldn’t be accepted to be a foster carer, whether my disability would rule me out,” Alison reveals. “I was worried that I wouldn’t be seen as able to care for the children.
“I wondered how other foster carers would respond to me as I was aware there weren’t many other disabled foster carers.”
Despite trepidations, anyone can become a foster carer. children and young people in foster care come from a range of backgrounds, and it is important that there are foster carers to accommodate this.
Common criteria that will be expected for you to be considered a foster carer is to be at least 21 years old, have a spare bedroom large enough for a young person to live in, be a full-time UK resident or have leave to remain, and be able to give the time and care required on a full-time basis.
Alison continues: “I found out during the application process with Liverpool City council that [my disability] wasn’t an issue as long as I could meet the needs of any children I would look after.
“So far I’ve only found taking children ice skating ‘off limits’, which hasn’t been a big problem.”
Like Alison, it is important to do a lot of research to ensure that becoming a foster carer is the right fit for your personal needs, your family are on board, and you are committed to providing a child or young person with everything they need to develop.
“The high points for me would be seeing the progress made by the children who I look after,” enthuses Alison.
Utilising the experiences and information available for free on The Fostering Network website, Alison found reading the experiences of other foster carers comforting and relating to some issues that had arisen. Similarly, Alison has been proactive in getting additional training to compliment her prior teacher training, including further mental health training from Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAHMS).
No matter if you are disabled, or you are looking to foster a disabled child, it is imperative that more foster carers are available to support children and young people. Alison adds: “The more families can be found for these children and young people so that they can remain in their local area, be with siblings or live in a family home [is important].
“I have seen the difference it makes to children to have a settled foster care placement and hope that more children can benefit from this.”
Foster Care Fortnight – 10 to 23 May – run by The Fostering Network is an annual awareness week raising awareness of fostering. The theme for this year’s event is #WhyWeCare, which was decided with the help of foster care experienced children and young people and foster carers, like Alison.
And, to those considering fostering, Alison advises: “I would say just make an enquiry about it. I put off my application for a few months as I didn’t think I could do it. Fostering has enriched my life immensely and given me a real sense of purpose which I may not have had otherwise. I’ve now been fostering for four years and have had challenging placements, so I’ve more than proved it’s possible.
This Foster Care Fortnight, make the move and be there to support a child or young person during a time of need. Get more advice on becoming a foster carer as a disabled person, or fostering a disabled child or young person, with The Fostering Network and TACT.