As a foster carer, you will be welcoming children or young people into your home, committing to care and protect them. You don’t have to be married or in a relationship to be a foster carer, and neither do you have to be a parent.
But for those foster carers who do have children of their own, whether they still live at home or have grown up and moved away, it is a common question about how fostering children will affect them. I lived in a household that did foster children and for many many years we had the pleasure of extending our family for most of my childhood and several of our long term foster siblings still remain in touch via social media these days no matter how far they travel.
It is a question worth exploring but here’s the good news: introduced and managed in the right way, fostering is a process that benefits everyone.
A fostering family
When you agree to foster a child, it is not just you as a carer that makes a big commitment but everyone in your family, including your children.
It is important to consider how introducing children into your home in the long or short term will affect your family. And as a parent, it is only natural that you will worry how fostering could affect your children.
There is a growing body of research that has identified how fostering can affect children and what needs to happen as part of the fostering process to reassure them.
The impact of fostering
Fostering needs to have a positive impact on everyone, including your own children. And there are ways to do this;
- Involve children in the decision to foster – Research shows that for the impact of fostering to be positive, the most successful foster families had an open and communicative atmosphere and that the children were involved and part of the fostering process right from the start. It is essential that your children are able to discuss their concerns at this early stage about what fostering will mean for them.
- Information on the foster child – Your children also need to be prepared for the foster child arriving and this too means giving them information about them, so they know what to expect.
- Limit sensitive information – While information and communication are key, too much information – especially the sensitive and traumatic stories that foster children have – can be too much. Talk about fostering and how a fostered child can exhibit strange, unusual or ‘wacky’ behaviour, but limit the sensitive information to reduce unnecessary stress or concern.
- Protect time for your children – A foster child will take a lot of your time and focus. You need to understand that for your own children, this can be difficult. Learning to share their parents doesn’t come without problems, and so it is important that you protect time to spend with your own children to do fun stuff (and not just talk about fostering!).
- Let them talk! – Some patterns of behaviour can be unsettling, others downright scary to another child. Your children need to feel they can raise concerns, be taken seriously and talk through problems without being chastised or made to feel that the issue is theirs. After all, this sharing of issues and understanding is what creates the empathetic young person you are aiming for in raising your children.
- Prepare for endings – Foster placements can be short or long term, emergency or respite. Children who are fostered may move on, such as to their forever family. This is a positive thing, but endings are difficult for children. They need to learn that saying goodbye is part of the process, and although it is painful and emotional, it is the right step for their foster sibling.
Fostering as a family
The impact of fostering on your own children is not to be swept aside. It must be discussed, and it is not just you, as parents, who are involved but the social worker too. Key to the positive impact of fostering, research has found, is information and communication from the moment the decision is made to foster, right through the assessment process to placements and beyond.
Visit the Foster Care Associates Scotland website for more information and the training available when becoming a foster carer in Scotland! If you live in the rest of the UK, you can visit Foster Care Associates.