1 This page of frequently asked questions (FAQs) has been compiled from all of the questions that we have been asked at our monthly information meetings. These usually take place on the first Wednesday of every month in Wandsworth, where you will have the opportunity to meet our social workers and foster carers and ask questions related to your personal circumstances. Introductory FAQs How do you match children to carers? We always match children with carers in a way that best meets the child's needs. This means that we aim to provide a cultural match that reflects the child's background and heritage. We take lots of factors into account, and location is always important because we always keep children in their own schools - it's often the one constant in a child's life amongst the disruption that coming into care entails. It's not always an easy task, which is why we need to recruit more carers to enable us to have a choice of placements. Currently we need foster carers for brothers and sisters, troubled children and young people over 11 years old. We are also looking for more families for white children and children of dual heritage. How many children does Wandsworth foster? At the moment, we have around 200 looked-after children. Around 120 carers in and around Wandsworth borough foster them. Do I have to live in Wandsworth to foster for Wandsworth? No, but you'll need to be close, especially if you want to care for children of primary school age who you'll need to take, and pick up from school each day. Obviously there is more flexibility with older children, but living in, or close to Wandsworth means you can take full advantage of the support we offer. Does the birth family have the right to know where the child is? Yes, but not always the specific address because sometimes we have to protect looked-after children from unannounced or unwelcome contact with birth parents or relatives. When we place a child with you, we'll discuss with you how to manage this, as appropriate to each situation. We always take care that both the children and our foster carers are safe.
2 Miscellaneous Do I have to have a spare room? Yes, you ll need a spare bedroom to offer a child. Sometimes siblings being placed together can share a bedroom depending upon their age and gender. We do not allow foster children to share a room with your own children, and we will not accept your children sharing with you or someone sleeping in the living room in order to free up a bedroom for a foster child. If you are fostering a baby or child less than two years of age, they can sometimes share your bedroom. But in almost all circumstances you cannot apply to become a foster carer for Wandsworth without a spare room to offer. Do I need to have children of my own to qualify to foster? Not at all. Whilst it s true that raising children of your own is very valuable experience, you do not need to have children of your own in order to foster. Carers sometimes work with children and that is also good experience. Your supervising social worker, who will take you through the assessment process, will explore with you your experience of children and this will be taken into account as part of your assessment. What age range would I be allowed to foster? Can I choose to foster boys or girls? Boys and girls of all ages need foster care, and the age and gender of children placed with you would be something we d explore during your assessment. Sometimes carers feel they can only foster boys, or girls, or a certain age group but almost always they find that they are capable of offering much more! If you would like to look after babies and young children you need to be available during the working day. For primary age children you would need to take them to their school in Wandsworth. Many young people in need have a lot of school related problems and may even be out of school so if you work outside the home you will need to have flexibility around your working hours. At the moment we need more carers for young people aged 11+ so if you are happy to consider this age group then we can offer you more consistent placements with fewer interruptions of your fees. Are all your looked-after children schooled in Wandsworth? Most are, but not all. But in any case, you will experience a variety of placements where foster children go to different schools around the borough. Do you have children that have arrived in the country unaccompanied that need foster care? There are some unaccompanied children that need foster care, although there are not many such children in Wandsworth. They can come from quite a diverse range of backgrounds and so we are interested in hearing from people from a wide range of cultures and backgrounds who would like to become foster carers. We do not have any carers who are only approved to take unaccompanied children and we would expect all of our carers to be prepared to try to be flexible enough to meet the needs of any child from any culture.
3 The assessment process How long does the whole process take? Foster carers are very keen to start, and we do get asked this question a lot! But there s no precise answer to this question because a lot depends upon your personal circumstances and how quickly we work together to complete various checks, and so on. However, generally speaking the whole process, for most carers, is completed within eight months. After you ve attended one of our monthly information evenings and made a formal application to become a foster carer, you ll be visited in your home by one of our fostering team s supervising social workers. From there, you ll be invited to our Skills to Foster course a four day programme designed to get you thinking about how you ll handle some of the challenges of fostering. If you successfully complete the course, an in depth assessment begins, which include a variety of checks (CRB, medical, etc). Following this, you ll be invited to a panel that will ask you questions about why you want to foster. The panel will then decide whether or not to recommend your appointment as foster carers and the final sign off is made by our Assistant Director of Children s Specialist Services. How soon would I get children once I'm approved? This will depend upon how willing you are to take children of all ages the more flexible you are, the sooner we ll be able to start placing children with you. At the moment we need more carers for young people aged 11+, which is worth bearing in mind. What experience and qualities do I need? We recently asked our Looked-after children what qualities they like in their foster carers, and here s what they had to say: Be understanding. A good talker and a good listener! To be caring and supportive Someone who makes an effort To be loving and kind and just be themselves Be fair same punishments as with own children Some sort of experience with kids, loving qualities and a level of tolerance Controls the household well A loving nature and understanding. A natural flair or passion for children Kind, caring, committed and most importantly, patient They must like children! The qualities we look for in foster carers can be summed up as follows:
4 Will both my partner and I need to be CRB checked? Yes. All adults living in your home will need to be CRB checked as part of the assessment process. Would previous convictions prevent me from fostering? This depends what the conviction is for, and how long ago it was. Convictions for offences involving children will preclude applicants from fostering. What sorts of checks are carried out on my home and me? The specific checks which we ll need to carry out on you and your home include the following: All your addresses, including periods living abroad (apart from holidays) Your educational qualifications and employment history The name of your GP and their summary of your health A health and safety report on your home Identity and status check for which we ll need to see your original birth certificate and verify your passport or other certification of nationality National Insurance number Marriage/civil partnership and/or divorce/dissolution certificates seen, where appropriate Verification of household income and expenditure We appreciate that these checks can feel daunting and intrusive, but they are necessary so that we can ensure we select the right people to provide homes for our looked-after children. Are there different types of fostering to suit me? Yes. You could be a short term or respite carer; a long term or permanent foster carer, or one of our Short Breaks carers providing respite for children with disabilities. Do I need to be physically fit to foster? What if I'm disabled? You don t need to be super fit to foster, but you do need to be physically fit enough to cope with the daily demands of looking after children. This might mean taking a child to school and picking her/him up again; day trips; perhaps holidays, etc. If you have a disability we can discuss with you the limitations of this and ensure that this is taken into account when placing a child with you. Can I foster if I'm a smoker? We have a policy based on good medical and healthcare research that means that we will not approve carers for babies and younger children who smoke. We would prefer none of our children to live with smokers because of the risks of passive smoking and the encouragement
5 that it gives children to want to smoke themselves if they see their role models smoking. We will help people who want to foster give up smoking. If the panel doesn't approve me, will they tell me why? You have the right to be told why your assessment is terminated and the reasons for any panel decisions. There is a review process that you can request if you think that the decision is not fair or that you have been misrepresented.
6 The fostering role Does the child need to be looked after like one of my own family? All children deserve love and to know that they are important so it s essential that you look after children to the same standard as any children of your own. There are some clear differences and as part of safe caring you will learn about how to work with them over the course of your assessment and then as part of your training as a foster carer. Do I have to support a child's religious beliefs? Respecting a person s identity is central to building their self esteem. The child s religion may be a very important part of their identity. We would expect all carers to be prepared to actively support any child to practice their religious beliefs. When I go on holiday, can I take the foster child with me? Yes, if it is appropriate, for example if a child is placed with you on a long term or permanent basis. We want our looked-after children to experience normal family life, which will include joining you and your family on family holidays. As you ll see from our section: Fees and Allowances, we do offer financial support to take foster children on holiday with you. Do we have to keep a record of all the child's activities? As a foster carer, you will have a child in your home and by doing so will learn a great deal from and about them. You will be shown and supported to keep notes of the important things that happen which will help us know how to make the best plans for the child and how to reach the best decisions. As a very important part of our Team Around the Child your records will form part of the knowledge we gain about the child. How does the ongoing assessment of a child work? Because children constantly grow and change, it is important that we update our information about them and ensure that our plans are relevant and working. The child s social worker will coordinate information from different people, schools, health, carers, etc., and the social worker will use this information to assess the child s needs and progress. What's a 'care plan' and who puts it together? A care plan is often the document that follows assessment. It is where the child s social worker writes down the plans for the child noting any special help they might need and what we hope to achieve with and for them. Do I ever have contact with the child's family? Almost regardless of the circumstances that brought them into care, most children want and need to stay in contact with members of their family. In most situations, children will be most settled if they feel that the important adults in their life can agree with each other, or at least keep their differences away from the child. If it is safe to do so, we want foster carers to help
7 children have contact with their families. It is almost always better for the child when that happens. If a child tells me about abuse they've suffered, should I tell my supervising social worker about it? We will help you to learn about safe caring and how to manage situations like this. It is vital that you share all such information with either your supervising social worker or the child s social worker. We will also help you to learn how to talk to the child about such things and in a way that is appropriate. How will fostering affect my own children? Having a new child come to live in your home will affect your own children in different ways. If they still live with you they will have to learn to share their home. In any situation, they will have to learn to share you with the foster children. They may have to learn to manage their own feelings if you and the foster child have disagreements or arguments. It is very important that your children are fully prepared and support you in your decision to foster. In a way, they will be fostering too, which is why we include them in our assessment. Who makes the decisions regarding health issues? Legally, only a person with parental responsibility for a child can consent to their health care. Unless a child is adopted in court proceedings, their birth parent will usually keep parental responsibility for their child. Where a court has made a care order for the child, the Council also has parental responsibility. When children become looked after, we ask their parents to sign an agreement that foster carers can agree to and sign for emergency medical treatment. For planned medical things, the child s social worker will usually be the person who ensures the right people have been asked for permission as long as that won t cause a delay that is harmful to the child. If a child is sick and goes to hospital, who's responsible for looking after them? The Council places a child in your care and it is a foster carer s responsibility to ensure that either they are exercising the same level of care that they would for their own child, or that a responsible person from the Council has made other arrangements on the foster carer s behalf. What if a foster child breaks something in my home? As part of approving you as a foster carer, we will ensure that you have appropriate buildings and contents insurance. For small things, you would be expected to replace them from the allowance you are paid to foster the child. For bigger things we would want you to claim from your insurance company if at all possible. What do I do if I discover my foster child is taking drugs? As with all such things, we would want you to tell your supervising social worker as soon as possible. We have specialist staff in our Placement Support Team who will work with you and the child to help them to stop taking drugs.
8 Who has the last say in who looks after the child? The decision to place a child is taken jointly between a foster carer and the Council. Our Placements staff will share as much information as we have with you to help you to make your decision, and will work with you to see what extra support you may need. But ultimately the foster carer(s) will decide whether they will take a placement. In a situation where a parent may disagree with the Council about who should look after their child, a court will decide whether they should be in care or not. Once that is decided, the Council s social workers and managers decide where the child should live. If a placement doesn't work out, what happens? This situation is always a last resort. It doesn t usually help a child to be moved around especially as they have already often experienced rejection in their lives. So we will always work hard to support placements to work through hard times and to try to overcome difficulties. However, if it is clearly right for a placement to end, plans will be made to find another, more suitable placement for the child and for a planned move to take place.
9 Can I afford to foster? Do I need a certain income level to foster? No there aren t any set rules around this. Our carers come from all financial backgrounds, and you may be able to claim certain benefits whilst fostering. What financial support is offered to carers? We have recently reviewed our financial offer to foster carers to ensure they continue to be competitively remunerated. See the website for more details. Can I work and be a foster carer? Yes, but your work will need to be flexible enough to allow you to prioritise the needs of foster children when necessary. Some of our foster carers are also registered child minders as this means they can work from home, which fits in well with the demands of fostering. You may, like many of our carers, decide to make fostering your main or only source of income, but whatever your circumstances, we ll explore what s workable during the assessment process. Will I always have a placement, or will there be periods without children? This largely depends upon your flexibility with the types of children you can foster. However, there may be times when you have no child in placement. In recognition of this, you will be paid a generous retainer fee at the full rate for the first four weeks and at half-rate for the next eight weeks. Will you pay for a foster child's holiday with me? Subject to pre-approval with us, we can fund the cost of taking a foster child on holiday with you. This will be agreed with your supervising social worker. If my foster child wants lessons, who would pay for that? We are keen for all our looked-after children to learn and achieve, and will consider requests for funding for extra curricular learning and development. This will be agreed with your supervising social worker. What experience and qualities do foster carers need? Caring for foster children is a very difference experience to caring for your own children, and because of this, we re looking for exceptional people who can welcome children into their lives who may be hurt, vulnerable or traumatised. Our foster carers come from all walks of life, and bring a wealth of experience and qualities that they will draw upon to the benefit our looked-after children; however, there are some personal qualities that we look for in all of our carers. You should be honest, open and transparent from the outset. The assessment will ask some probing questions about your household, your background and history which help us to
10 complete a thorough report for consideration by the fostering panel and ensures that the people with the right skills are approved. But following approval, and as part of the team around the child, your professional input is extremely valuable in helping to secure the best outcomes for our looked-after children, so we will need you to share all significant observations about the children in your care with us. An advocate for the child, you should possess integrity and an awareness of confidentiality as well as a well developed sense of right and wrong. You ll also need a good understanding of your local community and how to access the resources available to you. A good sense of humour and personal warmth, energy, and resilience are all essential personal attributes that we look for. A team worker, you ll need to be able to work in partnership with your supervising social worker and other professionals and for this, you ll need very good communication skills and be able to articulate in detail any issues affecting children in your care, either verbally, or as written reports. You ll need to be able to prioritise, be flexible, and at times, patient. As a professional carer, you must be willing to listen to constructive feedback from others and to learn. The ability to creatively engage with children and think outside the box and, above all, treat the child as part of your family is essential. What sort of training and support will I get as a foster carer? As a valued Wandsworth foster carer, you ll be offered access to a wide range of training. Once approved, you ll embark on an induction training programme during your first year, and will then move on to more specialist training as part of your own personal development plan. Your professional development will be in line with recommendations from the Children s Workforce Development Council (CWDC), and you can expect to focus on areas such as safer caring, educational development, health and first aid training in your first year. We also offer NVQ training, which can lead to a degree if you demonstrate the desire and commitment to work towards this. As a professional carer we will expect you to actively participate in training to keep up to date with legislation and child development issues. You will be allocated your own supervising social worker (SSW) who you will speak to on a regular basis and get to know very well as you develop your fostering career. They will respond to your concerns and needs, and encourage you to participate in our range of support groups. We also operate an out of hours support service, so you re never left on your own. How much will I be told about a young person before they're placed with me? It is usually possible to discuss a placement with you before the child needs to be placed. This means that you will be given as much information about the child as we have to give you. Usually this includes the child s background, race and religion, the situation they are leaving behind, and what their immediate needs are. You will always be given a choice as to whether you feel you can care for a child, and we will always try and identify ways of supporting you if the child has particular difficulties. Sometimes we have very little information about a child, e.g. when they have to be placed in an emergency, but there will be a placement planning meeting within seven days of the placement, and new placements are always reviewed within four weeks. We hope that by that stage more will be known about the child s circumstances and the future plans for the child. Your observations of the child will also be critical in helping the team around the child understand the child better and make realistic plans. What happens if a child makes an allegation against my partner or me? We have comprehensive procedures which set out how allegations, complaints and serious concerns about foster carers are dealt with. Your child protection training will cover allegations. These are rare, but should an allegation arise, the first thing we do is to establish
11 the level of concern. What we don t do is pre-judge the situation our role is to protect the child and the carer and ensure that all relevant information is gathered before decisions are made. Part of our investigation would be about determining if the placement should continue or not. Very occasionally a child may be moved out of the placement, for example if an allegation is very serious, and consideration will also be given to the safety of other children living in your home. Your supervising social worker will be on hand to support and advise you throughout the process, and if necessary we will arrange for an independent person to advise and support you.