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Lucy Stevens - 22nd March 2021
What is parent and child fostering?
When we talk to people about parent and child fostering, they often don’t know that it exists and certainly don’t understand it or consider it a part of the picture they have of fostering.
Parent and child fostering involves caring for a mum or dad and their child, often a baby. More often than not, carers will be asked to look after a young mum and her baby, a mum with learning difficulties and baby or an older mum who may have had children removed from their care in the past. Equally they may be asked to look after the dad and baby or both parents and the child.
This type of fostering can be two pronged. Often its purpose is to support and educate parents in caring for their child, to give them the best chance of successful parenting and to model prioritising the needs of children. More often than not, the arrangement is assessment based in which there is a need for assessment of the mum/dad/parents’ ability to safely parent. The foster carer’s observations are pivotal to this. Often the arrangement will be for a defined period at the end of which decisions will be made about the viability of baby staying with the parent. When done well and with the buy-in and efforts of all parties, this type of fostering offers the opportunity for positive parental role-modelling to take effect and can result in successful parenting. Sadly, though this is not always possible.
Why are parent and child foster carers needed?
A parent and child fostering arrangement may be put in place for a range of reasons. Many of the young people we support have been looked after themselves at some stage of their life through the Care system. Young people may have not been parented in a positive way and have not had healthy parenting or healthy relationships modelled to them. It is not always obvious to these young people how to care for their child and how to prioritise their needs.
Some parents might need to have their fundamental ability to parent assessed. This may be because one or both parents have a learning difficulty or other disability.
If the relationship between parents presents harm to the child, a parent and child fostering arrangement can help understand and address the level of risk to the child. There may be substance abuse or domestic violence involved.
Sometimes, young people are just vulnerable and do not have a safe and secure network of support in their own family networks. Parent and child fostering can help them receive guidance and build their knowledge and confidence.
What skills and qualities do you need to have?
All foster carers need to draw on a wealth of skills and qualities. Parent and child fostering is particularly complex because it involves the care of two or more individuals with very different needs. Of course the baby is always the more vulnerable and is the driving factor in any decisions made about a parent’s ability to parent. That said, the young mum or dad has needs and vulnerabilities of their own which skilled foster carers can help address and support so that the family has the best chance of success. Foster carers need to be able to see and hear the individuals whilst stepping back to view things holistically.
To provide a safe, supportive and effective parent and child setting, foster carers need to be:
- In control but not controlling
- Good communicator
- Good listener
It can be very hard for parents to agree to and take opportunities from parent and child fostering. There will always be a degree of scrutiny that parents are subject to that can be unsettling and difficult to accept. It is vital that carers are sensitive to this; it is a real skill to manage the emotions, practicalities and personal well-being of everyone involved and takes a very special carer. Like Michelle…
Michelle is a foster carer from Suffolk. She has demonstrated a huge amount of sensitivity and skill when caring for young mums and their babies.
“The mums and babies I have looked after have all been very different. The first young mum we had was so rewarding to work with. I suppose we began by building our relationship. We needed to get to know one another and trust each other. Once we had established that trust and she felt relaxed and easy with me, she would let me intervene in the care of the baby when needed. I loved watching her grow as a woman and as a mum. Although I spent so much time with her, when they left, I didn’t feel heartbroken because I felt it had always been her who was the mum, just with my guidance. I also had known from the start how long they would be with us so I was always prepared for them to leave.
It’s hard to measure the success of parent and child arrangements and they often walk hand in hand with sadness. What is often success for the baby, isn’t success for the mum. I felt that this particular experience was so positive and successful but the fact remained that mum didn’t have the full support she needed once she was out on her own and this made things very tough for her later on. Though of course we supported her as much as we could, she needed more.
We’ve had to do more structured assessment of parents too. This can be hard work and can be frustrating at times. One young mum we cared for loved her child so much, she really did. But she just didn’t have the ability to care for herself, let alone a small baby. Nonetheless, things ended really well; the baby is now with Nan and I feel so proud when I see photos of him and how well he is doing. Sometimes the best outcome for everyone is not what you set out to achieve and I suppose I’ve learned that over the years.
Parent and child fostering is very rewarding but can be hard work. In my experience the mums or dads need that loving nurturing care before they can give it to their children and in the time frame, with the baby already here, it’s very hard! It’s definitely a 24/7 job and if, like me, you stay in touch the responsibilities are always there!
Getting the right support is so important. We are so grateful to Eastern Fostering Services for their support. There’s a lot to manage when fostering parents and their babies and we really valued the experience of our Supervising social worker. She was always available to talk through ideas and strategies and to reassure me we were doing well.
I think, when done well, parent and child fostering is a hugely important piece of work that can interrupt negative patterns of behaviour for future generations and ensure children can grow up safely with the parenting they need and deserve.”
If you would like to speak to us about parent and child fostering or indeed fostering more generally, please get in touch. You can request a face to face zoom meeting via our website, message us via our facebook page or you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on 01206 299775.