30 May 2013

Fostering - sometimes it's a family affair

Everyone knows what foster carers do – they look after children, don’t they?

Well, these days some foster carers don’t just look after children – they look after a child’s parent as well.

Some new parents have very limited support available to them to help them care for their new baby. They may have come from difficult backgrounds and not had the benefit of good parenting themselves.

Brighton & Hove City Council’s ‘parent and baby’ foster carers don’t just provide a home for the parent and their baby. Their role is also to give the advice and support the parent needs to be able to look after their baby independently in the community.

Wendy Barker has been a full-time foster carer for around four years, and a parent and baby carer for the last two. Because her parents ran a care home for adults with learning disabilities she grew up ‘in the care industry’, and says fostering feels like a natural extension of that.

Her husband Darren combines his carer role with running his own company. It gives him the flexibility to help out during the day if needed, as well as evenings and weekends. They have three children of their own who are all still living with them.

Supportive environment

Wendy said: “I’m used to being busy and I grew up sharing our house with other people, so fostering feels natural to me. Even now we still have one of my parents’ former residents living with us.

“Darren and I were both lucky enough to have happy childhoods and we’ve been able to do the same for our children. But not everyone is as fortunate. The parents we work with are trying to deal with big issues in their lives. Many were born into difficult situations that weren’t their fault.

“We want to give them the stable, supportive environment that we took for granted when we were growing up.”

Being a parent and baby carer means providing a stable environment where the parent can learn to bond with their baby and show the greatest possible commitment to it. It’s also about helping the parent learn basic practical skills such as budgeting, cooking or cleaning.

Wendy said: “It’s not about telling people how to live their lives, it’s about helping them reintegrate into society. Our role is to offer advice and support and monitor their progress.

“The welfare of the child is everything, and it’s so rewarding when you see them blossom as you help care for them.”

Darren says they always try to treat the parent and baby as part of the family. “These are people who in difficult circumstances have decided to really try to keep their children,” he said. “It’s a massive commitment for them. It can be tough to say goodbye at the end of their stay, particularly with the children.

Helping families stay together

"But success means you’re helping families stay together. “We always feel like we can make a positive difference for the children, and when you do see the change it’s a great feeling. We’re 100% for fostering.”

Wendy transferred from an independent agency to fostering for the council two years ago. “The support is better with the council,” she says.

“The fostering team, our social workers and support groups are all great and they’re all local. Previously my social workers, training and support groups were in Crawley.”

She describes fostering as a perfect fit for her lifestyle. “I wanted to be able to stay at home, be there for our children and be able to pick them up from school rather than go out to work in a traditional type of job,” she says. “Fostering has enabled me to do this. Nobody is saying it’s always easy but I love doing it and it’s incredibly rewarding.

“I also think our fostering is good for our own children. It helps them understand other people, and I think it makes them more caring and willing to share. I think it’s good for our children to have that extra perspective, to realise how lucky they are in the wider scheme of things and to be grateful for what they’ve got.”

The chair of the council’s children and young people committee, Councillor Sue Shanks, said: “We believe very strongly that children should only be taken into care as absolutely the last resort. Our parent and baby foster carers are playing a vital role in helping local families stay together.”

Want to know more?

If you have a spare bedroom and think you could offer a child a safe, caring home then the council’s fostering team would love to hear from you – or better still, meet you.

The council offers excellent 24-hour support and financial allowances of up to £1,400 per month per child to all its foster carers.For further information about fostering in Brighton & Hove, please:

  • Phone the council’s fostering team on 01273 295444
  • Visit www.fosteringinbrightonandhove.org.uk
  • Email fostering.adoption@brighton-hove.gov.uk

If you would prefer a social worker to visit you at home in the first instance, this can also be arranged. We look forward to hearing from you or to meeting you soon.