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Can women over 50 foster a child?


Article by Annette Webb

When we recently discussed new government guidelines removing the barrier of age as it applies to adoption, several people asked if the same applied to fostering. We asked Annette Webb from Simply Fostering if this was the case and whether fostering was a viable option for midlife women.

‘Empty Nesters’ are  some of the most skilled childcare workers

 Many Over 50’s foster carers  or ‘empty nesters’ are now seen and recognised as some of the most skilled childcare workers in the UK. This is because of the childcare experiences they have gained over the years. They have often dealt with and coped with numerous difficulties and challenges. The over 50’s still have plenty to offer in caring for vulnerable children, including stability, energy, commitment and in our experience  plenty of time on their hands to use when working with vulnerable children and young people.

Over 50s actively recruited as foster carers

Their own children have left home or are soon to be leaving home, leaving a void in their once busy lives. In fact, numerous over 50’s foster carers have actually said to Simply Fostering that they are bored without having children around the home and would like to do a worthwhile job.

Some Fostering Agencies and Local Authorities are actively seeking to recruit foster carers who are over 50, as they generally don’t have younger children living at home, they are financially secure and they have comfortable and stable family lives from which foster children can benefit.

At any one time there are approximately 80,000 children in care in the UK. It is generally accepted that there is a shortfall of 10,000 new foster carers every year which compounds the growing problem of foster children being separated from their brothers and sisters, having to live a long way from their family and friends and being denied placement stability which impacts on their education, self esteem and as a consequence causes further disruption in children’s lives.
Along with placement breakdowns, one of the potential outcomes of the lack of placement choice are the 50% of care-leavers who do not enter education, employment or training and end up drifting. Very significant proportions are leaving care on their 16 birthday through their own choice, with very few options available to them.
The more people approved as foster carers, the more likely it is that a good match can be found for a child in terms of location, culture, lifestyle, language and interests. More foster carer’s means reducing the damage that instability causes to the most vulnerable children in our society.

A published research document produced by Professor Bob Broad of London South Bank University analyses the views and experiences of children and foster carers as part of a ten year longitudinal study. 
Professor Broad says: ‘It is especially important that children in foster care feel valued within a safe, stable, loving family situation. Their health and well-being are connected to their participation in family life, and decisions about their foster placement’.
This research study evidences the high value children in foster care place on their current foster carer whilst also wanting further contact with their birth family. The study points to the positive yet often difficult journeys they make as they seek to sustain friendships, achieve a good education, and in some cases, improve their mental health and behaviour.

Applications to foster

Whilst almost anyone can apply to be a foster carer, people need to have or to be able to demonstrate potential parenting skills which are adaptable to the fostering role. Foster carers are optimistic, good listeners, flexible and with a good sense of humour, which also helps.
In our experience one of the most difficult issues for people has been discussing finance. Looking after children and receiving a fee is a difficult concept at first and many foster carers have told Simply Fostering that they found it embarrassing to talk about payments.
Times have changed and fostering is no longer seen as a voluntary service. In order to recruit and retain foster carers it is now accepted that foster carers need to be financially rewarded as are any other workers in social care. Local Authorities and Independent Fostering Agencies provide fees and allowances to enable foster carers to care for children and young people on a full-time basis. Foster carers are now paid allowances of between £350-420 tax free, per week, per child.
Many people are choosing fostering as a career choice and committing to fostering on a full time basis. Generally, the more available you are the more placements you will be offered.

Anyone interested in fostering and becoming a foster carer should go to www.simplyfostering.co.uk  where all information, practical support and choice is just a registration form away or contact Annette Webb at info@simplyfostering.co.uk
Simply Fostering is a response to the shortfall of foster carers. It is a unique, not for profit web based service designed by fostering social workers to encourage interested people to apply to become foster carers who might feel confused and/or uncertain about their suitability or which Agency to contact.
Simply Fostering help by providing easy to understand, impartial, comprehensive information about fostering and how to become a foster carer. General enquiries are answered and if the enquirer completes the registration form, recruiting fostering agencies are identified who will then contact the enquirers.
Simply Fostering is not an Agency therefore the free service is able to provide people with choices to find the right Agency for them and their family as recommended by government and Fostering Network.

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Comments

  1. Kirsten Gronning

    March 6, 2011

    Congrats to Annette in highlighting a little known fact – that so called Empty Nesters do indeed make great foster carers for all the reasons she gives, e.g. ‘they generally don’t have younger children living at home, they are financially secure and they have comfortable and stable family lives from which foster children can benefit.’

    But therein lies the rub and often the reason why so many potential carers consider fostering but don’t actually take it much further than that – they *are* financially secure (thus they don’t necessarily need extra income) and they *do* have comfortable and stable family lives (so why would they risk upsetting all that even for the very good reason that it is for a fostered child to benefit?)

    I’d suggest that there has to be another reason – and for me (an approved foster carer of >1 year) that reason was fourfold:
    1. Fostering gave me back the opportunity of keeping a large family roof over my head (my original family house was lost in divorce;
    2. Fostering gave me a much needed decent income, the sort which simply wasn’t available if I went out into the workplace;
    3. Fostering enabled me to keep a small home based business going;
    4. Fostering enabled me to work for myself, from home – bliss!

    In summary, fostering has given me back some financial security as well as giving me the small children at home, recommended if you want to keep young! When I brought my mother and baby who were placed with me to my hairdresser last year, one of the stylists thought it was my baby and the mum was my baby’s nanny! Quite a compliment for someone nearing their mid-50s (okay, so hairdressers tell you want you want to hear!)

  2. Jo Carroll

    October 31, 2011

    I worked with traumatised children for decades – and, in my opinion, age has nothing to do with the skill or otherwise of foster carers. However, they do need very special skills – these children have had the worst things happen to them and need special parenting.

    So, as I see it, essential skills are:

    A willingness to be flexible – different children need very different approaches, and the experience of having brought up one’s own children isn’t enough on its own.

    An almost bottomless pit of empathy – to enable you to understand the feelings that can lie beneath the most challenging behaviours.

    An honestly about your own dreams and feelings – and an ability to allow others to care for you while you care for the children.

    Energy. Yes – it’s a factor. Which doesn’t mean women over 50 don’t have it. But I’m over 60 now and know I couldn’t do it. (Hours in a police station with a kid who has offended, or by the hospital bed by a lass who has overdosed, followed by getting up in the morning and getting the others off to school – all without sinking in a corner of the kitchen in a heap of exhausted tears.)

    But it is one of the most important jobs in the world. Anyone who has ever wondered if this is for them – do follow these links and find out more about it.

    • Ceri Wheeldon

      October 31, 2011

      Jo, thank you for pointing out some of the issues which anyone looking to adopt or foster needs to consider. I know I have friends who are desperate to adopt- and are finding it difficult to be approved. I do have one friend who adopted late in life- despite knowing that she would lose her sight. She had older stepchildren. They all encouraged my friend and her husband to adopt a young girl from China- as they knew they could offer a loving and supportive home and family life. It has worked out really well and happily for all concerned.

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