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The nuts and bolts of adoption

09 May 2014

Interested in fostering or adoption? Christine Miles lists ten things you should know


We are family: there is a particular need to find people to foster or adopt sibling groups

We are family: there is a particular need to find people to foster or adopt sibling groups

1. There are different kinds of placements

FOSTERING seeks to provide a family life for children unable to live with their own parent(s). Different placements exist, including: emergency, for a night or longer, often at short notice; short-term, for a few weeks or months, while plans are made for a child's future; respite, to give a short break to another foster carer; long-term, for children who cannot return to parents, but who do not want to be adopted, or for whom adoption is not considered appropriate; parent and child, for a mother and/or father and their child to provide short- or long-term parenting support; unaccompanied minor, for children from other countries, usually applying for asylum; specialist placements, for children with disabilities, learning disabilities or sensory impairments, challenging behaviour or significant health needs; remand fostering, for young people remanded bythe courts into care; connected persons/kinship/family and friends, for children in local authority care to be looked after by people they already know.

There is a huge need for people who can take sibling groups. It is possible to request to become foster carers for a particular sex or age-grouping, which may be particularly relevant to fit in with the needs of any birth children.

2. Applications can be made through a local authority or an independent agency

IT IS possible to apply to be a foster carer by contacting your local council. Many councils also use independent fostering agencies, particularly for hard-to-place children, to which you can also apply direct.

When researching foster-service providers, ask about the type of training and support that they give to their carers, what allowances and fees they offer, and whether they are likely to be recruiting foster carers for the type of placement(s) you are interested in.

You are free to choose which agency you register with, but you can only be registered with one agency at a time. If you decide to transfer, you must inform your current agency before a new assessment process can begin. Foster-service providers can share information; so any references already taken, for example, may not need to be taken again.

3. You do not need to be married, or a homeowner

FOSTER CARERS can be married, single, divorced or cohabiting, male or female, heterosexual, gay or lesbian. Homeowners, and those in rented accommodation (with a secure lease) are equally eligible to apply, so long as there is a spare bedroom available for each child that a potential carer hopes to foster (occasionally, young siblings are permitted to share a room).

No formal qualifications are necessary, but many providers consider the following to be desired qualities: experience with children and young people, and understanding, empathy, tolerance, energy, sense of humour, an ability to work as part of a team, and openness to training and development. Being able to communicate effectively is vital: foster carers attend meetings and keep written records related to their foster child, and may be required to help maintain contact with a child's family.

Most agencies ask for at least one carer to be at home full-time, or with flexible part-time employment. People on benefits can also apply to foster (one bedroom for fostered children is exempt from the "bedroom tax").

Foster carers are needed from various ethnic, cultural, and religious backgrounds, and there is no upper age-limit.

4. Applications take up to eight months

UNLESS an agency is not currently recruiting foster carers for the type of fostering an applicant is interested in, once someone has definitely requested to be considered for approval to foster, verbally or in writing, the application process begins.

In the first instance, potential foster carers attend a group-preparation session with other applicants. Suitability for fostering will then be assessed through a two-stage application process.

Stage one focuses on fact-checking, which includes: two personal references; health status, checked by a medical examination; suitability of accommodation; details of household members; criminal records; previous applications to foster/adopt; and details of current/previous relationships, etc. - this will include a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check (previously known as a CRB), applicable to any other household members over 18.

By law, applicants must be informed whether they have successfully completed stage one within ten working days of all the relevant information being received - although agencies have reported, for instance, waiting more than six months just for the DBS check alone.

Stage two focuses on suitability to foster. A social worker is assigned to work with each applicant, and will make six to eight visits to assess his or her (and their family's, if relevant) competence, lifestyle, and potential to care for a child effectively. Safeguards checks are also undertaken, such as with employers, the probation service, OFSTED, schools, adult children, etc.

Stages one and two may be completed separately, or concurrently. At the end, a social worker prepares a report to be presented to an independent fostering panel (IFP), who will recommend whether a person/family should be approved. The final decision, however, is made by the fostering service through which the application was made. The process from application to IFP recommendation should take place within eight months.

An applicant can withdraw at any point in the process (case records are required by law to be kept for three years). And an application can be rejected by the agency at any time, if applicants are deemed unsuitable. Applicants have differing rights of appeal, depending on the stage at which the application has been rejected.

5. Support and training is ongoing

THE level of support received may vary, depending on the foster-service provider. Some providers include: access to networking groups, where you can meet other foster carers; support structures for birth children; support to gain recognised qualifications; short-break care; 24-hour access to a social worker for advice and help with emergencies; and others. All foster carers are required to have an annual review to identify any training that is needed to helpsupport them in continuing to foster.

6. Foster carers are paid

ALL foster carers are paid a weekly allowance to cover the cost of caring for a child in their home, clothing, pocket money, etc. In England, the Government sets the national minimum allowance for foster-carers (2014/15 rates range from £119 to £209 per week, depending on the age of the child, and where you live. Rates increase annually.

Fostering is increasingly being seen as a "professional" role, and, as such, all local authorities and independent fostering agencies also pay foster carers a fee which takes into account their skills, experience, or professional expertise; the child's needs; length of fostering; and competencies completed.

Foster carers in the UK do not pay tax on their income from fostering up to a maximum of £10,000 plus allowances (an amount a week for each foster child placed with you: £200 for each child under 11; £250 for a child aged 11 and over). For example, tax relief on a child aged over 11 fostered for 52 weeks = £10,000, plus 52 × £250 = £13,000, which equals a total of £23,000.

7. If you want to adopt…

APPLICATIONS to adopt a child must be made through the local council, or through a voluntary adoption agency. Applicants must be aged 21 and over. Voluntary adoption agencies provide their services free, unless an applicant is wanting to adopt a child from overseas.

After panel approval to adopt, if a suitable match has not been made within three months, an agency will refer an applicant to the relevant country adoption register (Engand, Wales, Scotland), and may suggest that applicants explore services such as Be My Parent, the family finding service of the British Associationfor Adoption and Fostering: www.BeMyParent.org.uk.

Possible matches of applicants and child(ren) are presented to the adoption panel of the child's local authority. If a panel approves the match, things will move fast: a series of introductions and meetings will take place with the child, and the child can move in usually within a period of about four to eight weeks. The adoption order will be granted by the courts within ten weeks to 12 months.

Adopters may be entitled to statutory adoption leave from work for a period of 52 weeks (similar to maternity leave). The 2014/15 rate of pay is £138.18 a week.

Post-adoption support may be available through some adoption-service providers. The Government is currently funding pilots to try to develop centres of excellence in this area, to limit adoption breakdown and support those who adopt.

If a foster carer decides that he or she wants to adopt a child they are fostering, it is possible to ask to be assessed as a possible adopter for that child.

8. The impact on birth children

THERE has been very little research done on the impact of fostering or adoption on the lives of birth children. But, last year, the Rees Centre, at the University of Oxford, published an international literature review on the issue.

Its key findings were: being involved in the decision to foster enhances birth children's adaptation; being informed about fostering and each particular child reduces conflict; foster carers need to provide some "protected" time for their birth children; there is a need to limit sensitive information, particularly for younger birth children; being given space to discuss problems is important for birth children; children need to be prepared for when placements end.

For further information, visit http://reescentre.education.ox.ac.uk/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/ReesCentreReview_ImpactOfFosteringOnCarersChildren.pdf.

9. Getting the church on board

ADOPTION and fostering children involves ongoing challenges. Often, children have experienced damage and trauma, and may display challenging behaviours as a result.

Recent government research suggests that the rate of adoption breakdown nationally is three per cent - much lower than was previously thought. Adoption placements, however, can often run into trouble in teenage years.

Home for Good advocates that the whole Church is called to be involved with "caring for the orphan", and that individuals and families must be supported in their decision to foster or adopt, both in prayer and with practical action.

The book Home for Good: Making a difference for vulnerable children (Hodder & Stoughton, 2013) provides a detailed theology of adoption, as well as practical examples of ways in which people can help, even if they do not foster or adopt themselves.

Care for the Family, in conjunction with Home for Good, is in the early stages of developing peer-to-peer support groups around the UK for Christians involved, or interested, in fostering and adoption. Visit www.homeforgood.org.uk/about/

10. More information?

The Fostering Information Exchange Network is an online knowledge-sharing forum for foster-carers and professionals. Visit https://knowledgehub.local.gov.uk/web/fosteringinformationexchange.

Fosterline is a free, government-funded helpline and website that offers confidential, impartial advice; information; support; and resources on all aspects of fostering. Phone 0800 040 7675; email enquiries@fosterline.info, or visit www.foster-line.info.

First4Adoption is the Government's information service for people interested in adopting. Visit www.first4adoption.co.uk

The Fostering Network is a charity that provides information about fostering, offers support and advice to its members, and campaigns to improve foster care. Visit www.fostering.net.

The Nationwide Association of Fostering Providers is is the only UK trade association that campaigns solely for independent- and voluntary-sector fostering providers. Its website provides useful updates on fostering news. Visit www.nafp.co.uk/.

The Government provides information on fostering through the Department for Education. Visit www.gov.uk/childrens-services/foster-care.

The Consortium of Voluntary Adoption Agencies provides a list of member agencies online. Visit www.cvaa.org.uk.

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