Beginners welcome in foster care

The average age of foster carers is 53 – and rising. Kate Hilpern reports on the pressing need for new recruits

Gloria Samuel was 29 when she started fostering: "Back then, I looked after three babies, plus my daughter. But I never felt like it was really hard work. I guess it was because I had so much energy, because of being young. Actually, fostering never felt like work at all, because I wasn't having to rush out of the house in the mornings or anything like that. I could do everything at my own pace, which you can't do in most jobs."

Prior to fostering, Samuel had been a psychiatric nurse but, such was her love of children, she always found herself drawn to working in the mother and baby unit. "Another motivation for fostering was that my job involved shifts and that impacted on the time I had with my daughter," she says. "Then there was the fact that I'd enjoyed giving my sister respite by looking after her severely disabled child regularly. And finally, I'd seen how much my mum and dad had got out of fostering."

Fourteen years on, Samuel has looked after 72 children, including many with physical and learning disabilities, and yet she is still at the lower age range of foster carers. Indeed, new research from the Fostering Network shows that two-thirds of the fostering workforce is aged 50 or older. The average age of foster carers was 46 in 2000; it is now 53.

While older foster carers are just as valuable to the profession, the ageing fostering population is a problem, says Helen Clarke, development worker at the Fostering Network.

"First, all foster carers need to retire," she says, "so we could wind up with a deficit of foster carers in the near future, causing more disruption and instability for children in care. Second, diversity is just as important in this profession as any other."

Clarke believes many younger people, whether in their twenties, thirties or even forties, may assume they need more childcare experience under their belt before applying – perhaps even waiting until their own children are grown up. "This isn't the case. In fact, people can foster even if they don't have children," says Clarke. "All foster carers get intensive training."

Other people, she adds, may be put off by low payment levels. "But in certain areas of fostering, you can get a good fee – for example, through specialist work such as looking after children with challenging behaviours, taking in young people who have offended, or through therapeutic schemes where you have a child for a set period of, say, two years in which time you achieve certain goals with them."

At Islington Council, campaigns and marketing officer Laurence Prieto has been busy trying to address the shortage, not least because they've found people under 45 make particularly good foster carers for teenagers. "Because they're closer to the issues teenagers face, they tend to be able to act more like a mentor than a parent – which is often just what is needed. We need people who aren't going to be shocked if the young person smokes a bit of pot, and who won't chastise them the whole time," he explains.

The first set of advertising posters the council produced had pictures of people, such as a black youth or a teenage white girl, accompanied by the text: "We're not always trouble".

"It worked well, but because we were worried we were giving people a rosy picture, we decided to be more brutal in our campaigning," says Prieto. "One of our latest posters is a boy frowning harshly, with the text 'He needs help, are you going to be there?', and another is a girl looking melancholy, with the text: 'She needs to talk, are you going to listen?'

"What we're saying is that there will be problems with this age group, but with your support, they can be helped," says Prieto. "It seems to be working – last year, the average age of our carers was 45; this year it's 40."

Like many younger foster carers, Vilma Watt, 37, decided to give up a high-flying career – in her case as a barrister – in order to foster. "You'd be surprised how many of the skills from that job come in useful with fostering, particularly in working alongside other professionals, managing review meetings and keeping a formal record of my experiences with each child," she says.

She and her husband, who have five children between them, take on up to three further children at any one time through fostering. "I love it," she says. "To be part of a young person's surroundings is humbling and often you see changes in that young person very quickly. Just through healthy food and set bedtimes, you see them become happier. Just through turning up to a child's sports day – when nobody has ever done that for them before – you see them build confidence. The hardest part is when I have newborns and they move on, but you always take with you the knowledge that somewhere in there, there's a little part of you," says Watt.

But while many foster carers come from professional backgrounds, Andrea Warman, foster care development consultant at the British Association for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF), points out that people from all groups of society are needed so that the best match can be found for each child.

"Clearly, qualities such as building relationships with young people can come from a career in teaching or youth work, while being a barrister can help with other areas of the fostering process," says Warman. "But it would be dangerous to suggest this level of professional history is essential – it isn't."

But whatever background you come from, fostering is a lifelong learning process. "There is always some different issue you haven't dealt with before," says Samuel. "And because you get so much support from other foster carers, as well as through your agency, there's always someone to guide you through. That's one of the things I love most about fostering."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Marketing & Social Media Executive

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a Marketing Graduate or...

Ashdown Group: Graduate Developer (Trainee) - City, London

£25000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A large financial services company...

Recruitment Genius: Financial Services Graduate Training Scheme

£20000 - £100000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are a successful and establ...

Guru Careers: Software Developer / Software Engineer

£20 - 35k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Software Developer / Software Engineer is nee...

SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future