Catherine Bond: Fostering a child is a new life for carers and anyone can do it

The 5,469 foster children in Ireland get to live with a family, even if it’s not their own. Anyone, single or married, gay or straight, young or old, can be a foster parent, says Catherine Bond

Catherine Bond: Fostering a child is a new life for carers and anyone can do it

The 5,469 foster children in Ireland get to live with a family, even if it’s not their own. Anyone, single or married, gay or straight, young or old, can be a foster parent, says Catherine Bond

THE Irish Foster Care Association (IFCA) is the national organisation for foster families and the fostering community.

5,469 children live with foster families in Ireland today.

That’s 92% of all children in the care of the State.

The benefit of foster care is that children who cannot live with their own birth family continue to live in family homes, and many of them continue to have contact with their own family.

One foster carer stated: “The important point to remember about fostering is that the child could go back to their family at any time. Some may stay for years, or just a few weeks. Social workers say that returning them can feel like a terrible type of grief for the foster family.

“You must understand that these children don’t want to be fostered. It doesn’t matter how bad their situation was.

“All they want is to go back to their biological family, so you start slowly. The bonding takes hard work and time to pay off.

“Eventually, the rewards will slowly arrive. You see them beginning to thrive. They may do better in school. They would come home so excited to tell us about the match they won or the friends they made.”

Fostering Fortnight raises awareness of the value of foster care to children and to foster families.

IFCA’s recent member survey shows that 53% of foster families foster because they want to make a difference to the lives of children in care; 72% would recommend fostering to another, and 33% cited better communication when asked about what changes they saw in their foster child/young person after time spent in foster care.

There is always a need for more foster families.

You can apply to foster if:

  • You are single: You don’t have to be married or in a relationship. Many excellent foster-carers are single. But you should be able to demonstrate a strong network of support for you and the child in your care.
  • You are not heterosexual: Your sexuality will not stop you from fostering. What is important is that you can provide a young person with a safe, caring, and stable home.
  • You are not an Irish citizen: Applications from non-Irish citizens are welcome, once you can remain in Ireland indefinitely and can provide a long-term commitment to a child.
  • You are a Traveller: Traveller children also enter foster care and can be greatly supported by a family that understands and appreciates their ethnic and cultural background. Traveller families can also provide a caring home for a child who is not from the Traveller community.
  • You do or you do not practice a religion: It does not matter what your religious beliefs are, and this should not affect your application to foster. You will need to consider how you feel about educating yourself and your family about other faiths. You will need to be open to assisting a child to uphold the faith and traditions of their birth family or faith of choice.
  • You are over 40 years old: There is no upper age limit to foster. What matters is that you are fit and able to care for, and meet, the needs of any child you are approved to look after. A strong network of support to care for a child will also be very important; the needs of the child will be central to assessing your suitability.
  • You work: Depending on the needs and age of the child in your care, it may also be possible to continue to work. Foster-carers are expected to be available to care for children, attend meetings, training, support groups, and to promote and support access and contact between a child and their family. The child’s needs and best interests will be central to these arrangements.
  • You do not own your own home: There are lots of foster-carers who live in rented accommodation. However, it will need to be secure, stable, and long-term. This will have to be properly discussed and may need to be agreed with your landlord. Your accommodation should also provide the child with the privacy and space they require.
  • Teamwork: You do need to be open, have good communication, and have a willingness to work as part of a team with the Tusla social work department. You and your family must be open to expanding your family to include a child in care.

Many of our foster-carers at IFCA report that fostering has had a positive impact on their overall family life. Fostering is a team effort and involves the whole family.

IFCA offers a range of supports to foster families, social workers, academics, and all those with an interest in foster care in Ireland. Supports that IFCA offers include: a national helpline that is available Monday to Friday, 11am-3pm; a National Advocacy Service to support foster families who are involved in complex fostering issues; learning and development opportunities; and support through a network of local branches and foster-care hubs.

National and local advocacy is a central feature of IFCA’s work. The organisation advocates for improvements in foster-care policy and practice at government level, Tusla, DCYA, and other government departments. Foster families are supported locally to resolve complex issues in foster care, which may impact on the child that they foster or the foster family themselves.

Fostering Fortnight continues until March 15 and is an opportunity to celebrate and honour all those 4,500 foster families throughout the country. Many events to celebrate Fostering Fortnight are taking place around the country. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter and, to find out more.

IFCA is a membership organisation and membership is open to all. Membership is free for the first year.

Catherine Bond, CEO, Irish Foster Care Association

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