Fostering children is hard work, but also highly rewarding. There are smooth patches where life rolls along nicely, and there are rough patches too. The challenges vary from one child to another as they attempt to make sense of their world.
As a foster parent, you will be the person who bears the brunt of most of this but, you will also be the person they talk of in years to come, and the difference you made to their life.
What challenges can foster carers expect to face? What are the solutions?
Any foster carer will tell you that challenges come and go. Just when you think you have seen it all and dealt with it all, something else comes along. But foster carers are patient, dedicated people with an unwavering commitment that means they have the skills, and the support, to deal with challenges.
But if you apply to foster, what are the challenges of caring for foster children?
Foster children have complex needs, a result of their background story. As you can imagine, coming to terms with what they have been through will present them with many hurdles and barriers. It is common that when a foster child is frustrated, confused, angry or grieving, that they form destructive or anti-social behaviour patterns.
They might run away from home, throw tantrums or even have violent spells. This is as concerning and scary for you, as it is for them. It is important to remember why they feel they have to react like this. It may be that we don’t know their full story – and sometimes, we never do because they keep it to themselves. We need to remember this when they are struggling to cope, which is essentially what challenging behaviour is all about.
How do foster carers manage challenging behaviour?
When you apply to foster, you will undergo initial training that examines common issues that you will face, challenging behaviour being one of them. In effect, you will be prepared for when this happens, and you just need to remember that you need to dig deep into your ‘reserve of patience’! You also need to bear in mind that every child is unique and that how some children ‘lash out’ will differ from others. You will always have the support of your social worker too.
For some children, there is no quick fix. It takes many years of your love, patience and understanding, as well as therapy to help them look to the future with a positive outlook.
Not all children in foster care will stay in the ‘looked after’ system. For many children, foster care is about getting them back to their parents, when it is safe and in their best interests to do so. This means contact with parents or other relatives, and for you, as the foster carer, you will play a pivotal role in ensuring this vital contact continues but is positive. For some parents, the foster carer is a welcome ‘professional friend’, but for other parents and families, there can be a lot of resistance.
When this is the case, their anger and resentment can be difficult to manage. Although not aimed at you, it can be tough being patience and understanding when you feel ‘under pressure’ from birth parents.
How do foster carers manage contact with parents and family?
Again, you will have the support of the child’s social worker, and there will be a plan as to how contact time is to be managed. You will also need to feedback about how contact is progressing and what additional support you think the parents may need. You need to remain positive and honest. Again, when you apply to foster, how these contact sessions are managed will be discussed in detail.
Foster carers are, by their nature, caring, committed people who continually put their foster child at the centre of everything. With challenging behaviour and other issues to be dealt with, it is common for a foster carer to feel run-down or burnt out.
How can a foster carer manage their well-being?
You still need to take time for you and for your own family too, if you have your own children at home. It is important you learn to recognise when you need to take a step back or need help and support. There is no weakness in asking for help.
These are just three examples of common fostering challenges. But there are thousands of children entering the care system every day who need an adult who will care, respect, love and protect them. Some need short, respite care during which time their home life can be stabilised and supported. Others need long-term foster care.
And you could be the person who makes a big difference in their lives!
For more information on becoming a foster parent, visit Fostering People today!