Which Fostering Service Should I Choose?

23 September 2020

In this article we look at how to go about picking a fostering service that's right for you.

You have two options if you want to foster: you either foster for your local authority (LA), or you join an independent fostering agency (IFA). Local authority fostering services are the fostering teams within your local council. For example, we are the fostering service at Brent Council in the London Borough of Brent. We are located in Wembley, Brent, but recruit people from outside the borough, too. Therefore, if you live in a different borough but relatively close to Brent, you can apply to join us. If you join a LA, you will look after children coming from the area managed by that particular LA. IFA’s, on the other hand, are private companies or not-for-profits which recruit and assess their foster carers independently.

When children come into care, they reach us, the LA, first. If we are unable to find a foster family that's suitable for them, then we go to the IFA's that we work with. They then help us find someone with the right skills to look after that child or sibling group. IFA's usually cover larger areas and have offices across the country. 

Before you apply to foster, it is important that you do your research and see which service is most suitable for you. You can visit the websites of various agencies and read about them, search for reviews, ask for information packs or attend information events. Most if not all fostering services, whether they are local authorities or independent, organise regular information sessions. We're currently running online information sessions on Zoom on the first Thursday of every month. Book to attend the next one here. 

As part of your research, use our list to find out what are the key aspects to look for in an agency and, finally, pick the most suitable one. If you are not happy with your agency, you can transfer to a different one. Changing fostering agencies when you are looking after a child is not desirable because it could disrupt the placement and possibly threaten the young person’s well-being. This is why it is important that you make an informed choice from the beginning.

1. The location

Make sure you choose an agency that is conveniently located from where you live. You will need to take the children to school, doctor’s appointments, family visits, and you must attend meetings yourself. Living in the same area as the agency will make it easier for you to travel. It will also save you precious time and money. We, for example, accept fostering applicants who live in Brent or any of the neighbouring boroughs: Ealing, Harrow, Barnet, Camden, etc. Some of our existing foster carers live in Harrow, for example, and they are finding it very easy to commute to various areas in Brent when needed. Ideally, you would apply to foster with the local authority that manages the area you live in, but if for some reason you choose us, which we would be thrilled about, we welcome you. If you are interested, write to us here.

       2. The reputation

You want to join a team with a good reputation, who will treat you well. For this, you need to be creative and do some smart research. Go to Google and search for reviews about various fostering teams; use social media to identify people fostering with your desired agency and contact them for feedback; join private groups or local foster carers’ communities and ask for recommendations. Facebook has a great recommendations tool that you can use. You have to create a post and then press the Ask for recommendations button. Attend one of our information evenings to speak to our carers directly and find out what they have to say about us to see if we are suitable for you.

3. The mission and vision of the team

To be happy in fostering you should choose a team of like-minded people. When you make a fostering enquiry with your desired agencies, ask the fostering service about their mission, the values they share and about who are the other foster carers. At Brent, for example, we are inclusive, open-minded and always concerned with the well-being of the children we look after – they are at the centre of our work. Through what we do we make sure that all the local vulnerable children have a safe place to call home. In the long-term, we envision a community where all the children have access to education and equal chances to succeed in life. We have foster carers from all walks of life, of different faiths and none, women and men, people with families, and singles. No matter who you are, you will find a ‘buddy’ in our team to ask for advice and support. 

4. The support

You may face some challenges on your fostering journey, but with the right support, you will overcome everything. We have a lovely team of highly qualified supervising social workers whose job is to help you be a good carer. Moreover, we give you access to professional support from The Fostering Network – the UK’s leading fostering charity. They offer advice and information to prospective and approved foster carers on topics like allegations, approval, finance, legislation, etc. In Brent, we organise monthly support groups for all our carers; these are safe spaces where everyone can share their challenges and achievements, ask for advice and find like-minded people. Through the support groups, we give our carers a safe space where they can discuss freely, be open and honest about thewir experiences, and propose changes that they may find suitable or indeed needed. If you are curious about what else we offer to fully support prospective and approved foster carers, check out the complete list of fostering support and benefits we offer at Brent.

5. The learning and development offer

Before you join a fostering agency, ask them for their learning and development offer. You need to know how they prepare you for fostering and how they support you to up-skill yourself. If you stop fostering and leave, you will take away with you the skills and knowledge you have acquired and possibly use them in a different role or setting. Never the potential of a good training programme. At Brent, we offer a wide range of sessions covering topics such as finances, children who have experienced abuse, record keeping, etc. Additionally, we offer initial fostering training to prepare you for the journey ahead. We also make you a member of The Fostering Network, which offers attractive courses.

Finding the fostering organisation that is right for you is not impossible. If you want to feel supported, respected and appreciated for what you do, we suggest you use our tips to research and compare agencies. Remember, being with a good team will make a world of difference to your overall experience and to the well-being of the children you look after.