As Staffordshire County Council launches a drive to recruit prison officers and ex military as foster carers the question being asked is what they expect them to do with challenging kids in care.
On the face of it, it’s a fair question. We don’t want our foster homes to become extensions of youth custody establishments. It’s not about fierce control and push ups in the back yard for bad behaviour. It’s certainly not about physical confrontation. Foster homes provide love and care, a home from home, providing the fundamentals that may have been missing in the parental home environment for that young person.
So what are Staffordshire hoping to find? As it happens Staffordshire’s general approach may be somewhat similar to UK Fostering’s. The thinking is that by approaching such individuals, of which of course many will not be suitable or even want to foster, there may be those with the right skills, attitude and confidence to take on the responsibility of caring for a child who will need a resilient level of care. It is recognised that amongst the many skilled and able social workers, there are those who are not comfortable in dealing with children who are involved in negative behaviour and who may, at least outwardly, be intimidating towards them (intentionally or not). Foster carers can be very much the same. Each family will have abilities linked to their family situation, their experience and their self confidence. Confidence in dealing with challenging situations will often come from previous experience. There is a logical consideration that those who have dealt with military scenarios or those who have worked in prisons or as police will likely have the experience and therefore confidence to deal with challenging situations.
Working in my last organisation we had a couple who were remand foster carers. The male carer had retired from the military and the female carer was a probation officer. They cared for children who most foster carers would simply not feel comfortable to care for. I remember the female carer telling me that whatever information she read on paper about a child, was nothing compared to the adult offenders she dealt with every day at work. The end result of that experience and confidence was that they said yes to caring for children who would otherwise likely be placed in residential environments. And how did most of the children get on in the foster home? Great. This couple continue to turn around the lives of these young people with confidence, stability, love and care.
So is finding a confident person from this type of background all there is to it?
The process of becoming a foster carer is a complex and thorough process. At UK Fostering we approve less than 5 of every 100 individuals who contact us interested in fostering. Foster carers must be genuinely passionate about children, must be resilient and willing to take the rough with the smooth. They must evidence that they can provide genuine warmth and work with fellow professionals in a holistic way. We know foster care isn’t always the answer for every child and that children will sometimes be let down by the system. Indeed it is fair to say that some providers / local authorities will be better than others. If the philosophy of Staffordshire council is anything like UK Fostering’s, then the recruitment process aimed towards ex military and prison officers could be a really good idea.
Last week UK Fostering approved its first male police officer as a foster carer. The police officer is fostering alongside his wife. He is strong, confident and able to deal with confrontation, but more importantly he is passionate, caring, thoughtful and warm. We too will be focussing on police officers and those who have left the military as potential foster carers, but as above, only those who have what it takes to provide the secure, caring and loving home that so many young people need and deserve.