In the short time I've been fostering, a number of people have asked me about the approval process, so here is the first in what will probably be a short series of posts about my experiences of getting approved.
I say a series of posts, because the process is long and pretty involved. It would be misleading to suggest that it was simple and short enough to fit into just one post! Here, I'll just do a quick overview of the main steps in the process.
In all honesty, it all began for me a long time before I actually decided to do anything concrete about it, but that's a story for another time. I started the official process by making a phone call to the Fostering Team at my Local Authority back in November 2009. During that phone call, they told me how much I'd get paid. This revelation caused me to put the phone down hastily and do nothing more about it for nearly four months!
When I got back to them in February 2010 they arranged an initial visit in very short order. Foster carers are in short supply everywhere, so Children's Social Care tend not to hang around when somebody shows an interest.
At that initial visit I sat with a really lovely social worker, Gillian, for over two hours. We talked about the whole issue of fostering, my motives for making the call and some of my background and experience. She told me a little of what I could expect from the assessment procedures and about the training I would need to attend. She left me with the application forms and told me to think it over. Personally, I found this a really positive meeting.
Once I had sent off my application, Gillian came again with a colleague, Amber, who was newly-qualified. This was another very positive meeting. This time we went into more detail about the assessment process and they also went around my house to check that it was suitable (e.g. that I had a spare room, etc.) and to make a note of any obvious health and safety concerns.
All potential foster carers receive training before being approved. In my LA, this involves attending the 'Skills to Foster' training which took place over two Saturdays and one evening. I'll go into this in more detail in another post.
After that, the assessment visits begin in earnest. I actually had several assessment visits before I attended 'Skills to Foster' because due to cancellations and my previous commitments it was a few months before I could actually do the training.
The assessment visits were carried out by Amber, who became my link social worker. We had about 14 of these, and over the weeks I had to share pretty much everything about myself and my whole life with Amber. Again, I'll go into more detail about this in another post, but suffice it to say that at the end of it all, the report that Amber wrote about me was over 50 pages long, not including appendices, references, etc. Be prepared for an extremely invasive process - they really do want to know every single thing about you and everybody else in your household.
Amber also had to watch me interacting with children and write a report on that. I 'borrowed' my friends two children for this and organised a play date at my house. She also took references from family members and friends that I had nominated.
And of course there were the CRB checks for myself and anyone else who might be likely to have extended unsupervised contact with a fostered child.
As part of the process, I also had to write (with my social worker's support) a 'safer caring policy' for my household to demonstrate how I would ensure that children were safeguarded while in my care. This was fairly easy for me as I am a lone carer, but would be more involved for a family.
There was also a full health and safety check of my house. I had to rectify any shortfalls before approval. For me, thankfully, there were only minor issues such as making sure smoke alarms were fitted and that I had appropriate safety measures put in place for babies.
When the assessment portfolio was completed, I was put forward for panel in March 2011. The process can be done more quickly than this, but I had started a job on a one-year contract at the start of the process so we were happy to take a whole year over it.
Once I was approved, I worked out my notice at work and two days after I finished, I had my first placement!