According to research from The Fostering Network, the UK’s leading fostering charity, around 70% of children in care have special needs, whether that’s learning difficulties, physical disabilities or long-term medical conditions.
Despite the clear need for disability carers, there’s a woeful shortage. Many people worry about the challenges and time commitment, while others believe they lack qualifications.
In this blog, we’re here to answer all your questions about caring for babies, children and teenagers with special needs. We dispel common myths (hint: anyone with the right characteristics can apply) and run through training, support and allowances. Lastly, we share some expert advice to help carers on their journey.
Can anyone foster a child with special needs?
You don’t need any qualifications to foster children with special needs. Instead, agencies and social workers look for certain traits like patience, understanding and resilience.
Additionally, you should demonstrate a commitment to learning. Backgrounds aside, you’ll have to undertake training courses to ensure you’re fully capable of providing complex support to vulnerable children.
What training and support is provided for carers?
At Olive Branch Fostering, we’re here to help every step of the way. Our comprehensive training programmes equip you to care for children with varied needs.
There’s a wealth of support available alongside ongoing training, including 24/7 telephone assistance and groups for carers. You’ll also have access to a friendly support worker who will answer all your questions and guide you through the process.
We understand everyone needs a helping hand from time to time, so we have respite and shared carers on call. They provide a break for birth families and full-time carers by looking after children from anywhere between a few hours each week to a couple of weekends per month.
What is the special needs fostering allowance?
All carers receive an allowance to cover the cost of raising a child. The minimum is usually between £134 to £235 a week, although this changes depending on your private agency or local authority.
However, you’ll receive competitive fees when caring for children with disabilities. The increase recognises the additional training, skills and experience you need to take on this type of placement and covers extra medical or educational costs.
Advice for fostering children with special needs
Caring for children with special needs is undeniably rewarding. Thanks to you, they’ll have loving homes where they can reach their full potential. You’ll advocate for them, so they receive the best possible healthcare and psychological support. Your unwavering dedication can help them to meet and surpass developmental milestones.
With that said, like any placement, there will be challenges. Keep reading for our expert advice for fostering children with special needs. You should:
- Consider the time commitment
- Practise patience and understanding
- Create routine and structure
- Use positive reinforcement
- Lean on your support network
Consider the time commitment
Children with special needs often require more time and attention. Practically, you’re responsible for taking them to appointments and extracurricular tuition. They may need assistance with everyday tasks like eating, washing and getting dressed.
Children with non-visible conditions, like autism and ADHD, might need more one-to-one emotional support. Plus, it can take longer for them to settle into new homes and build positive behavioural patterns.
As a result, you need to consider how much time you’re able to give. If you’d like to become a full-time carer, there’s little room for part-time jobs or a bustling social calendar. If you have children of your own, assess whether you can split your time accordingly.
If you’re concerned, short-term fostering is an excellent solution. It provides care in the interim before children can return to their family home or find a more permanent solution such as long-term care or adoption.
Practise patience and understanding
Children with special needs may not always understand what’s happening to them or who you are. It can be incredibly frightening and frustrating, leading to outbursts and aggressive behaviour.
Above all else, you need to practise patience and understanding. Remember, children with special needs may struggle to show love in the ways we’ve come to expect, but this isn’t a reflection on your abilities as a carer.
Create routine and structure
All children, especially those with additional needs, crave structure because it creates a sense of safety. When there’s routine, children know what you expect of them and find it easier to respect boundaries.
Some children with autism rely on this predictability because anything out of the ordinary is a threat. In these cases, work with them to enjoy social and more spontaneous activities in a way that feels safe for them.
Ultimately, creating structure is a collaborative process that should take into account the needs of foster children. Ask them for help shaping the routine, and include plenty of familiarities like their favourite meals, films and pastimes.
Use positive reinforcement
It can be challenging for children with special needs to comply with rules. They aren’t trying to be difficult. More often than not, they simply struggle to process new environments.
Positive reinforcement is the most effective way to establish healthy behaviour. Instead of punishing tantrums and tears, focus on all the fantastic things your foster child achieves throughout the day. By giving praise freely, you’ll incentivise them to repeat positive actions.
Lean on your support network
If you feel under pressure, please lean on your network. Your support worker is a lifeline, and they’ll always work with you to overcome challenges. Plus, you’ll have a roster of doctors, nurses, counsellors and teachers available to help you learn more about your foster child’s condition.
Remember, we have a wealth of training and support available, as well as respite carers. You’ll never be alone during the process, and there’s no shame in asking for help.
Are you ready to become a foster carer?
We’re here to help you support foster children with special needs. You’ll receive thorough training, ample support and a generous allowance to cover costs.
If you’re ready to make an application, contact our friendly team or call us on 01706 558910. There’s no obligation to go any further, and we’re happy to answer any questions you might have.