According to Government statistics, by the end of March 2020, around 56,500 children were being looked after by approved foster carers in England.
There are many reasons why children might need to go into foster care, ranging from family crises to neglect. Sometimes parents request temporary help from children’s services, other times courts order a child’s removal from their family home. Whatever the reason, foster care can be essential for a child whose needs aren’t currently being met.
In this article we explore the main reasons why children might need a foster placement and the role that foster carers play in helping to turn their lives around.
Reasons why children are placed in foster care
Before looking at the potential reasons behind a foster placement, it’s important to note that every family’s circumstances are different and parents are not always at fault. Foster children come from a variety of backgrounds and can be fostered from birth to 18. Their needs therefore vary greatly and once in care, it is the responsibility of the local authority and their foster carers to meet them for as long as needed.
Children may be temporarily placed in foster care while their family is going through a crisis. Parents can request the help of children’s services or more often, they agree to the local authority’s recommendation of intervention before the situation gets out of hand. Events such as a family death, job loss or eviction can all impact a parent’s ability to care for their children in the short term.
Illness or disability
In some cases, a parent’s illness or disability can prevent them from caring for their child. This can be either a short or long term problem depending on the situation. Wherever possible, regular contact is maintained between the child and their birth family while they’re in foster care.
On the other hand, it could be that the child has a disability or complex needs that their parents aren’t able to cope with. In this circumstance, the child would be placed with specially trained foster carers, to ensure their needs are met.
There are many different types of neglect, including physical, emotional and medical. If a child’s basic needs aren’t being met, like having access to food, medical attention and a clean home, then they are being neglected. This can be deliberate, or it may be down to a parent’s lack of capacity due to addiction or mental illness. Either way, neglect can severely limit a child’s development and it must be dealt with quickly.
Sadly, being at risk of abuse is another common reason why children need to go into foster care. Physical abuse of children is most prevalent in homes where domestic violence is a wider issue. Often, unexplained or repeat bruising is noticed by someone outside of the household, like a teacher, who then raises concerns.
Emotional abuse is harder to spot and to prove, but just as common and detrimental to a child’s wellbeing. It typically involves belittling and bullying a child through name-calling, or excluding them from family activities. The final and arguably worst type of abuse is sexual, where a child is forced or coaxed into a sexual act by an adult.
All forms of abuse can lead to long-term trust issues, behavioural problems and poor mental health, therefore supportive environments and positive relationships are needed to help affected children heal and move forward.
Serious behavioural issues
On rare occasions, parents may voluntarily place their child in foster care because of serious behavioural problems. This is most common in teenagers where the parent struggles to cope with or control their child’s actions. For instance, the child may frequently run away or they could be a juvenile offender. If so, their parents may no longer feel comfortable having them in their home or around their other children.
A child’s parents could be absent for many reasons. If they’re left alone with no other family to care for them, they will need to go into foster care until they find their forever home. Potential causes of absenteeism can include their sole guardian passing away, parental abandonment or prison time, and as a result the child has no one to look after them.
Unsafe living environment
Finally, a child may need to go into foster care if their home is no longer a safe place for them to live. This could be down to domestic violence, parental mental health issues, criminal behaviour that has led to police involvement or family conflict. For instance, if an older sibling poses a risk to a younger child’s safety. These situations may require emergency foster care placements until the situation can be resolved.
The role of foster carers
When a child is taken into care, the local authority must assess their situation and set out a care plan based on their individual needs. This ensures that a suitable foster home is found and that their temporary family is able to meet their needs.
Foster carers are vital for children whose own families can’t look after them for whatever reason. They provide a safe and stable environment in which to nurture children and improve their long-term prospects. They can also help children maintain a relationship with their families if it’s in their best interest.
Foster carers take the time to understand a child’s needs and develop a positive relationship with them. While the child is likely to miss their birth family, foster carers can become trusted adults who provide support and help them to open up. This is particularly important for children who have previously experienced trauma.
Foster placements can also provide children from chaotic backgrounds with a routine and life skills ready for adulthood. By setting boundaries, being willing to listen and recognising that their actions are likely a result of their past experiences, foster carers can often improve behavioural issues significantly.
Ready to make a difference?
Nothing is more rewarding than changing a young person’s life for the better. So, if you’re interested in providing short term care in emergency situations, or you’ve room in your home for a long-term addition, fostering could be a great option for you.
Contact our friendly team today on 01706 558910 to discuss your options and eligibility further, or discover more tips and advice on our dedicated blog.