As part of your application to foster, you will be asked what age children you’d be willing to look after. Have you thought about what’s involved in fostering babies and toddlers?
Fostering any child is a 24/7 commitment. You may think that this is most keenly felt by those foster parents who care for babies as they need night feeds, lots of cuddles and constant attention. You may also think that caring for a baby is an easier option as they won’t have experienced the same trauma as older foster children. All children you look after will need constant care and attention, and their needs will impact on you and your family. However, when fostering babies, some people feel there are differences.
Why do babies end up in foster care?
In the UK, only 6% of looked after children are under 1 year, with 13% aged 1-4 years*. There are a number of reasons they may end up in foster care:
- They may be placed in care voluntarily by their parents who feel unable to care for them, however this is unusual
- They may have suffered neglect or abuse
- They may have been exposed to drugs or alcohol pre-birth
- There may be factors in their family which means their parents cannot safely care for them.
What are your responsibilities when you foster a baby?
Many people will experience an urge to take care of a defenceless infant. But it’s important that you fully understand your responsibilities before jumping in.
The early years of any child’s life are critical in their personal development. In the first three years of their life they will develop language, emotional awareness and the fundamental ability to form relationships. They require consistent interaction and engagement to help them form attachments (some people may refer to this as a ‘bond’). Whether a child builds a secure attachment in these early stages will influence the way they see the world and form relationships in the future. So, your role is an absolutely critical one. You are helping lay foundations for the rest of their life.
As well as the pivotal role in their development, you will be involved in helping progress the baby through their care plan. This could be working towards returning them to their birth family, long term fostering or adoption.
You may have to work closely with the birth parents and their family. Part of your job may be to help the birth parent and baby develop their relationship and move forward. This contact with birth parents may take place in or outside of your own home, with contact supervised by you or a social worker. These meetings may be very frequent – every day even – and can be very difficult at times.
Some babies in care have medical needs. You may need to undergo specialist training in order to provide the level of care needed. You may need to take the child to medical appointments, so having your own transport is essential.
If you provide emergency foster care, you may only get a few hours’ notice before a baby in need of care arrives. It may be good to keep some essential baby supplies in preparation. They are likely to arrive tired, frightened and hungry so you will need to help them settle.
Could you foster babies?
All of the qualities that make a great foster carer apply to fostering babies and toddlers too. We’ve answered some of the most common fostering eligibility questions here. The process of becoming a foster carer is the same as well.
In addition, you will need a spare bedroom although a space for a cot in your room until a baby is 6 months old may be best for them. Having the support of your wider friends and family may also become even more valuable.
The most important requirement for fostering babies is that you can provide the love and nurturing environment they need. Because a baby is completely dependent on you as their carer, you will need to be able to dedicate a significant amount of time to their care.
Another serious consideration is the impact on you and your family when the baby moves on. You may only end up caring for them for a short time, but you also need to be prepared that you could end up caring for them for months or even years. However long they are with you, you are likely to form a close relationship with them because of the level of care required. Saying goodbye can be very tough – but satisfying. You will receive plenty of support from our team throughout this process, but it’s not for everyone.
If you’d like to know more about fostering babies and toddlers, please get in touch with a member of our team who will be happy to answer your questions and talk to you in more detail. If you’re fostering in Norfolk or Suffolk you can call our Norwich office on 01603 559255. If you’re fostering in Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, Nottinghamshire, Buckinghamshire or the West Midlands, you can call our Midlands office on 01332 813866.
*Children looked after in England (including adoption), year ending 31 March 2018, Department for Education, 15 November 2018, p. 4 https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/757922/Children_looked_after_in_England_2018_Text_revised.pdf(accessed 12 June 2019)