There are lots of people who would dearly love to foster. Many possess the right skills and aptitude, but are disappointed to find that they cannot go forward to assessment because they do not have a spare bedroom to offer for fostering. In this article, we will try to provide an explanation of why this particular requirement exists, how it came to be, and why, in spite of the known shortage of foster carers, it has not been revoked.
Why is a spare bedroom essential to fostering?
Some see this mandatory requirement as ‘part of the problem’ that is causing the shortfall of fostering households, and that if only it was removed, the entire fostering shortage issue would be solved. Well, perhaps it would, but as we shall see, by solving the problem in this way, it would be replaced by another – both bigger, and more damaging.
Given the urgent need for more fostering families to come forward, neither the Government, nor local authorities or independent fostering agencies would either impose or uphold this rule if it were unnecessary. To do so would be self-defeating.
Let’s look at some of the main reasons that a spare bedroom is required…
1. Hurt children need their own space to think, and ‘be’.
Most children entrusted into the care of approved foster carers have suffered years of neglect, an absence of healthy, nurturing care, and sometimes wilful abuse and cruelty at the hands of their parents or other family members. Coming into care then adds the trauma of further abandonment by their biological family on top of a years-long endurance of psychologically destructive exposures and situations.
All of us need, from time to time, to ‘get away from it all’ or to have some ‘me time’, or perhaps to go out for a walk to clear our minds, or otherwise needed time alone to process our feelings and make sense of a situation. We would of course prefer to offer a child with a lot of early life pain and suffering their own room in which to reflect, to perhaps have a cry, rather than having to ‘go out’ every time she or he felt those feelings come up.
Being in public naturally causes us to squash down our feelings, and for traumatised, vulnerable kids, that’s not in the least helpful.
Feelings are to be honoured, not ignored.
From the privacy of a room of their own, they may later emerge, either feeling better, the same, or worse, but once in a while they might even come to you to talk about something, or just for a hug! What a wonderful sense of fulfilment you would feel to have been trusted enough to approach for emotional reassurance, and to be able to offer it, which also builds trust between you, making the placement more resilient and nurturing.
A kid or teen who has no personal space and has to retreat to somewhere outside of the home effectively takes the loving support that you could offer as their foster carer right out of the picture. The consequence of this is not difficult to imagine, but for a child who feels they must take painful feelings outside of their home, a place that is meant to provide safety and security, this will create emotional distance between them and you, and make it more difficult, and longer, for you to help your foster child heal, and grow.
2. Children copy what they see
During your fostering assessment, we’ll explain more about what children and young people may have been subjected to before coming into care, and some of the ways that they may have learned to cope with those experiences, even though, once they are in care and living in a place of safety and security, those coping behaviours are no longer rationally necessary.
Some of these behaviours may include hoarding, stealing, snooping, aggression, bullying, bedwetting, animal cruelty, soiling, swearing, threats, coercion and manipulation, and sexually inappropriate behaviour. We know that children copy what they see, after all, it’s how all children learn.
We sometimes do not know the whole story when a child comes into care. Some things are revealed only through the passage of time. Over the course of your fostering career, you may look after many children and young people, and some of those may come with unknown experiences and histories. Children are often too afraid and ashamed to talk about what has happened to them, and their abusers are unlikely to offer an authentic version of events.
Asking your own children if they would be happy to share their bedroom with new brothers or sisters is very likely to be met with enthusiasm, a predictable response! Children see this as exciting and fun, but they also lack the ability to foresee some of the negatives, so we adults must take care to think ahead on their behalf. We must also practice some personal restraint so that we don’t allow our children’s enthusiasm to over-validate our own wish to become a foster carer.
However, by allowing your children to share a bedroom with neglected, abused, traumatised children, there comes risk. Some of it is known and could be managed, but much of it is unknown and cannot. So, imagine how you might feel to learn that your younger son has been sexually touched by a slightly older boy you are fostering? Or, how would you deal with bruises appearing on your daughter’s arms, caused by bullying from her foster-sister?
Social work practice has developed professionally over 30-40 years and we know so much more about psychological responses to trauma and abandonment today than in years past when fostered children were able to share bedrooms with your own children (if you had them).
However, bedroom-sharing has been shown, time and again, to result in many more placement breakdowns when compared to those where a fostered child has space of their own, with much less sibling rivalry and conflict. So, providing a spare bedroom not only offers much needed privacy for fostered children to process the events of their lives but can protect your own children from harm or from copying what they see by adopting harmful or disruptive behaviours, too.
3. Would you share your own bedroom with strangers?
Lastly, in order to bring the answer to this persistent question a little closer to home, imagine how you would feel about sharing your own bedroom with a series of strangers?
All you know about them is that they have troubled, abusive life histories. And whenever you want some ‘me time’ the stranger is in your bedroom playing music, or watching TV, or has their own friends’ round.
How will you cope with a loss of privacy, now having to change and dress in the bathroom, where you usually did so in your bedroom? What if you noticed things had moved in your drawers?
Would you feel a need to modify your own behaviour in some way? Might you start hiding your treasured possessions? How secure would you feel about sharing your bedroom with someone who you knew had been physically or sexually assaulted by their family members?
And then before you know it, they disappear, and are replaced by a new stranger a few days later, who perhaps never bathes because she was badly neglected and wasn’t taught about self-care?
Since, as adults, we wouldn’t welcome this for ourselves, why should we expect children to do so? Their initial enthusiasm is naive, and we adults need to recognise and take this into account.
I want to foster but don’t have a spare room…
Through reading this blog, we hope that you have gained some useful insight into the requirement for a spare bedroom for children and young people placed into foster care. We understand that there are many people who would like to foster, but feel frustrated that they cannot do so because of a lack of a spare bedroom, however, we would welcome a conversation with you should your circumstances change in the future.
If you would like to foster a child or young person, and you can offer a spare bedroom, and you live in Norfolk or Suffolk, or the East Midlands, or Northamptonshire and Milton Keynes, we would love to hear from you! To find out more about fostering with AFA, what’s involved, and the assessment and approval process, please give us a ring on 01603 559255 or email [email protected]