If you’re even considering being a foster parent, then that makes you someone special. While fostering can be immensely rewarding, it’s also a lot of hard work. You have to be truly committed to providing a stable, loving environment for children who desperately need it, and your whole family needs to be a part of the decision. Being a foster parent gives you the opportunity to transform a child’s life, and if you have children of your own – fostering a child will transform their life as well.
Fostering does not necessarily mean having a child in your home for a long length of time. It may be that you choose to offer respite care for other foster parents, or you may offer short term or emergency care for children awaiting placement.
Whatever role you choose, the following information will be useful in making your decision. For a full picture of what foster parenting involves you should contact your local Child, Youth and Family office or visit the Child, Youth and Family website for more info.
Who can be a foster parent / caregiver?
If you are able to provide a stable home environment and are committed to making a difference in a child’s life, then you could be eligible to become a caregiver. Caregivers come from all walks of life, and are not limited to married couples or families. Provided you are patient, understanding, flexible and committed to learning all you need to learn, then your individual status is irrelevant. Caregivers are people just like you!
What do foster parents / caregivers do?
Children come into a foster care environment for many different reasons, but the one thing they have in common is the need for a loving, stable place to call home. While the children are in your care, your role is to provide love, support, guidance, and understanding. You will work with a team of people including a social worker, a caregiver liaison and the child’s natural family, to ensure the child’s needs are met.
For the most part this involves making the child a part of your family, and treating them as you would your own child. Keep in mind that a foster child is likely to have emotional or behavioural issues which are quite different to your own children. Your support team will help you work through these.
How long do children live with foster parents / caregivers?
Every child that comes into care is managed according to a care plan, and the aim of the plan is to achieve one of the following goals as soon as possible:
- The child returns home to a stable and loving home environment
- The child begins living permanently with a member of their extended family
- The child lives permanently with a non-kin caregiver
- They receive the family-like support they need to enable them to leave care and live independently
Depending on the type of care-giving you choose to do, and depending on how quickly a goal is reached, you may have a child with you for one day, one week, one year, or indefinitely.
With this in mind you can choose the type of care giving that best suits you and your family. There are 6 types of care you can provide including emergency care, short term care, medium – long term care, respite care, permanency and family home care. Just what these types of care involve is detailed on the CYF’s website.
Do foster parents / caregivers get any training or support?
Yes, definitely! All foster parents / caregivers must attend an induction course which helps them understand what is involved, and provides them with useful tools and ideas for dealing with common issues surrounding fostering. The course is usually run over 2 days, and helps to cement the role you play in the child’s life.
There are 9 other courses and training resources which have been developed to support caregivers at a national level, and there are also 2 day workshops. These courses are obviously useful for their content alone, but having the chance to network with other foster parents is also beneficial. Caregiver liaison social workers also organise trainings at a local level, depending on the needs of local families and caregivers.
Emotional support often comes via other families providing the same sort of care. There are Family Foster Care Associations right throughout New Zealand, and they often organise events so that families and caregivers can get together and share experiences. You can get hold of your local association through your Child, Youth and Family office or by contacting the Citizens Advice Bureau.
Do foster parents / caregivers get paid?
Different types of care giving attract different types of financial assistance, but in a general sense you are not paid to be a caregiver. You do however receive financial help to meet the day-to-day needs of the children in your care, and usually includes help towards board, personal items and pocket money. Depending on the child’s care plan you may also receive help towards clothing, recreational items, school expenses and other common costs.
What types of challenges do foster parents / caregivers face?
A lot of children who come into a foster care environment have emotional or behavioural issues that can not be ignored. Working through these issues takes time and commitment, and achievements are often small at first. It can be frustrating to work so hard, and receive little if any results in the short term. Rest in the knowledge that you are making a difference, even if you can’t see it from the outside.
If you have children of your own, you may notice changes in their behaviour in the short term also. It takes time for them to adjust to the situation, and they may wonder why you are giving so much time and attention to someone else. Talk with your children, and explain your reasons as honestly as you can. If you keep them a part of the team, the situation is a lot less challenging for everyone.
Sometimes friends and extended family can not understand why you are taking responsibility for another person’s child, and how they react to this can vary dramatically. They do not need to agree with your decision, but it sure helps if they can support you in spite of it. Be open with the people in your life, and make sure you have support networks in place if the ones you normally rely on disappear.
How do I apply to be a foster parent / caregiver?
The application process takes about 2 months, and is done through the Child, Youth and Family office. You will need to fill out an application form and agree to a police check, a full medical report, and 2 separate interviews. You will also need to provide photographic evidence of your identity and names and addresses of two referees.
Where can I find more information?
For more information about becoming a caregiver,contact your local Child, Youth and Family office or visit the Child, Youth and Family website.