Thinking about Fostering to Adopt? Fostering to Adopt carers are emotionally resourceful people who are able to put the needs of very vulnerable children first by removing the uncertainty and waiting these children can experience whilst decisions about their future care are made.
Although there are many similarities, Fostering to Adopt is not the same as adoption – but the children you care for, and may then adopt, are the same children who would otherwise wait in foster care for adopters to be found.
Being a child’s one and only carer and then adopting them is a rewarding experience and really makes difference to the child, you, and your family.
What is Fostering to Adopt?
Fostering to Adopt places a child who is in local authority care (usually as a result of care proceedings) with foster carers who have also been approved as adopters. The Court proceedings continue and once the court agrees that the child should be adopted and the adoption agency approves the ‘match’ between the carers as adopters and the child, the placement becomes an adoption placement. The advantages of Fostering to Adopt to adopt for the child are:
- the child is placed with carers who may become their adopters
- it avoids possible emotional damage caused by terminating temporary foster care relationships which the child will have experienced as their primary parenting relationship
- it allows the early months and years of the child’s life to be what most children need and expect. It allows early attachments to also be made. However, it must be remembered that until the court decides if adoption is right for the child, their long term future remains to be decided.
There are two stages to a Fostering to Adopt arrangement:
- Stage 1. Fostering: The carers act as temporary foster carers for the child during the fostering stage.
- Stage 2. Adoption: Once adoption of the child is agreed by the Court and the Adoption Panel the carers become the child’s adopters.
Although Fostering to Adopt carers are approved temporarily as foster carers they only care for specifically named children suitable for Fostering to Adopt – they are never asked to foster other children. This is to ensure that children needing Fostering to Adopt carers are given the highest possible standard of care, attention and stability.
What kinds of children are placed with Fostering to Adopt carers?
In Walsall the aim is to place all children with Fostering to Adopt carers where there is clear evidence that they are likely to need an adoptive family. This is because it is best for these children to have ‘one and only’ carers if they cannot remain within their birth family. Most of the children likely to need adoptive families will be between the ages of 0 to 10 years and half of these children will need an adoptive placement with their brother (s) or sister(s). In Walsall there is a shortage of Fostering to Adopt carers for:
- Brothers and sisters (sibling groups) – these groups can range from 2 to 6 children
- Children with developmental delay or developmental uncertainity
- Children with disabilities and medical conditions
- Children who have been exposed to drugs and / or alcohol during pregnancy
- Children who have a family history of mental health difficulties
Nearly half of all children needing adoptive families also need to be placed with their brothers and sisters. This is really important for these children because for most people their relationships with their brothers and sisters are the longest lasting relationships they will have. Being placed with a brother or sister can help children settle into their adoptive family and have a positive sense of who they are. Fostering to Adopt carers can care for brothers and sisters (a sibling group) if they wish to adopt a family of children. Adopters who have already adopted a child can also become Foster to Adopt carers if a younger sibling is born and is likely to need an adoptive family too.
Why can’t the child be placed immediately for adoption?
The child can be placed directly with adopters if the parents give their legally authorised consent and no other family member has expressed an interest in caring for the child. If consent is not given it is then for the court, and only the court, to decide whether the child can be placed for adoption. The local authority cannot act in any way that predicts the outcome of the court’s decision and that includes finding and agreeing an adoption placement. The local authority must place the child with foster carers until the court’s decision is made. The child cannot be placed for adoption until a Placement Order has been made and a match agreed through the Adoption Panel.
What legal process has to take place for the child?
There are a number of people that need to be considered when determining the best plan for the child. There are the birth parents, and local authorities will place a high priority in working with them to see if the problems they face as parents can be resolved so they can resume the care of their child. There may be other family members who may want to offer the child a home with them. There will be a number of options explored in deciding what the best alternative placement might be. This takes time as it must be done in a way that is fair, lawful and evidence based. As evidence is gathered and solutions explored, the child will usually be placed with temporary foster carers. . Adults and professionals will know this is temporary but young children will not understand, usually due to their age. They will quickly adjust to their foster carers as though they are their birth parents. Older children may get to understand that the temporary foster carer is not their “forever family” and this realisation can cause anxiety and distress. The length of time a child will stay with a foster carer can vary greatly depending on the amount of people being assessed as carers. If the child cannot return to their birth family, and once a “forever family” is found, then the relationship and attachment the child has with their foster carer can come to an abrupt end.
Adoption is a profound legal, emotional and life-long issue. It is a process that needs to be conducted fairly, justly and in a way that ensures there is confidence that everything is done to prevent any further harm to the child. Fostering for Adoption is one solution for some children in certain circumstances as it enables the temporary placement to have the potential to become the permanent placement.
How long does the Court take to decide?
Recently the way the Courts, who are responsible for deciding what should happen to children where there are concerns for their safety or welfare, make decisions has changed. This was because the government and other child care professionals were concerned about how long it was taking for decisions to be made about children. These Courts now have up to 26 weeks to gather and consider all the evidence and make a decision about what is best for the child. 26 weeks is the maximum time and in Walsall there are many children whose future is decided by the Court much more quickly than this.
In what circumstances does Fostering to Adopt apply?
A Fostering to Adopt placement will only be made in exceptional circumstances where one of the following reasons applies:
- Where parents have had one or more children previously placed for adoption or other forms of permanent placement and the evidence strongly suggests that their circumstances have not changed and pose the same risks as they did to the previous child. The local authority does not have a proactive plan to rehabilitate the child as the circumstances of the parents are such to pose a serious on-going risk.
- Where this is the first child, the circumstances of the parents and the risks to the child are such that there is no proactive plan to return the child to the birth parents or to other family members.
- Where parents have indicated that they may want their child adopted, but have not formally consented. (S52(3) Adoption and Children Act 2002). There are other circumstances where placement with a dually approved carer may be in the best interests of the child.
Is being a foster carer and an adopter the same thing?
The best answer to this is no. When a child is placed in foster care, this means that the foster carers have day-to-day responsibility for the care of the child. But if a court has made an Interim Care Order, it is the local authority that has what is called shared parental responsibility for the child alongside the birth parents. In some circumstances the child is placed under a voluntary agreement between the local authority and the parents without a court order.
The local authority will have many legal duties and obligations, and they will expect you to work with them in making sure that these obligations are fulfilled. Some of these are:
- Facilitate contact with birth parents and relatives
- Facilitate visits from social workers
- Keep daily recordings of the child
- Comply with the Fostering Regulations requirements
- Attend regular reviews alongside the birth parents
Although you will need to make decisions about the day-to-day care of the child, these will fall within the agreed local authority plan. There may be some limitations on what information the local authority can share with you, but anything that will enable you to care for the child properly should be given to you.
Adoption is quite different. When the Adoption Order is made, the child’s legal relationship with their birth parents is terminated along with their parental responsibility. The child becomes legally a member of their adopted family, the adoptive parents gain sole parental responsibility, and the child leaves the care of the local authority. In effect the child becomes a full member of the adoptive family. There are therefore significant differences and it is important to understand these. But from a child’s perspective, the care they need and what they expect the adults to do are not defined by these different legal, procedural and status issues. It is important that adults find ways of directly recognising this in the loving care they give to the child and that they are supported to do so.
How can I be approved as a Fostering to Adopt Carer?
A new process has been designed to allow adopters to be approved as foster carers for a named child without going through the full foster carer approval process. This applies where a child has already been identified as needing a placement for Fostering to Adopt. During the fostering phase, the local authority will have an explicit plan to try to return the child to their parents and you would be expected to support that plan. However, the likelihood of that plan being successful is usually low (no more than 10%). Your assessing social worker should discuss fostering to adopt within your assessment and note your interest in Fostering Adopt in the report they complete on your suitability to adopt. This will then be considered by the Adoption Panel. Panel will only be able to recommend that you are suitable to adopt but can advise that you would be suitable for Fostering to Adopt.
Will I be expected to facilitate a lot of contact during the fostering phase and attend meetings?
There is the expectation that you would be able to carry out the same level of contact that a normal foster carer would for birth parents and extended family. This could be several times a week for a young baby. It also may mean you having contact with birth parents that may have caused the child in your care harm or neglect. Contact can be very important for the parents and the child, but any arrangements for contact must be centred on the child’s needs and their welfare. The specific arrangements for this will be discussed with you. In some circumstances the child can be taken to contact by a contact worker but this would not be ideal or a very young baby. A foster carer is expected to attend meetings regarding the child where they may meet birth parents and sometimes extended families.
What are the benefits?
National research tell us that moving children and changing their carer once they are in our care further damages their emotional wellbeing and makes it more difficult for them to settle and make relationships in the future.
Fostering to Adopt helps children who cannot live with their birth family because:
- They can celebrate developmental milestones, key events and build shared memories with a carer they can stay with if they cannot return home
- It avoids the damage caused by changing primary carers and helps children form strong and settled relationships. This reduces the likelihood of the child developing attachment difficulties or behaviour problems which could lead to an adoption breakdown.
- ‘One and only’ carers can offer high quality parenting and restorative care to the child at an earlier stage.
Fostering to Adopt carers benefit from several things which adopters miss out on:
- You are able to care for a child from the start or very beginning of them coming into care. This means that you don’t have to ‘learn’ a child’s care history from their previous carers
- You do not miss out on being part of a child’s first smile, first steps, first day at school or first football match. You and the child have earlier and more shared memories.
- There is less likely to be attachment difficulties, behaviour problems and adoption breakdown because the child has not been damaged by changes to their carer and uncertainty about what will happen to them. You will be their ‘one and only’ carer after their birth parent(s).
- You are able to offer the child high quality and restorative parenting at the earliest stage and reduce the impact of the child’s adverse experiences.
- You are able to develop a better understanding of the child’s experiences at home and their birth family because you will have cared for the child from the beginning, met the birth parents at meetings and when taking the child to contact. This will help you understand the child’s responses to situations and when you talk to the child about their birth family. If the child asks you what their parent(s) were like you can tell them!
Is Fostering to Adopt the right thing for me?
Fostering to Adopt requires adults who are emotionally resilient and have strong and secure support networks. Whilst the rewards and benefits of Fostering to Adopt to you and the child are great there are significant emotional demands made of you
You will have thought long and hard about what it means for you to become an adopter and may already be in the process of the assessment. New regulations have been introduced which will make approving already approved adopters as foster carers more straightforward for agencies. There will be a number of things that you will need to think about. Some of these relate to the advantages, uncertainties and demands of the fostering phase:
- This is a different role to adoption as you are fostering under the direct supervision of the local authority under Fostering Regulations.
- There is also the experience of living with the uncertainty of the outcome of the application to court to authorise the child being placed for adoption.
- You will need to think about the possibility of the court not agreeing the adoption plan and the child leaving your care.
- It is important for anybody thinking about adoption to consider what support they might need, what access they have to support and how they typically deal with stressful, upsetting or painful situations. There will be specific issues to be thought about in Fostering to Adopt placements and you should try to identify what this might mean for you and then discuss this with people who you trust and respect.
- It is also important to think about the impact of a Fostering to Adopt placement on other people. If you already have a child or children in your family – adopted or birth children – you will need to pay particular attention to their views, wishes and feelings. You would do this anyway if you were planning to adopt another child but there are specific issues about preparing a child for that period of uncertainty in the fostering phase.
- There will also be a range of other people that will need to be consulted such as other family members and close family friends. They will also suffer with grief and loss if the child has to be returned to its birth family.
As well as the skills we look for in all prospective adopters, Fostering to Adopt carers require additional skills and characteristics to care for children in this way:
- Emotional resilience
- Capacity to put the child’s needs before your own
- Ability to manage uncertainty
- Ability to work in partnership with birth parents
- Ability to support the return of the child to their birth family if it is decided this is in their best interest
- Empathy for birth parents
- Strong and secure support networks
- Capacity to positively manage tension
- Positive outlook
Will I get any financial and practical support?
There will be a number of practical and financial considerations you will need to think about when considering whether fostering to adopt is right for you. You will already have thought about these in relation to adoption however the arrangements that apply in adoption do not apply to fostering. For example, at present, you are not entitled to adoption pay or leave during the fostering phase. The Government is bringing forward changes to legislation to allow people who undertake a Fostering to Adopt placement to be eligible for adoption pay and leave when they start to foster the child. These changes are part of the Children and Families Act 2014 and will be implemented in 2015 as part of the new system for shared parental leave and pay. Until then, you will be entitled to a fostering allowance and you will have access to other resources and services that the local authority makes available to children in care and foster carers.
The local authority will discuss with you the specific arrangements that will apply in your circumstances. It is very important that you understand the practical arrangements to ensure that these are manageable for you. When the court authorises the adoption, you will then be assessed for adoption support by your agency and a plan will be made depending on that assessment. While much of this may appear as hurdles, it is important not to forget the very significant advantages to the child and yourself of an early placement, with the real potential for this to be the basis of a lifelong family relationship. It is for the adults to overcome the hurdles when they can and not to expect that the burden of uncertainty and waiting is carried by the child.
All Fostering to Adopt carers are provided with specialist training and preparation in addition to the training and preparation provided to all adopters. Fostering to Adopt carers are directly supported and advised by an adoption social worker who is experienced and skilled in providing support to Fostering to Adopt carers. This social worker will visit regularly during the first days and weeks of the child moving in with you and will also arrange formal monthly supervision meetings with you to fulfil the statutory requirements of the fostering phase. They will be available to offer advice and guidance about caring for the child and attend meetings with you.
The child you are looking after will also have a social worker who is skilled and experienced in supporting children cared for by Fostering to Adopt carers. They will make all the arrangements, in consultation with you, that the child will need as a fostered child. They will keep you up to date with key aspects of the child’s court process and timescales.
As a Fostering to Adopt carer you will also have access to the training available to both foster carers and adopters.
What is the process to be approved as a Fostering to Adopt carer and how long will it take?
Fostering to Adopt carers will usually already be approved adopters and will have completed all parts of the preparation and approval process. There will be an additional approval process that enables approved adopters to be temporarily approved as foster carers for a named child once that child is identified. The approval will be given by a designated Decision Maker and will be based on the evidence of your strengths, capacities and resources to take on the foster care role. It is very important that you fully understand what this means on a day-to-day basis. It is clearly very important that you can manage the period of uncertainty until the court makes its decision. You will need to have support available to enable this. But what it does not mean is revisiting the whole approval process. If you are already approved as a foster carer under Fostering Regulations, then this temporary process will not apply.
Once that temporary approval is given then the child’s social worker will need to get approval for the placement of the child from the designated Decision Maker for Children’s Services.
There are a lot of things to think about in Fostering to Adopt and they need to be considered specifically in relation to you and your circumstances. If you think this is right for you, you will need to discuss this with your assessing social worker. It must be remembered that Fostering to Adopt is still in its infancy and even if you are considered to be suitable for a fostering to adopt placement there may be no children to whom it might apply.
For further information please speak to the trainers on your Adoption Preparation Group or your assessing social worker.