Angela and her husband started fostering in 2011 with an independent commercial fostering agency (IFA). A couple of months afterwards they decided to transfer to their Local Authority fostering service and they’ve been fostering for Foster Wales Newport ever since.
We talked to Angela about her and her husband’s fostering journey and the reasons why they decided to transfer.
When did your fostering journey begin?
A: My husband and I went through the assessment F form throughout the summer of 2011. I was a full-time teacher, I absolutely loved my job, but things in my workplace started to change, there were some management changes coming. I felt like it was the time to think about something new.
Fostering was something we talked about in the early days, as you do! I had two grown up children from my first marriage, but my husband didn’t have his own children. I knew we both would be fabulous as foster carers because we’re both family-oriented people.
My plan was to become a teaching assistant and foster. I knew I wouldn’t be able to foster and work full-time, but my husband had a full-time job.
What made you decide to foster with IFA?
A: We knew about somebody who was a foster carer, and I knew nothing about IFAs and Local Authorities, I never really paid much attention. They said to us, ‘If you are thinking of fostering, let us recommend you because there is an incentive, and we all get some financial reward for it.’ So, she recommended us.
After the initial assessments and training, we finally were approved and ready for our first placement.
So how was that?
A: Our first phone call was to foster a little boy, whose mum was being put into a prison. The little boy had an extremely distressing background and was deeply traumatised. At that time my daughter was expecting our first grandchild too, so we had to really think it through. Even thought my initial reaction was to take this child and help him, after some consideration we decided that we couldn’t as we were not experienced enough, and it may not be the best for this child who clearly needed a skilled therapeutic approach.
Then I spoke to somebody else who said, ‘You do realise you’re with an agency and agencies usually end up with children that the Local Authority could not match with their own foster carers for some reason?’ I never knew that and assumed it was all the same.
I then found out that Local Authorities can match children better if they have in-house foster carers available, as they are the first responders.
After that initial phone call there were no phone calls for ages, so we had nothing.
This is when I started doing my research.
It was the moment when you started to realise that not all fostering agencies are equal. What did you find out?
A: I looked into the ethics of it. At that time, I didn’t even realise the allowances were different, until I started digging and scratching the surface, then I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, this is awful’… Once I had done a bit of research and realised that taxpayer’s money is going into private ownership for profit, it didn’t take me long to decide. This also made me realise where the money goes. When we did the skills to foster training with the IFA we went to this really beautiful fancy headquarters building.
They had this wall where they put a child’s name who needs to be placed, and agencies are ‘bidding’ for this child. I could not believe this.
After that I took the dog for a walk to think and decided I wanted to transfer to my Local Authority fostering service.
This was your moment of realisation; I assume it was not long after you went through the assessment with the IFA?
A: Yes, we literally just passed the assessment process. I think it was maybe two months before I contacted the Local Authority. I had a nice long chat with somebody from the placement team. I told her I realised that a commercial IFA is not for me, it’s immoral and unethical.
It was a matter of weeks, and we were transferred. Because we were already approved and did our assessment F form very recently, the process was relatively smooth. We had to go through a mini assessment with the Local Authority as well. In January 2012 we were already awaiting our first child with Foster Wales Newport. Shortly after that we were matched with a nine-year-old little girl.
So, you finally had you first foster child, what was that experience like?
A: She stayed with us all the way; we did a long-term placement. We didn’t have any preferences, but we were advised that she needed a long-term placement, and we agreed. She is now 20 and recently moved out to live with her boyfriend. I didn’t want her to go! (laugh) I think she thrived with us. She was lovely, she was good in school. Everything was very smooth for us. She had her passport very quickly, so we were all able to go on holidays together.
Then we had her sister joining us in 2016; she is now 17 and she is fabulous. When she came it was lovely because we then became even more ‘gelled’ as a foster family.
What do you think helped you in your fostering journey?
A: My fostering experience was very positive and smooth but I’m also aware that it’s not always like this for everybody. I think maybe the fact that I have a nursing and teaching background helped. I also have a big extended family and I’m used to dealing with lots of things. That’s just who I am.
What fostering means to you as a person?
A: Hmm…It gives me the satisfaction of knowing that the young person can see how a family, a home and a routine should look like. A lot of their lives might have been chaotic, not like any average life.
You teach them how to cook a meal, how to keep a bedroom tidy, how to self-care, how to interact with other people. You show them what holidays are. I think we give them a chance to see what an average, every day, family is like and be a part of it and be cared for.
She knew that what she was experiencing before she came to live with us was not the same as many of her friends in school, so to be able to feel like other children, I think it meant a lot to her.
We showed her what our family life looked like and now she can build her own life on that. I hope that we made a difference.
What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of transferring from an independent commercial fostering agency (IFA) to a Local Authority?
A: First, I would ask them if they know that the main objective of their fostering agency is to make a profit for their shareholders. If Local Authorities don’t have enough in-house foster carers, they have no choice and must ask IFAs for help. But agencies charge Local Authorities a lot of money for it, so they can make a big profit, often for shareholders located overseas.
Currently, local authorities are cutting costs and raising bills because of the cost-of-living crisis, and taxpayers’ money is being spent on placements with expensive independent agencies. We need more in-house foster carers.
I would also say that you get much better support and a sense of community if you’re fostering for a Local Authority. All the services that are involved in the child’s wellbeing are based locally and children can also remain local and maintain contact with their birth families when it is right for them.
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