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Fostering Week

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

This week is Focus on Fostering Week and so we have Damien Hooper who has been through the foster care system and Brenda Irwin who is a psychologist with the IFCA, in to talk to us about fostering.

Our guests today:-
Brenda Irwin - Support Mediation Officer with the IFCA (Irish Foster Care Association)

Damien Hooper (24) - been through the foster care system.

Damien is 24 years old and was with a foster family for 13 years of his life. At the age of two his parents could no longer take care of Damien and his siblings and so they all had to go into care. His younger brother (23), his sister (30) and Damien ended up being taken in by the same foster family. After two weeks his younger brother moved to another foster family in the area.
Damien stayed with his foster family until the age of 15. Damien really appreciates the fact that his foster parents took him into their home as he feels like he got to be part of a family. They had one biological child who grew up like a sibling to Damien and his sister.

They used to foster other kids on a temporary basis also. Damien said that when the temporary foster kids would come, initially he didn't particularly welcome him but that by the time they were leaving, he would be very attached to them and he wouldn't want them to go.

Damien is very grateful to his foster parents as they provided everything for him. They put him through school and he always had someone to talk to if he had a problem. Damien said that living as a foster child with his foster family was no different to being in any other family. The home had a normal family environment. The only difference for Damien was that he had two mums and dads. When he was about 3 or 4 he remembers being very confused because he would see his biological mum and dad every two months and he wouldn't know who to call mum and dad. He sometimes would call his mums, mum1 and mum 2 as they were both called Teresa so he couldn't even call them by their first name to make the distinction.
Damien thinks that the foster care system is very beneficial to young people and of course to parents who can't look after their own kids.

A beginners guide to fostering in Ireland:
Fostering is caring for someone else's child in one's home - providing family life for a child who for whatever reason or another, cannot live with his or her own parents, either on a short or long term basis.
There are a wide range of reasons a child may not be able to live with his/her own family: for example, bereavement, illness or family breakdown. In some cases a child or young person may be removed from their family for their own safety.

Out of home care in Ireland is provided either in residential units or by foster carers in their own home.

Ireland has a long history of foster care, with over 90% of the children in care at present being in foster care. Approximately 30% of these foster carers are relative carers.


Who can foster?
Foster parents / carers come from all walks of life regardless of your marital status, sexuality or residential status. Foster families come from diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds which reflects the needs of the children / young people they care for.

The main criteria is that the foster family has the room, both physically and emotionally to accommodate a child/children and can provide a stable environment in which to raise the foster child / young person.
Foster parents/carers:
. need to have time and energy to invest in a child or young person.
. must enjoy the company of children and young people.
. must be able to communicate effectively, not only with the child/young person but with social workers, the children's birth families and others concerned with the wellbeing of the child/young person.
. need to be flexible and non-judgemental, as well as patient and understanding.
. A sense of humour is also a necessity!

Is there an age limit?
Although there is no age limit, it is desirable that the gap between long-term foster carers and the child to be placed is not more than 40 years.
What sort of checks are done (ie Garda checks, criminal record etc)
Each health authority assesses it's own applicants and each applicant must undergo and assessment and training process. The health authority will seek and speak to referees and will also require the applicant's permission to seek Garda clearance on all adult family members residing in the home. You will not be able to foster a child if you have any history of violence or abuse towards a child. They will also do a medical check to see that you are physically able to foster a child. They need three references then from non family, non professionals, from people who know you in your capacity as a parent.
During the assessment process you will discuss the age profile of the children / young people most suited to be placed with your family and what type of fostering suits your family best.

Does your job affect fostering (i.e do certain jobs prevent you from being selected?)
There is no financial criteria for becoming a foster parent. However from a time perspective they will need to know that you have enough time to dedicate to a child / young person. Some fostering placements may require at least one member of the fostering family to be a full time carer. Certain time commitments are required, ie attending meetings, facilitating contact, however some types of fostering will be more demanding than others. What are the different types of fostering?

Relative Care
Approximately 30% of children in care are cared for by a relative. This can be in any of the forms of fostering below.

Day Foster Care
Day foster care is wherespecially selected and trained foster carers provide care on a daily basis in their own home. This form of care can prevent a child being placed in full time care and also the child gets to go home to his/her bed each evening and yet benefit from the additional care and stimulation offered in the foster home.

Short Term Foster care
Short term foster care provides temporary care for a child or children, separated from their birth family. Being short term the child/ren will, after a period, move back to their family or move on to a long term family or an adoptive family.

Long Term Foster Care
Long term foster care is needed for children who are unlikely to be able to live with their birth family, and who, for a variety of reasons cannot be adopted. Long term requires commitment on the part of the foster family for a number of years and is usually required when the professionals involved feel it is unlikely the child / young person will return to live with their own family.

Emergency Foster Care
Emergency care is where a child comes into care very quickly and is placed with 'emergency carers'. It could also happen that an existing placement breaks down and a child needs to be moved quickly and again, is placed with emergency carers.

Respite Foster Care
Respite Foster Care is provided by some foster parents / carers to provide a break for a child's family or another foster family. Where a foster child / young person is under stress and a child may be displaying very difficult behavior, a break gives breathing space to all concerned. Whether this break takes place during the week, at weekends or at other times depends on the needs in each child's case.

Has the recession increased the need for more foster parents? (ie pressure on vulnerable families etc)
It is too early to prove if there has been an increase in the number of children needing care but Brenda doesn't think so. However with so many people at home now, the HSE has said that there has been a slight increase in the number of applicants for fostering.


What are the expenses?
If a child is in voluntary care and their biological parents are still contributing then after 6 months the foster carer can then claim child benefit. If they are in compulsory care where the biological parents are no longer contributing financially, then the foster carer can claim child benefit after the first month.

Who do I contact if I am interested in applying to become a foster carer?
You should contact your local HSE office and you can find out where this is by logging on to the HSE website www.hse.ie .

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