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How do you balance work and fostering?

There’s no such thing as a ‘typical’ foster carer. Carers may be young, middle-aged or retired; married or single; have a family of their own or no children. It is the same with work. Some foster carers have a job or run their own business. Some are retired and have turned to fostering at the end of their careers. For others, fostering is a full-time commitment.

The key requirement is that foster carers must be available to care for children, support contact between a child and their family, and attend meetings, training and support groups. Just like having children, this is a substantial commitment. But you can sometimes foster and continue to work flexible hours, depending on your circumstances and who you are looking after.

Some children will require a carer to be at home and available to them full-time, depending on their age and needs. This includes babies and pre-school infants or children with severe disabilities or complex needs. But fostering school-age children or teenagers may give scope for part-time or flexible working, particularly if the children are settled and in a long-term placement.

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    "We are like any busy family, with children at school and organising our work commitments around them. We always find time to be together and enjoy being a family."
    Carmelah, Foster Carer for Stockport Council

    How do you balance work with being a foster carer?

    An important consideration will be whether you foster alone or with a partner who can share responsibilities as a carer. Fostering couples can arrange work schedules to ensure there is always somebody available. It can be challenging and requires a considerable amount of organisation.

    But fostering can replicate what many birth families do, where parents work a certain amount of hours every week, organised around their caring responsibilities. In this regard, the adoption of remote working by many employers has given foster carers more options. This makes it easier to organise working hours around the child’s needs and schedule. It also means you are more likely to be better placed to respond to if you are needed at short notice.

    Carmelah, who fosters for Stockport Council, is a nurse who works for the NHS, while her partner is a British Telecom manager. They have been fostering younger children, as well as bringing up their own young son and daughter, and combine fostering with their work.

    “We juggle a lot!” says Carmelah. “We are like any busy family, with children at school and the nursery and organising our work commitments around the children. We always find time to be together and enjoy being a family. Nursing is important to me, particularly at this time when the NHS is short-staffed, so we work as a family to make it possible.”

    Being self-employed

    Combining fostering and running your own business is also popular. This gives foster carers and their partners more control over their working hours, with scope to rearrange commitments when they need to. Steve and Karen foster for Tameside Council. They combine their busy fostering lives with running their own digital printing business, specialising in embroidered workwear. Steve says: “I was made redundant eight years ago. At the time I was caring for my father, so with no job to turn to I set up my own business working from home. 

    “We had wanted to foster for several years but decided to wait until our son, Josh, was older. By this time the business was established and Karen and Josh were working alongside me. It works really well with fostering. The three of us make a good team.” 

    It should be stressed that none of these options are easy. Fostering is demanding, both mentally and physically. The traditional support network (grandparents, aunts and uncles, classmates’ parents) may not be available to you, so will need to think about what kind of support you might need and how this can be put in place. The best thing to do is to discuss your expectations with your social worker, who can help you get the most from your fostering career by advising what would be the best kind of fostering for you.

    If you work, whether it is full- or part-time, it makes sense to keep your line manager informed about your fostering commitments from the outset. Tell them when you apply to foster and talk them through the process. It will help them to know that you have considered how it may affect your work and that you have arrangements in place to support you.

    At the same time, your employer may be open to the idea of making adjustments to your working schedule to support your fostering. More companies are signing up to be Fostering Friendly employers, incorporating fostering and adoption into HR policies.

    The Fostering Friendly Employers Scheme was introduced by the Fostering Network charity to support employers to understand and respond to the needs of their foster carer employees. This includes offering foster carers flexible working and paid time off for training and settling a new child into their home. Fostering Friendly employers include Asda, Boots, British Gas, Environment Agency, O2, Sainsbury’s and Tesco.

    Supporting foster carers is a brilliant way for businesses to show their Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) credentials while improving recruitment and retention. In any case, remember that your fostering provider is likely to contact your employer as part of the application process.  

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      " I have learned a lot, which has surprised me because I've worked with young people in various roles for over 23 years."
      Stephen, Foster Carer for Manchester City Council

      "I can be open and clear with my team at work..."

      Stephen is a foster carer for Manchester City Council. He also works full time for the council, where he is a member of the virtual school team. Stephen became a short-breaks carers just over a year ago, supporting foster families or parents whose children have additional needs.

      Stephen says: “Working full time with Children's Services for many years, I'd often considered how I could offer some support to some of our looked-after children, as well as offer respite to struggling parents and permanent foster carers.

      “More than a year on I can say that it’s possibly been the best decision of my life. It can be extremely challenging and always exhausting but I love it. I have learned a lot, which has surprised me because I've worked with young people in various roles for over 23 years.”

      Stephen says he is lucky to be well supported by his senior management team. “I can be open and clear with my team at work that sometimes I need to be flexible with my working hours.”

      Bear in mind, also, that your own career expectations will change over time. Once you have been fostering for a period, you may seek new opportunities at work that dovetail with your fostering commitments at home.

      At the same time, it is impossible to know how long you will be fostering; you may want to resume your full-time career at some point in the future. Fostering is often promoted as a career, but it does not provide the financial security of full-time employment. The fostering allowance is primarily intended to cover costs you will incur when children live in your home. It is not a wage or salary and does not reflect the time you will commit to foster care.

      So, it makes sense to keep your options open by not shutting the door completely on your chosen career.

      A fostering household where people have work commitments can have a positive impact on children in care who may have limited experience of the world of work. It can open conversations about what they would like to do after they leave school and what they will need to achieve their goals. 
      For many fostering families, juggling work and commitments at home is just like any other family. It requires some give and take and a bit of patience - an understanding boss also helps! 

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        Are you interested in fostering in Greater Manchester? Speak to your local authority to find out more.