First published in Around Saddleworth
|Oldham Council’s fostering service volunteered to be part of a ground-breaking study into the nationwide shortage of disabled foster carers.
Many disabled people are prevented from fostering children due to negative attitudes and unnecessary barriers, a study published today suggests.
The report, Mutual Benefits: The Potential of Disabled People as Foster Carers, concludes that thousands of disabled people could help relieve the long-standing recruitment crisis in the sector – if they are given the chance. Figures suggest there’s a need for an additional 8,500 foster carers across the UK.
The two-year project included surveys, accessibility audits and training workshops with staff from four fostering agencies and with 21 foster carers – including twelve disabled people.
Oldham Council’s fostering service volunteered to be part of this ground-breaking study into the nationwide shortage of disabled foster carers.
Most agency staff recognised that – with appropriate support – disabled people could be good foster parents and act as role models for disabled children and young people.
However, they acknowledged that some everyday practices in the sector put avoidable barriers in the way of disabled people. During initial surveys, several questioned the ability of foster parents with significant disabilities to care for children, fearing the child could take on a caring role for the foster parent.
The report says that some agencies are doing little to encourage disabled people to apply to foster. Disabled people face unnecessary barriers – such as inaccessible buildings, information systems and support structures – that could be easily addressed at little or no cost. Some foster agency websites do not often mention disabled foster parents and rarely have positive images of disabled foster parents.
After two training sessions delivered as part of the project, the agency staff recognised that disabled people’s life experiences equipped them with significant skills that would be important in fostering. These include empathy, understanding and awareness of disability and discrimination, overcoming adversity and resilience.
Participants felt that the training had helped them change attitudes and practice in their workplace and made them more confident about working with disabled people – looking at what they ‘can do’, rather than what they can’t do.
The project also identified uncertainty around benefit rules and the central role of medical assessments in the application process as significant impediments for disabled people seeking to foster.
Councillor Eddie Moores, Cabinet Member for Children and Young People said: “We are so proud to have taken part in this study. Disabled people are rarely approved as foster carers, despite a national shortage. Here in Oldham, we want to change that by breaking down the perceived barriers and challenging people’s perceptions.”
“Oldham desperately needs more foster carers for our children and young people, and there are lots of disabled people who have the right skills and experience to foster. We see the potential in everyone, so if you are disabled and interested in fostering, please get in touch.”
The project was led by the University of Worcester and the disabled people’s organisation Shaping Our Lives, along with the Foster Care Co-operative. It was supported by a grant from the £5 million DRILL programme (Disability Research on Independent Living & Learning) – the first user-led disability research programme in the world. DRILL is fully funded by The National Lottery Community Fund.
Dr Peter Unwin, principal lecturer of social work at the University of Worcester said: “Recruitment to foster care has been at crisis point for some time. The huge pool of disabled people in England could make a significant difference to closing that gap, if only they are given the opportunity. Yet disabled people appear to be largely absent from the fostering workforce and the foster parents we interviewed reported initial difficulty during the recruitment process.”
The report calls for a proactive approach from local authorities and foster agencies to try and encourage more disabled people to consider becoming a foster carer; and more inclusive practices in the foster carer recruitment process.
Linda Garforth has been a foster carer with Oldham for 28 years. Over the last six years, Linda has lost the majority of her eyesight.
Linda said: “I started fostering because I wanted to help children who desperately needed a home and a good start in life. Over the years, I have fostered children of all ages, from new-born babies through to teenagers. The best thing about fostering is seeing the baby or young person thrive and the progress they can make with the right nurturing, love and attention.”
“I am now registered blind, although I do have some sight. Both eyes are affected by different conditions which distorts my vision. It doesn’t stop me being a foster carer because I won’t let it.”
“When I lost my sight, my only worry was if I couldn’t foster anymore due to my disability. The disability came second. Since then I have fostered two older siblings on a long-term basis, who I love like my own, two teenagers and six babies. So, I would definitely say my disability has not stopped my contribution to fostering. I have just adapted how I do things. I no longer foster toddlers because my long-distance vision is too poor to keep them safe. Instead, I now foster young babies or teenagers.”
“If you have a disability and are thinking of fostering, I would say go for it! You may have to rearrange how you do things and consider the ages of the children and young people that you would like to foster. Teenagers can be so helpful and independent. Finally, I would say don’t see yourself as a disabled person, see yourself as a caring person wanting to give a home to a child who needs desperately needs love and support.”
If you consider yourself to be disabled and would consider becoming a foster carer, Oldham Fostering Service would love to hear from you. All they ask is that you are over 21, enjoying working with children and have room in your home.
All enquiries are treated on an individual basis and the assessment process normally takes around six months. The process is designed to look at your skills and experience and considers the types of children and young people you could foster.
Carers receive a tailored support package, including ongoing training and professional development, plus generous payments and allowances. Carers become members of FosterTalk who give independent advice on tax and benefits.
For more information, call 0161 770 6600 or visit www.oldham.gov.uk/fostering
To find out more about DRILL, or to download a copy of the report Mutual Benefits: The Potential of Disabled People as Foster Carers, go to www.drilluk.org.uk