Birth Children and Fostering
Our own experience, and a considerable body of academic research has found that in general, the relationships that develop between a foster carers' own children and their fostered children are positive for both parties. Each fostered child, and each carer’s child is an individual, and their characteristics will influence how fostering is experienced and the relationship between them. However, there are some golden rules to follow if you still have children living at home and you are planning to foster.
- Being involved in the decision to foster is vital. Birth children need to be included in family discussions concerning the decision to foster and they should not be seen as less significant members of the family decision making unit. Fostering will have an impact on their lives, and they need to understand how, and in what ways, they are likely to be affected. Your birth child/children need to be informed about the nature of fostering – both positive and negative.
- Information is important, not only in the discovery phase of deciding to foster but throughout the entire fostering process. In the UK, “The Fostering Network” produces material to inform people about fostering in general, including a magazine targeted specifically at birth children that may be helpful.
- Birth children, as well as foster carers, need to be informed about specific foster children before they join the family, although the information shared will have to be carefully constructed for birth children to respect the looked after child’s right to confidentiality. This information makes it easier for everyone to understand and to cope with any difficult behaviour.
- Foster carers need to specifically create time for their birth children. Experience has evidenced that sometimes, parents became so involved in their fostering task that they spent insufficient time with their own children. This can lead to birth children feeling excluded in their own family. So make time!
- Remember to keep talking to your birth children about any difficulties that may occur. An important aspect of improving their capacity to cope is the opportunity for birth children to have open discussions about any perceived difficulties, not only with their parents, but also with social workers associated with the fostered child. If birth children are allowed to take issue with the things they find problematic about fostering and are empowered to discuss their feelings, they feel better equipped to cope with any problems. Sometimes birth children may not want to trouble their parents with their own difficulties, and sometimes feel that they are not ‘eligible’ to complain. It is important that you do not allow this to happen.
- You need to think about how you will prepare your birth children for placements ending. It is vitally important that when a placement ends, either in a planned or unplanned way, you all have an opportunity to discuss this. Some birth children feel that the ending of placements is the most difficult aspect of fostering. Sometimes when a fostered child moves from the family, the birth child can feel a sense of loss if the situation is not managed properly.
- Children of foster carers have suggested that peer support groups, run by the agency, are a good source of information and advice for birth children. These provide young people with the opportunity to meet with others in the same situation, and to express their feelings about the challenging aspects of living within a foster family. Such groups can provide an opportunity for them to receive age-appropriate information about different topics and to take part in informal awareness raising and help improve their understanding and knowledge.
Most birth children state that they are happy being a part of a fostering family and recognise the benefits of the experience. There is a great deal of evidence to suggest that a proportion of birth children actually go on to become foster carers themselves or enter caring professions, and many feel that fostering has enhanced their social understanding, empathy and skills. In one survey, for example, a third of birth children said that they thought they would become foster carers when they were adults and that fostering had a positive impact on their lives.
For a real life view of what it is like to be a birth child in a fostering family have a look at the link below.