Can I still foster if I have pets?
Ownership of pets does not necessarily preclude anyone from becoming a foster carer. The potential implications presented by ownership of any type of pets will be assessed on their own merits.
The presence of animals in foster homes can be of real benefit and in certain case have a positive and therapeutic effect on children. For a foster child, pets can be a cornerstone of their emotional health, sharers of unconditional friendship and a constant presence in a world that hitherto has lacked stability.
Some pets, however, can also pose a risk to children. Fostering organisations together with foster carers, need to ensure that the children’s welfare is protected at all times.
Whilst pets can be beneficial, equally pets can also become the object of a foster child’s frustrations and suppressed anger. Knowing whether a pet, like a dog or cat, will be helpful or hurtful to a foster child depends on a thorough knowledge of the history of both the child and pet concerned.
For someone with a difficult past, a pet can be an incredible source of comfort. Dogs require a deal of attention but are almost always repaying it doubly. They also teach responsibility – getting up to walk the dog on a cold winter morning is no small task, but it helps build character and trust in a foster child. Conversely cats demand almost nothing from the people they live with which can come as a pleasant surprise for a foster child who had to care for his younger siblings when his parents were unable to.
Cats and dogs hold no prejudice against anyone with a troubled past and tend to accept people as long as they don’t perceive a threat. For a foster child who realises that his birth parents may not be able to provide for him or be interested in his well being, living with a family pet who accepts him unconditionally can be priceless.
Pets in the household will be considered at the time of the Health and Safety inspection during the assessment process. It should be noted however that there is an ongoing duty to ensure the child’s safety. Household circumstances can quickly change, for example looking after another person’s pets or your own pet being unwell. The ultimate and ongoing responsibility is always on the Foster Carer to ensure that their household (and other households they visit) remain safe.
It is worth remembering that dogs acquired from rescue centres often have a history of neglect, ill treatment or abandonment. They may have established behaviour patterns as a result and careful consideration will have to be given to how the fostering family will deal with a child who may have an insecure pattern of attachment, alongside a dog dealing with similar issues!
Good housekeeping is essential. In all cases, pets are expected to be well cared for and fully up to date with their inoculations. Their food and water must be fresh and not contaminate human food preparation areas. All faeces and litter trays must be cleaned regularly and not present any risk to humans. Households should not have any unpleasant odours resulting from owning pets. Any animal hair, feathers or other mess coming from animals should be regularly cleaned, swept or vacuumed.
Some animals are likely to enter children’s rooms and sleep on their beds. This can present an additional risk of suffocation to small children, particularly by cats and small dogs. Strategies must be in place to prevent this. If an animal poses any risk, the Foster Carer must have a strategy to either reduce or remove the risk.
Family Fostering Partners will not tolerate any incidents of cruelty to animals and will not assess any potential fostering applicants who have been convicted of cruelty to animals.
If the Foster Carer finds or believes that the child/young person is being cruel to the pet(s) in the household, then the child/young person’s Social Worker will need to be informed immediately as well as the Foster Carer’s Supervising Social Worker.
Applications to foster will not be considered from anyone who owns a pet that is registered or required to be registered under the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976., additionally applications to foster will not be considered from anyone who owns any breed of dog that is registered or required to be registered under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991/1997. E.g. Pit Bull Terriers.