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A mother and baby foster placement is a specialist type of fostering where parent, typically a mother and baby, often a young mother and newborn baby, comes to stay with you for between four and six months. The parent will need some extra help and advice to show that they can safely care for their baby on their own.
The parents who need these foster placements will often have experienced poor parenting themselves. They may have had a difficult childhood or may have been in care themselves. Some may have struggled with mental health conditions or may have battled substance misuse in the past. They will often not be able to fall back on the support of positive friends or family and might have been the victims of domestic violence or controlling relationships. They are parents who have low self-esteem and lack confidence. All of these difficulties mean that they need extra support and observation to keep their babies safe and well.
Like so many other things in life, we learn how to parent by watching others, and by once having been children ourselves. If you have not seen or experienced positive parenting, it is a huge challenge to be able to provide this for a young and vulnerable baby. Parents who need care and support struggle to understand what a baby needs, from the importance of cuddles, soothing, patience and stimulation through to the practical tasks of making feeds, changing nappies and having a sleep routine. Sometimes parents prioritise their own need to be on social media or watching TV to giving their full attention to their baby and need to be taught how magical and rewarding it can be to see a first smile or to make hear their baby gurgle and try to communicate.
Parent and Child Foster Parents teach and prompt parents to undertake basic tasks and to create strong bonds with their baby. Praise when parents are doing well and gentle support when things could be better can build confidence and self-esteem, which ultimately leads to better parenting.
Looking after a parent and baby in your home is a wonderful thing to do. It gives mothers (and sometimes fathers) a fantastic opportunity to learn how to become the best parents they can be. They have an opportunity to prove to themselves and to others that they have the ability to do this and that they really want to look after their baby.
It is a sad fact however that some parents, with the best support in the world, find caring for their child too difficult. They may struggle to put their baby’s needs ahead of their own, perhaps because of the pull of an abusive partner or their own learning difficulties, substance misuse or mental health. Some parents cannot safely care for their babies because it may just be too emotionally demanding for them. When this happens, the plan for the baby may change, and Parent and Child carers play a significant role in helping the parent to acknowledge and accept their limitations.
More often than not the baby will sleep in the parents room with the foster parent keeping a watchful eye and ear to make sure they are on hand if needed. When there are worries that the risk to a baby are too high, perhaps because of the parent’s learning needs or their emotional health, then the foster parent will be given guidance to care for the baby in their room at night and this will be reviewed very regularly to see whether the parent is ready and able to have the baby in with them.
When a mother first arrives in your home the foster parent will be asked to observe and to provide as much support as is needed to keep the baby safe. This can mean 24 hour supervision and support, with the level of support being reviewed regularly and hopefully reduced over time.
The objective will be for the parent to feel more confident with their baby and to be able to manage the feeding and caring tasks with less and less prompting and guidance. How quickly this happens varies from one parent to another. Some pick it up really quickly whilst others need help and supervision for a lot longer.
It can be difficult for some parents to recognise what their child needs. Are they crying because they are hungry, anxious, need a nappy changed or need reassurance from an adult? The foster parent will work to help the parent problem solve for their infant and by doing so, will build a strong attachment to help that baby grow and develop and navigate life.
As a Parent and Child Foster Parent you will be observing all of the time and recording your important observations. Is the parent giving their baby their full care and attention? Is the parent ensuring that the baby is fed the right amount and at the right time, or are they maybe prioritising their own needs for a snack or a cup of tea? How long does the baby need to cry before the parent responds to them? How easily is the parent able to problem solve when their baby is crying and soothe them? Can the parent manage doing more the one thing at once, for example, can they balance completing chores alongside looking after their infant? Is the baby dressed appropriately for the weather and for the event? How patient is the parent with their child? How gently do they pick up and hold the baby? Are they sensitive to the baby’s needs or are they impatient and loud? Is the parent following advice from the midwife or health visitor? Do they think ahead and anticipate the baby’s needs, for example preparing bottles to take with them on a walk? How does the parent respond to being shown how to do things by the foster parent?
Parent and Child Foster parents record information every day, often several times a day on how well the parent is doing and any areas that need improvement. The parent is aware from the beginning of the placement that this is a key part of the foster parent’s role and that they are being observed. Weekly meetings are help with the foster parents, the parent, and their Link Worker and social workers to see how well things are going and what areas need to be worked on.
Parent and Child Foster Parents with Family Fostering Partners are allocated their own Link Worker who are specialists in this work. They are available to speak with is the foster parent is worried about anything. They can be phoned, texted or e mailed at any time of the working day and there is a 24/7 on call service for evenings and weekends.
Parent and Child Placements are time limited and are usually for a 12 to 16 week assessment period. Sometimes placement can run on for a little longer if the parent needs more time or additional support.
It is always sad when a parent is not able to look after their baby safely because the goal is too try and keep families together. In the majority of cases we do see parents successfully return home with their babies but sometimes this just is not possible. It may be that the baby is at risk because the parent is not able to provide safe care or because they choose a lifestyle or an abusive partner over and above their infant. Whatever the outcome for the parent, the baby, and his or her future has to be the priority.
When a parent successfully moves home with their baby they will continue to receive support from the Local Authority Social Services Department and the Parent and Child Foster Parent will usually need a good rest before their next foster placement arrives!
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