Local authorities desperately need foster carers and many are recognising that Service families have the background, skills and support needed. Army&You spoke to AFF Health & Additional Needs Specialist Karen Ross to find out more…

KAREN receives a steady stream of enquiries about fostering from Army families. She said: “Some find it difficult to start the process with the local authority or agency because they feel their unique mobile lifestyle may be a barrier. However, this is often not the case and some are able to successfully foster – and it is something that the MOD is actively encouraging.”

Deciding to foster

It’s often making the decision to foster that is the most daunting. Danny, a serving soldier based in Oxfordshire, explained his story: “‘How serious are you about fostering?’. The question seemed to hang in the air.

“I certainly wasn’t expecting to find a social worker in the living room when I came home for lunch. It had only been a week since my wife Karen and I had discussed the possibility and seemingly discounted the option because we thought a local authority would never accept someone in the Army as a carer.

“Well, they did. It’s been four years since Toni and Ruby joined our family and I wouldn’t change the decision we made.” 

Hampshire-based serving soldier Stuart and his wife have also gone through the process with their local authority.

It took the couple around eight months from their initial enquiry to receiving a successful panel decision.

The couple have two young children of their own and the youngsters were their biggest consideration in the initial decision to foster.

Stuart said: “It’s very important to us that a placement is a good match for our family and of course the young child who is placed with us.

“So although as a couple, we have been really keen to start our fostering journey and throw ourselves into it, we’ve probably had a much steadier start than most foster families, which really suits us.”

Not always easy

Fostering is a huge commitment and different to adoption, which is permanent.

“With fostering, the link to the other family is enduring,” said Danny. “Providing a safe space for the children to eventually return home is the ultimate aim.

“Whilst this is unlikely for our girls, we still take them home for ‘contact’ every couple of months to maintain links with their birth family.

“So yes, it can be difficult. Your role is to provide love and stability.

“It can be heart-rending and there may not be any certainty, but it is incredibly rewarding.

“The children involved deserve a chance, and I wouldn’t change our girls for the world.”

Housing entitlement

Most local authorities insist on the child having their own bedroom, unless sharing with a sibling. This requirement may mean that you need a larger SFA. You’ll need to provide proof that you are fostering to CarillionAmey (carillionamey.co.uk).

“It was established during our initial telephone enquiry whether we had a spare bedroom and it’s the first thing the social worker checked on her initial visit,” Stuart said.

It’s also important to inform CarillionAmey that you are foster carers so that they meet the standards required by the local authority for placing foster children, such as ensuring doors, bannisters and windows are child-safe. If you are moving, include this information on your e1132.

Operational assignments

Fostering shouldn’t affect your soldier’s operational capability, but if you are fostering a child with an additional need and/or disability, you may need to ensure that extra support is in-situ for your family before your soldier deploys.

Karen Ross advised: “It is always best practice for your soldier to discuss the situation with their RCMO and social worker, particularly if the child is just about to be placed with you and a deployment is imminent.”

The hurdles

Stuart experienced some reticence from the local authority about being in the military.

He said: “To be successful in our fostering assessment, it was a requirement for us to be extremely settled into family life.

“This is something that was raised as a possible vulnerability due to the nature of postings with the Armed Forces.”

However, this didn’t prevent them from becoming foster carers. Karen Ross added: “One question families ask me is whether a foster child can accompany them on an overseas assignment.”

This can be difficult because regular contact with the local authority and birth parents is required.

Danny explained: “We are now legal guardians for Toni and Ruby. This change in status means that we are permitted to take the children on holidays and travel abroad for up to three months without referral to the local authority.”

Wherever you are located, there are lots of things to consider. Contact Karen Ross (additionalneeds@aff.org.uk)  who will be happy to point you in the right direction.

Fostering while overseas

Core Assets is the MOD contracted social work provider for BFG (Germany), EJSU (European areas), BATUK (Kenya) and BATUS (Canada), jurisdictions permitting.

Under Core Assets, British Forces Social Work Service (BFSWS) recruits foster carers, although due to the drawdown in BFG the numbers have reduced. If BFSWS needs to recruit foster carers, it will advertise in Sixth Sense or on BFBS radio. To see if it is recruiting in your location, email crt.bfsws@coreassets.com

SSAFA is the social work provider for Cyprus, the Falklands, Brunei and Gibraltar. If you are interested in fostering and live in these locations, contact the SSAFA Social Work Service – contact details can be found at ssafa.org.uk

Avenues of support

Your soldier can check JSP 464 and the MOD’s Defence Instructions and Notices policy (DIN) reference: 2008DIN01-189 via the Defence intranet.

Cornerstone Partnership
Can help with links to local authorities in the south east requiring foster carers

Fostering People
Places children in need of foster care in the Midlands, north of England and Scotland

The Fostering Network
UK charity

Support for fostering

Coram BAAF Adoption and Fostering Academy

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