Paul Nelson of the Islington Fostering Recruitment team is on the lookout for new foster carers

Islington has 320 children needing foster care. Unfortunately it only has 110 foster carers.

Nationally there’s a shortage of around 8,000 foster carers. That’s a lot of children in need of help. That’s why Paul Nelson is on the lookout for new recruits.

Although fostering might be seen as a form of adoption he says that, unlike adopters, most foster parents have had children of their own. They see fostering as a way of continuing to use their parenting skills. Many still have children at home, and fostering offers work that means they can continue to care for them there. And of course unlike adoption, fostering is only for a limited time because if at all possible, fostered children will ultimately return to their families if possible. But if the parent is for example a drug user who refuses rehab, then the child or children may be put forward for adoption.

The challenge for foster carers, says Paul, is that if children didn’t experience it in their first years, it is very hard for them to learn emotional attachment. But from his own experience in the care system he says you really can make a difference. At times It may not feel like you are being heard, but years later you can discover that a child you looked after deeply valued something you said, shared, or did for them. Ideally foster care results in a child developing attachments which help them forming positive relationships.

All types of people foster – single, working, not working, with or without children, of all ages, and from a range of social backgrounds. In all cases smiles and a sense of humour are essential.

The other main quality you need is the patience and ability to help a child through a difficult time. You also need to be able to keep them safe, as well as helping them to do the same for themselves, and grow and realise their potential.

How Does it Work?
Islington would not recommend that you take a child older than your oldest child but within that range you can stipulate what age group or type of fostering you are interested in, for example expressing a preference for a girl or boy.

Whoever you take, you must be able to support them in their own culture, race and religion in much the same way that you are asked to support children’s health and education, attending school report evenings for example. You would be expected to provide any specialist food required such as vegetarian, and support hobbies or afterschool activitiesas well as promoting new ones.

Carers need a good level of spoken and written English, to support the child academically, to advocate for the child, and to be able to report back on events like school report meetings.

Foster children are required to abide by house rules, so if you limit access to games consoles or screen time for your children for example, that would apply to fostered children as well.

Finally, as a backstop Islington recommends that foster carers have a support network of say other family membersand or friends also willing to form a relationship with the child and be DBS checked (old CRB), so there is always someone able to take over if necessary.

You do get paid for fostering, the amount of which depends on the range, age and number of children you choose to foster.

There is an additional payment for the child’s birthday, for any religious holiday celebrated by the child, and towards any holidays for the child, including summer holiday outings, holidays aboard and towards school trips.

There’s a further £186 per week for foster carers working with the more challenging adolescents while they are involved in a specialist program called AMASS{Adolescent
Multi Agency Support Service}.

These payments do not affect most benefits you might be receiving and foster care tax relief allows tax exemption for the first £10, 000 per year plus £200 per week for a child under 11 and £250 for a child over 11. This is in addition to your personal tax free allowance of £9440

How Do You Become a Foster Carer?
After the initial phone call in which you discuss things like the age of the child/young person you would like to foster, space in your home, and whether you work, you are sent an information pack with dates for forthcoming sessions at the Town Hall. If you go to one of those you can talk to a current foster carer, a member of the fostering recruitment team, and the team manager. If it sounds like something you would like to do you then complete a Part 1 form and will be contacted for an initial home visit from the recruitment team.

That will involve a conversation about why you want to foster. Back at the office you may then be invited to a four-day skills training over two weekdays and two Saturdays, with more information, short videos, case studies and discussions. This can cover issues like challenging behaviour, allegations, and safer caring. ‘It’s a lot of information we share but we do try to make it fun,’ says Paul. At the end of the four days participant are asked if they are still interested, at which point they complete a Part 2 application form before further discussion take place.

Once approved there are around 20 training sessions a year during school time to make it easy to attend. These can be on challenging behaviour, sexualised behaviour and much more. You will be in touch with your supervising social worker once a fortnight, moving on to once a month and there is also a 24-hour support line for all foster carers in case of any crisis.

Can You Set Limits?
You can say that you will look after only certain ages – to 3 years, primary school, or teens’ depending what best suits you and or your family. And you can stipulate whether you want a girl or a boy.

You can say that you will look after only certain ages – to 3 years, primary school, or teen. And you can stipulate whether you want a girl or a boy.

The length of stay depends on the reason for the child is needing to be placed with foster carers and can be just a few days for example a single parent who is ill, through to a number of years.

Reasons Children Need Fostering
Babies are generally fostered because of some kind of substance abuse by the mother. This means they will be highly demanding until they have gone through the withdrawal symptoms.

Children to around seven years are generally taken into care because of neglect, or physical or sexual abuse. For older children the cause is generally family breakdown and issues over independence.

Because of what the children have gone through there will be challenging or disruptive behaviour in most cases, and teens can go missing for hours or even days, and they may break house rules or be verbally abusive, but rarely physically so.

While some of the boys may be involved in gangs and theft, they are less likely to damage or steal from foster parents, knowing that it will have consequences.

Skills Needed in a Foster Carer
All foster carers need to have compassion and be able to try and identification with what foster children and young people go through as well as understanding of human psychology is probably vital to survive the ups and downs. A child who has experienced a lot of trauma and has not had good attachment has a baby may feel safer not getting close to people, and when they do start to experience an emotional thaw, they may not know how to react other than by acting out.

The job involves making sure the children in their care get to nursery or school on time, and help them to make good progress and do well with their homework. It is also important to help the development of life skills, encouraging hobbies and interests.

No matter how long a child may stay a key part of that is a full experience of family life, keep them safe and help them to grow and realise their potential. It is also essential for children to maintain relationships with their family and friends and as a foster carer you will help this to transpire.

This role means that foster carers are important in helping to make care plans for foster children, while working closely with social workers and other professionals to help the child.

Other services provided by Islington
One area best suited to the highly experienced is specialist fostering, looking after children who have shown a pattern of extreme challenging behaviour. Almost as demanding is remand fostering, looking after a child who is awaiting a court date.

There is also a service called supported lodging, offering a room to a young person of 16 to 21 years who has been in care and has learnt to deal with the emotional difficulties of their situation. They will be in further education and the role of the foster carer is to offer a listening ear and teach life skills like cooking, budgeting and completing application forms.

Or you could choose to be a family-based short breaks carer, offering a regular overnight or weekend break at your home to a child or young person with disabilities.

Finally there is parent and baby fostering, taking in a young parent and her/his baby for a period of around three months and helping her/him form good attachment with their child the practical skills needed to parent to the best of their ability.

For more information see For an information pack or an informal chat ring 0800 073 0428 or email Those interested in fostering teens, mother and baby, or siblings are given priority.