Fostering a child is unlike any other career. Not only do you get to help a child desperately in need of a home, but you also have a huge impact on their lives. When it comes to who can foster a child, you don’t need any special qualifications to be a foster parent, but you do need to be a special kind of person.
Fostering is hands-on, intense and full of surprises. After all, many of the children in care will have experienced some sort of trauma. This is why you need to have certain personal attributes and skills to foster a child. Let’s take a look at some of the main qualities we look for in any new foster parent.
6 Must-have Skills For Fostering Children
Being in care affects children in so many different ways, and their young brains can struggle to process what’s going on. Triggers from the past and being removed from their home can lead to disruptive behaviour, attachment issues or the onset of mental health disorders. If you’re a naturally empathetic person, you’ll understand that these children aren’t bad people, but they’re hurting, scared and confused. They need a foster parent who can look beyond the behaviour to help them heal.
A lot of children in foster care have experienced abuse, neglect, the loss of a loved one, domestic violence or family breakdown. Living through these traumatic events can lead kids down the path of using destructive coping mechanisms as a way of dealing with emotions. They may be defiant and act out at school, experiment with drugs and alcohol to numb the pain or have a general distrust and lack of respect for figures of authority. Foster parents need to have a thick skin to deal with challenging behaviour, but also know not to take it personally. Both of which are important skills needed to be a foster carer.
Communication skills for fostering children are a top priority. Being friendly and chatty in nature is one thing, but knowing how to speak to children on their level is another. Young children and teenagers communicate differently to adults, so being savvy in reading body language and picking up on changes in behaviour are good examples of parenting skills for foster parents. You may also foster autistic children who have delayed or limited speech. Adapting to different ways of getting through to people is a great asset for any future foster parent.
As a foster parent, you’ll also be expected to communicate regularly with different people in your foster child’s support network. This includes social workers, doctors, teachers, therapists, the birth family and potentially even legal personnel if there are court cases pending. Being able to listen, share your perspective and advocate for your foster child are must-have skills for fostering.
As they say, patience is a virtue, and that certainly rings true as a skill for fostering children. It’s important you’re aware that change doesn’t happen overnight and you don’t expect too much too soon. Fostering children requires a lot of patience, as you need to work at their pace while still encouraging positive change. This also ties in with being resilient. Being a foster parent means you can’t give up easily, especially when so many children in care have already been let down by those who were supposed to care for them.
Being kind and caring is pretty much the bread and butter when talking about skills and being a foster carer. Being placed into a new environment can cause all sorts of emotions to come out (or cause children to bottle feelings up). They might be triggered by certain things that means they lash out, or they may struggle with emotional regulation due to complex trauma, but the sign of being a good foster parent is being able to show compassion even when you don’t always get it back.
Staying calm in stressful situations is one of the key skills for fostering. Like in any parent-child dynamic, there will be moments of friction, but it’s how you deal with it that matters. The children in your care need love, support and kindness, but they also need to understand boundaries and follow rules. It’s an important part of a child’s learning and development.
Pretty much every kid will push their parents’ buttons and test their limits, but a good foster parent is able to keep cool and apply positive methods of discipline that influence change. You want them to look up to you, reach out to you and also respect you as their caregiver. If you’re able to resolve issues without raising your voice or using forms of discipline that cause physical or emotional discomfort (such as restricting a meal, demanding pushups or making them sit in a dark room) then you’ve got much wanted skills for fostering.
If you’re thinking of becoming a foster parent for the first time, then we’d love to hear from you. Please get in touch and we’ll answer any questions you have.
Or, for more information about the fostering process, benefits and next steps, download our Beginner’s Guide to Fostering a Child. It’s everything you need in one handy place!
Fostering 101: The Beginner's Guide to Fostering a Child
Download the FCA’s Complete Beginner’s Guide to Fostering a Child. Learn more about the different types of fostering, benefits and the process of becoming a foster parent.
The right style of foster care for you
We provide several types of fostering to ensure we meet each child and young person’s requirements and match the foster children with the best type of foster home for their situation. Some children and young people may just need fostering for a few nights, while others need a more permanent family environment.
Welcome a child or young people who need to be looked after in temporary basics anywhere between 1 or 2 nights, a few weeks or months.
This is where you invite a child into your home on a long term basis, providing a stable family home to a child for many years.
Parent & child
Where a parent often a mother and their baby, comes to stay with you. Usually last for last around 12 weeks.