In this special interview, with Katie Innis, we’ll explore the unique challenges and opportunities in foster care in Bromley, the critical need for foster carers, and hear inspiring stories of those who have enriched the lives of local children and families, all while celebrating the diversity that makes this community thrive.
Can you provide an overview of Bromley’s Permanency Service and the role of the Fostering Team within the People’s Department, Children Education & Families?
There are over 340 Bromley children in care at any one time, and it is the Permanency Service’ s responsibility to ensure that our children have stable and safe places to stay – permanently or temporarily. We work hard to recruit foster carers that provide the stability and safety that all children are entitled to.
What are some of the unique characteristics or challenges of Bromley that make foster carers particularly important for the community?
There is a national crisis in foster carer recruitment; Bromley, like many other local authorities in the UK, is facing these challenges, whilst the number of children coming into care, whether permanently or temporarily, continues to grow. Bromley is developing and evolving as a more diverse borough and as such it is important that this is reflected in our roster of foster carers. Cultural and diversity training is mandatory, and our carers foster children of a broad range of ethnicities, religions and cultures, however, we believe in the positive impact of ethnicity and cultural matching wherever possible and this something we as a local authority are aiming to do by recruiting foster carers from more black and ethnic minority groups.
Could you share some statistics or data regarding the current demand for foster carers in Bromley and how it has evolved over time?
Our need for different types of fostering can fluctuates throughout the year however we are in specific need of carers for short breaks for children with special education needs and disabilities, mother and baby placements, teenagers, primary age children and siblings.
What specific qualities or skills are you looking for in individuals who wish to become foster carers in Bromley?
People that foster have often thought about it for many years, they are keen to support children and to give back to their communities. To be a foster carer for Bromley, people must be 21 years or older and have a spare bedroom. People do not necessarily need to have worked with children before but a real passion for children is important. To be a foster carer, people must have patience, empathy and compassion, children have often experienced trauma. Its also important that prospective foster carers can communicate well and can work as part of a team, they work with a number of people to help support the children in their care. Resilience and a sense of humour is important too! Foster carers do no need to live in the borough of Bromley, many of our children live locally but some are deliberately placed further afield for as part of the plan to care for them. Many of our carers live in neighbouring boroughs! Foster carers can be single, rent their home instead of own and there is no age limit – we just ask that people are fit and able to care for a child – our eldest carer is 80!
How does Bromley support and train new foster carers to ensure they are well-prepared for their role?
Training and support in becoming foster is extremely important; during the assessment phase, assessing social workers and the wider recruitment team are always on hand to answer questions and provide support. When prospective carers are interested in fostering we invite them to attend one of our information sessions, we walk people through the process of becoming a foster carer with Bromley and answer any questions that people have. We then make sure that we follow up and offer support and answer any further queries. As part of a prospective foster carer’s assessment, they must attend a 3 -day training programme called Skills To Foster, this is an in-depth introduction to fostering that supports prospective foster carers in developing their understanding of fostering. Bromley has a lengthy list of mandatory and voluntary training for our foster carers so that they feel prepared and ready to foster, and we have a mentor scheme for new foster carers. We also run regular face to face and online support groups, and of course our duty desk and out of hours support. Bromley is also very proud of its trauma-informed practice, THRIVE. The service offers therapeutic support to children, foster carers, special guardians and connected persons and due to its positive impact, the service continues to expand. Bromley also has a Living In Care Council; the council is made up of children and young people living in care who participate and contribute to all things surrounding the services that we provide to all our children and young people. Having their input and active participation supports us in our training and recruitment of foster carers.
Can you describe any successful initiatives or campaigns that have been implemented in Bromley to raise awareness about the need for more foster carers?
Bromley is constantly working to promote foster carer recruitment across our communities, we work with religious and community groups, and partner services in the borough. Our information sessions are successful in providing initial introductions to becoming a foster carer for Bromley, and outreach is often a brilliant way to talk to people face to face. We also offer a generous referral scheme, and transfer payment to those that transfer from other fostering organisations to Bromley.
Are there any particular demographics or groups of children in Bromley who are in greater need of foster care, and if so, how does the Fostering Team address this?
As mentioned above, we are in specific need of carers for short breaks for children with special education needs and disabilities, mother and baby placements, teenagers, primary age children and siblings. We have a higher ratio of children from black and ethnic minority groups to the number of foster carers from similar backgrounds; bridging that gap is vitally important to us.
What are the benefits of becoming a foster carer in Bromley, both for the individuals who choose this path and for the children in need of care?
Bromley foster carers work with a team of social workers that are dedicated to ensuring that children can thrive and reach their full potential. A vital part of that is the stability and security our foster carers offer our children, and we really appreciate that. We host social events throughout the year, offer competitive rates with generous transfer and referral schemes, and understand the importance of communication and support. As mentioned previously, we have what Ofsted quoted as an ‘exemplary’ therapeutic service and this interwoven across all of our children’s services and have a mentor scheme for new foster carers. A real benefit of fostering directly with a local authority is that conversations happen under one roof, a foster carer’s social worker can quite literally walk across to their child’s social worker to resolve a problem, so communication and action is a lot timelier with no ‘middle- man’. Joined up working and therapeutic support makes things smoother for our foster carers and are as vital in supporting our children and in providing them safety and stability. Fostering is life challenging for foster carers and children alike, one of our foster carers says:
“I wanted to start fostering to make a difference to a child’s life, what I didn’t realise is how much of a difference it would make to my life! Best decision I ever made!”
Could you share some personal stories or testimonials from foster carers in Bromley to highlight the positive impact they have on the lives of children and families?
In addition to the testimonial above, I have quoted one in the answer below as well. Here is another example – ‘One of our foster children has been with us since she was 11, she is nearly 20 now. She got a special award from the mayor, the mayor turned up at our house and she was in her pyjamas… the was a Teams call with dignitaries, people high up in the council, and my wife and I couldn’t speak, we were so incredibly proud, from the background this young lady has come from and flourished is truly inspirational.
In your opinion, what are some of the most significant challenges or misconceptions that potential foster carers may have about fostering in Bromley, and how can these be addressed?
Many people that have considered fostering believe that there are more barriers to fostering than there are; there is no upper age limit to fostering – as long as a carer is fit enough to care for children you can foster until whichever age you wish! Others believe you must be in a couple to foster – we have many single foster carers. You don’t have to own your own home either. A criminal record will not necessarily prevent you from fostering. Readers should check out our quiz, they may be surprised! Fostering quiz | Instructions – London Borough of Bromley.
Taken directly from one of our foster carers:
“The biggest misconception is that children come and they take over your family dynamic and you don’t have the time that you once had; that’s not true. What you find is that, you actually work together. The children work with you, and you work with the children, and you come together as one and they form part of your family.’
How does the Fostering Team collaborate with the local community and other organizations to recruit and support foster carers?
Cross working is really important to us, we host FAP – Fostering Advisory Panel – which is a panel made up foster carers and social workers and management to ensure that we are always talking and discussing issues and ideas and to ensure that we are offering the best service to our carers and children that we can. We also work with local faith groups, schools and partner services in delivering information and promoting fostering.
What are the long-term goals and strategies in place to meet the ongoing need for foster carers in Bromley?
Bromley are constantly striving to attract and retain brilliant foster carers for our children, we already have a cohort of fantastic carers and we need more just like them! We review our needs frequently and this is reflected in our decisions in promoting and communicating with people about fostering. As we other local authorities we have a number of foster families to recruit each year and we confident that we will meet this target this year, however what is vitally important is that we meet our area of needs in terms of demographics in terms of types of placements, such as siblings and mother and baby, ethnicity, culture, religion and age
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the need for foster carers in Bromley, and how has the Fostering Team adapted to these challenges?
During the pandemic we experienced a surge in fostering applications, unfortunately since that time many people are returning to work and this has impacted the number of foster carers we have. Sadly, the pandemic, followed by the cost of living crisis, lead to an increase in children coming into care. Mental health, physical health and financial instability unfortunately led to a rise in families in crisis that need support.
Can you describe any upcoming events or campaigns aimed at promoting foster care in Bromley and engaging the community in this important endeavour?
We host monthly online information sessions, which is held on Teams. The sessions are informal however very informative and give an overview of the process of becoming a foster carer and fostering with Bromley. Those attending will get to meet members of the team, social workers and current foster carers. These sessions can also be hosted 1-2-1 if potential carers are unable to attend the scheduled dates. We will be attending many events throughout the year so readers should enquire today or follow our socials to stay up to date on where we.