Fostering a parent & child

We sat down with our South East Practice Team Manager, Liz Oldfield to discuss the in’s and out’s of fostering a parent and their child. In this post you’ll find out why there’s a national emphasis on this type of fostering, how vital it can be in breaking generational cyles of children entering care and the expected outcomes and practices versus traditional, mainstream fostering.

It’s hard to define really, but certainly over the last decade the need has grown. That may be because courts are keener to keep mothers and babies together. But most certainly it is the most sought after placement we get asked for.

The impetus is definitely coming from the courts to do everything possible before they remove a child, especially a baby. But we get referrals for a mum who’s maybe had 5 children removed.

There are incentives out there about trying to do it differently THIS time and to acknowledge that maybe the support just wasn’t there the first time around for parents. Lets ramp up that support instead of doing the same thing and have the same results. Lets stop that revolving door of children coming into care and their children coming into care and put extra resource in to support this parent.

It is Dad’s aswell. Mum’s, Dad’s and Child or just Dad’s and Child. It’s why it was renamed Parent and child instead of mummy and baby which we used to call it.

So, once we’ve given them all the support we can, then it’s down to the family to really do it on their own. But you’re giving them every possible chance to learn maybe what they didn’t learn from their parents about parenting. It’s about learning in a safe and supportive environment where there’s less pressure on them from other things like managing finances, other people or influences.

They don’t leave until they can understand finances and manage their money, they can cook for themselves, they can feed their baby, they can clothe their baby, they can wash their baby and understand health and hygiene and so forth. Placements typically last between 3-4 months or once they’ve demonstrated all these skills.

Parents may have aspirations for their future and facilitating that through training, education etc. It may even be as simple as mixing with other people, going to baby groups going to mum and toddler groups. Just getting them to have positive relationships because often they haven’t had that in the past. We do a lot of independent skills with them and sometime aspirations can be unrealistic but entering education would be something they’re expected to do. Stepping stones, and understanding what is feasible at that particular time.

I call it THE professional end of fostering.

It is more like a job as it’s shorter periods of time and you’re asked to do a very specific task. You’re tasked with observing and reporting, it’s not so much about relation building which in mainstream fostering is all relationship building and development. It’s more of a contractual one, “I will be doing this for you but you need to be doing this aswell and if you dont, this is what I have to do”. It’s not totally nurturing.

It’s a balancing act, because of safeguarding implications the foster carer will have to step in. They can’t do it in negotiation, which is what you try to do in foster care – negotiate boundaries and expectations, you do less of that. The parent has to understand that aswell, that there are limitations. What the carer is going to do is not unconditional which is what we ask foster carers to be sometimes.

There’s alot more training involved, they need to have parent and child training before they can be approved. There’s quite a bit more recording because the court is ultimately making a judgement whether this parenting is good enough. So reporting has to be very comprehensive, very factual, with the mindset that “this is the decision that somebody else has got to make about this parent and child and I’m part of that decision making.” The carers need to be very clear about what they’re observing so it’s more important not to have any judgement impacting that and being very factual. Sometimes that is quite difficult, especially if you’re empathetic towards the parent, you can’t skew it that way. If things aren’t going well, you have to be that little bit hard-hearted in the factual nature of what you’re doing.

More meetings and supervision which is the big thing. Not every placement is 24/7 supervision but potentially it could be, you have to be prepared that your priority is supervising this parent and child and they may not be able to be left alone or go out on their own. That’s why it can be quite difficult at the beginning if you have other commitments, if you have a child that needs to go to school, you’ve got to work, how are you going to manage that if your parent and child isn’t being cooperative? You cannot make them be cooperative, the expectation is that you have to work at their pace. You can negotiate around your commitments but it is not their responsibility to fit in with you.

Single people that can devote themselves to the parent and child would gain the most from this type of fostering. You’re becoming a part of the parent and child’s life rather than them being part of your life.

The older parents that have had multiple children, it can be harder in a family setting that’s already established. The relationship is very different when you have an older person in your home rather than a 17/18 year old with a baby. Being an adult that knows how to run their own house possibly might not the way you want them to do it, but they have the experience of doing all that stuff. The difficulties is knowing when to step in and when not to step in. When you need to sit and observe and when you need to take over. And sometimes we need to help the carers change that little bit. At the beginning if you are supporting a young parent you might be more nurturing as you would be with any 17 year old. But as the placement progresses you need to step back and let them make mistakes, otherwise you cannot judge how they will respond on their own. They haven’t had that experience of trying things and maybe messing up a little bit so its good to let them do that when they’re with you.

Someone with experience is key to parent and child fostering, social workers, midwives, nurses, teachers. Those heading for retirement who’s children have left the home and are looking to do something worthwhile, in these environments it really can be the most rewarding placement. From day one your aim is to stop a parent and child being separated and giving mum/dad every potential opportunity to stay together. And in the worst case, when it doesn’t work you’ve given them the opportunity they might not have had otherwise.

It’s the individuals who can take the emotional responses out of challenging situations. So being very calm, well organised in order to do that on behalf of the parent and child so you can support them appropriately. Having knowledge of the benefits system can help and good knowledge of how to care for babies, which is why particular job types are well suited to this. If not, it’s something you really have to dedicate yourself to learning and keeping abreast of changes, you need to be adaptable and open to new learning.


Communication is key, getting the message across that you want the parent to hear and to know how best to do that so it is heard. Solicitors and social workers often say the parent doesn’t really ‘hear it’ so the carer needs to be able to interpret what they’ve said so the parent can accept and not put up barriers, its very much about saying it in a non-threatening or judgmental way.

This is what was said.

This is what they need to see you do.

Let’s get you to that place.

How will we get you to that place?

So at the beginning you have to do a lot for them but you’re in a space where we’re doing it together, then towards the end it’s “OK you need to be doing this on your own” and only stepping in when absolutely necessary.

If you have younger children in the home, it’s looking at any substance use and the risk where a partner is involved and there has been domestic abuse. So there is a more robust risk assessment, looking into contextual safeguarding not just what’s going on for the child but the parents risk and their external risks. We use a different risk assessment for parent and child because of those considerations. It might also be more difficult if you have a parent who doesn’t want to get away from a abusive relationship.

You can often have a parent and child that might work that bit further away than you would normally want or expect. If contact isn’t deemed safe, you want to separate them from that risk, whatever it may be.

There’s also the consideration regarding supervision levels requested by the Local Authority. Does the parent and child need 24/7 supervision and is that tenable in the placement? We need to know a lot more about it and get the carers involved quite heavily early on.

Do you think you could manage this
What are you going to do if you need to get your child to school?
Do you need to walk the dog?

You can’t expect the parents to be totally grateful that they’re with you, so cooperation can be difficult. Parents can get more appreciative as time goes on, but they may be stubborn at the beginning. But moving on from that, we have carers who are seen to be the Grandparent of the child and she’s still part of the family. You can move from a very obstinate relationship to having an ongoing, long term relationship and that isn’t necessarily what you think from a parent and child placement. So if you can move through the difficult and come out in a very different place.

WOW. That’s what its all about.

Dont worry if you don’t feel you need to know everything right now. You get a lot of extra support in Parent and Child placements. We expect weekly visits instead of monthly, guiding people the whole way through. It’s very structured, you’ll be agreeing what the task is for the week, what we need to be achieving. You have a much more robust team around you.

The point is to make this work, the support must back it up and make it work. So yes, there is high levels of support from us and the local authority.

Sometimes it can be more difficult with existing foster carers, you’re told this is how to foster but now you have to switch it around. It’s not impossible but the expectations are different and they may not be able to progress the parent and child through the different stages. There can’t be that dependency which can happen if you’re too supportive and too nurturing. They’re going to have to move out and you have to do your best to support them. 3 months isn’t a very long time but you can’t allow it to drag on for months and months.You are expected to do more and you are paid more for specialised fostering and because placements are shorter term, you can have a life, go travelling for months, it’s a very different lifestyle to mainstream fostering.


If you can support a Parent & their child and want to find out more, fill in the form and we’ll be in touch

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