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Fostering autistic children

Jack Annis is the Development Co-ordinator at Credo Care, an independent, not-for-profit fostering agency specialising in the care of children with disabilities, complex medical needs and learning difficulties. In this article Jack gives an overview of foster care, the process and requirements for fostering an autistic child and how the agency works with foster carers to help them support autistic children placed with them.

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Author: Jack Annis

Fostering autistic children 

The Fostering Network said this year that every 20 minutes across the UK a child comes into care in need of a foster family, so there are a growing number of new foster carers needed to care for children, including those with disabilities. Sadly, children with disabilities are more difficult for local authorities to place in foster homes. Approximately 40% of children waiting for a new permanent family have a disability or special need and a large proportion of these are autistic or have learning difficulties. Without families with the skills and knowledge to care for them, many will end up in residential care units instead.

Single people, couples and families who open their homes to welcome fostered children come from a huge range of different backgrounds, offering them the support, love and care that they deserve. At 26 and 28, Sarah Reed and her husband Jamie weren’t your typical applicants to foster care – but it’s a role that they embraced with bucket loads of enthusiasm. 

Sarah explains: 

“Our friends started fostering with Credo Care, who specialise in working with disabled children. We decided it was something we’d like to do. We’ve got a stable home, lots of space, a fantastic garden, and we just thought… ‘we could do this’.” 

Sarah came from a background of community support work in the NHS, and Jamie managed a charity for adults with learning disabilities. 

Carers with passion, enthusiasm and skills are constantly in demand, so Credo Care are always looking to take on professional carers such as SEN teaching assistants, occupational therapists and care workers with transferrable skills and an open home. The application to foster can be daunting, covering many steps:

  • registration of interest
  • informal home visit
  • full application completion
  • stringent background checks by the Disclosure & Barring Service as well as their local authority and the NSPCC
  • Independent Review by a social worker
  • Panel Assessment. 

Many potential carers can be put off by the process, withdraw their application early due to changing circumstances or be rejected due to issues raised during assessments (which can include previous convictions, debt etc.)  Yet, those who go through to approval can expect a rewarding conclusion, as their skills and experiences make them an attractive option for local authority placement teams for Looked After Children with additional needs, and placements matching begin soon after approval.

Although Sarah and Jamie had lots of relevant experience before deciding to foster an autistic child, they also regularly attend specialist training sessions arranged by Credo Care as part of a core training program. These include a number of core and bespoke courses for carers and social workers which cover a range of topics including:

  • Autism and Asperger Syndrome Awareness
  • Managing Behaviours
  • Play for People on the Autistic Spectrum
  • PROACT-SCIPr-UK®* and more.

Carers are also encouraged to complete an NVQ Level 3 in Care while fostering with us. On top of the core training program, those who wish to pursue other relevant training can receive funding and organisational support from their agency. All training is monitored and thereby kept up to date. 

Foster carers for autistic children are assigned a highly qualified social worker and professional mentor to provide additional support. Credo Care also offer sessional hours, where a support worker with relevant experience and training will be on hand to give carers a break. They might look after the children for a night, or take them on a school run one day. These all contribute towards a wholly personalised approach to care, which allows children to thrive. In addition, those looking to start a fostering career with children with disabilities tend to begin with short term respite placements providing support to existing carers in the agency, which allows carers to see how well they would suit children with varying degrees of needs, while also building their own support networks.

Soon after their assessment and being approved at Panel, Sarah & Jamie took on their first placement – a four-year-old autistic boy with global developmental delay called Darren**

“He’s very cheeky, loves to be outdoors exploring, climbing and getting wet! He has his challenges – he doesn’t communicate verbally, he just makes noises, but we’ve managed to teach him to sign some words.” 

In preparation for matching with Darren, Credo Care took on a lengthy “matching” process, which included:

  • specific matching with family members (seeing how the foster child will fit in with all the members of your family)
  • training for behaviour management
  • communication means (e.g. Makaton, Signing with BSL etc.) 
  • arrangements for contact with his birth family.

Sarah gave up work to care for Darren, however, her calendar is now busier than ever. 

“Credo Care organises support groups once a month, where you can socialise with other carers and talk about other agency events. We also organise to meet up and have play dates with the children outside of that. My family has also become really involved, creating and building sensory equipment including a glow in the dark blanket for bedtimes.”

Carers may also have the option or duty to look after a child post age 18, typically through a ‘Staying Put’ scheme which allows a fostered young person to remain with a family until the age of 21, although legally they are not seen as a foster placement and are not supported by an agency or local authority.

Alternatively, foster families may choose to adopt a child they are fostering. This legally removes any responsibilities of a child’s birth parent(s) and will transfer them to the adoptive family. Families might choose to adopt out of love for a child or to prevent a child being moved by a local authority. Whereas fostering involves social workers, the foster family and the birth family in all decisions made for the child, adoption provides legal security, jurisdiction and stability for both the child and the family. The child may also take on the surname of their adoptive family. This is a big decision as it means withdrawing from the support that a fostering agency can provide.

As an agency, Credo Care are focused on providing happy, stable long term placements, and adoption can become the greatest outcome for a child if done correctly, though many families will continue to foster a child for long term in order to receive the benefits and support a fostering agency can provide. Sarah says:

“To find out more about becoming a foster carer for an autistic child, get in touch with agencies operating in your area to see how to apply. Meet with other carers, ask questions and make sure it’s 100% the best thing for you – it’s a big commitment that changes your life completely, but, it’s worth all of the time, energy and effort.”

*Positive Range of Options to Avoid Crisis and use Therapy and Strategies for Crisis Intervention and Prevention UK

**Name changed to protect their identity.

Date added:  7 September 2016