Fostering is described by many carers as rewarding. But does it make a difference which agency you choose to foster with?
When people start to think about fostering, it can be easy for them to feel overwhelmed with the choice of agencies and breadth of information to take in. Fostering with a charity might not seem that different from fostering with a local authority, but it affects everything from the type of children people look after to the level of support available.
St Christopher’s is a charity set up in 1870 that runs residential and fostering services for young people in the UK and Isle of Man. Its carers often say that its charitable status was one of the reasons they chose to foster with St Christopher’s rather than another agency.
Dean Parker* fostered with his local authority before transferring to St Christopher’s. He says: “The fact that St Christopher’s is a charity was the main pull for me. We care who we foster with because despite appearing to be the same there is a clear distinction between agencies – charities have no motive to make profit or pay shareholders. Instead they can focus on providing excellent services.”
Local authorities are often the first place people turn to when they start to think about fostering. So what are the differences between a charity and a local authority?
Linda Smith fosters a group of young siblings. She says: “I know some people who foster for a local authority and they are impressed by how much training we are offered, how many activities are put on for the children and how as foster carers we are genuinely treated as part of the team.”
Kevin Lane transferred to St Christopher’s from an independent for-profit fostering organisation: “We were horrified to hear of children as ‘financial heads’ – money had become their priority and it didn’t sit well with us.
“Since moving to St Christopher’s we’ve been very happy,” he says. “Obviously an organisation needs to be run efficiently but with a charity you know that children are central to the decision-making process – just as they should be.”
Putting young people first has always been a key part of St Christopher’s ethos. It runs a successful participation programme and goes the extra mile so children can have their say. Without this high level of support, many young people would lack the confidence to speak up.
Top level support is offered to carers too. Jo Richards has been fostering with St Christopher’s for four years, after initially looking into becoming a carer with her local authority. She says: “Charities seemed to offer so much more support. When you’re a new carer they’re with you for every step of the way – the application process, when a child moves in with you and when new situations arise that you aren’t sure how to manage yet.”
It’s not only with the professionals that carers can find support. Unlike most local authorities and larger agencies, St Christopher’s has a proper fostering community – carers can attend monthly group sessions to build friendships and share their experiences. There’s a family feel to everything it does – staff, carers and children all know each other and enjoy spending time together.
Smith says: “The family feel is crucial because it means the children feel at home and they become confident enough to get involved with activities.
“Without realising, they learn to start trusting again – it’s a really important part of their healing process.”
Richards agrees: “Staff take the time to understand you, your family and the young person in your care. Children aren’t just a case number and because it’s a smaller team everyone knows each foster family’s dynamics. The personal touch makes a huge difference when you’re phoning someone in the early hours of the morning looking for some extra support.”
Being family-oriented plays a role in the long-term. As all staff know each carer and child, there’s continuity – something that is vital for children in care. They’ve often been let down by adults in the past and need people they can rely on. St Christopher’s unique combination of brilliant foster carers and experienced staff means it can get better outcomes for the young people it looks after.
“I love being a part of St Christopher’s long tradition of creating brighter futures for one of the most vulnerable groups in society,” says Parker. “Especially when the only ones who profit are the young people in need.”
If you’re thinking about fostering, visit St Christopher’s website.
*All names have been changed
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