Getting the right support when becoming a foster parent is important, and understanding your rights around the process is one of the things most prospective carers are keen to do very early on.
As it stands, workplace fostering policies are not enshrined in law, and the right to time off is very much down to individual employers. But that doesn’t mean the case is closed for potential carers, and it’s important to open up a conversation with employers as soon as you can.
Can I keep my job when becoming a foster parent?
Whether someone can work when becoming a foster parent is a common question, and there are two answers depending on the type of care that you’re engaging in.
Some foster parents may work up to 16 hours a week, depending on the suitability of working around your child’s care needs. However when engaging with Parent and Child fostering, a full time carer is needed to dedicate their time to the child and parent in their care. While needs vary from case to case, with some parents being able to look after their child alone for some of the time, and some building up to it, the majority of cases will need constant guidance and supervision.
Speaking with Chris Webster and Christine Andrews, both recruiters for Anchor Anchor Care, a common scenario with couples who foster is illustrated as one partner being available to those in their care, and the other partner working to keep a steady stream of income in the household. That doesn’t mean only couples take part in this type of fostering, it’s important to note many single carers also foster and your eligibility depends on a number of factors, including your financial situation.
However for many couples, the work/carer split is common.
Getting time off work to foster
Fostering is incredibly rewarding, and can be a positive life-changing experience for all involved, even when one partner might be more hands off. This being the case, there is a requirement for both parties to participate in the training that is provided, and they will need to balance their existing responsibilities at work. There can often be the want or need to take time off to settle the parent and child into the family home, and this scenario might feel difficult to explain to an employer.
While this usually works out well, it’s common for the working partner to feel daunted by the prospect of asking for time off.
However, many aren’t aware that their employers sometimes have dedicated policies in place for those who may become foster carers, and they may be much more accommodating than most realise.
During the conversation the recruitment team explains a scenario of a foster family going through the application stage. There was some worry from the partner who was working for a well-known company about getting time off for training. It turned out that these days were covered, because the company had an employee fostering policy which he had no idea about previously.
Both Chris and Christine were supportive of more progressive employee policies being introduced UK-wide to support the needs of foster parents. Settling a child at home is a crucial time, and no different to bringing a new baby home. In fact, where there has been trauma, sometimes it’s even more crucial to make sure those in care are given the time they need with their foster family to bond.
What if my employer doesn’t have a fostering policy?
Even if your employer doesn’t have a policy, it doesn’t mean your employer won’t support you through the process, and a conversation as early as possible about how you might be supported will be useful.
Additionally, you are allowed to make a request for flexible working hours at any point in your working life, and for any reason. Whilst your employer isn’t obliged to comply, they do have to seriously consider the request.
Fostering friendly initiatives around the UK - is your employer one of them?
Employers are increasingly recognising the importance of supporting their staff as carers outside of work. In 2014 it was announced that the Department for Education was the first ‘Fostering Friendly’ Government employer, and since then many local governments followed suit, launching ‘fostering friendly’ schemes with local businesses and organisations, Bristol City Council and Cumbria County Council among them.
While the benefits for participating companies differ from region to region, they generally ask businesses to support their employees who are carers, and to facilitate an easier process for those who wish to become carers, encouraging specific policies dedicated to foster carer needs and their responsibilities.
The Fostering Network, a charity dedicated to improving fostering services in the UK, also runs a ‘foster friendly employer scheme’. They name almost 40 participating government and private sector organisations around the country.
This is not, however, a comprehensive list of all the organisations and businesses who operate supportive care policies, and that’s why it’s always worth checking where you stand with your employer. You may be surprised to find more support than you expected.
Formal and legal requirements
There is some useful guidance on the Acas website - the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service - on notifying employers of your foster parent status, as well as how to formally request flexible working arrangements.
Are you eligible?
You can also read the dedicated section of our website which explains who is eligible to foster. Take a look at our mythbusting section while you’re there, it’s very useful.
Parent and child fostering
Parent and child fostering focuses on children’s needs and the guidance and training their parents to raise them successfully and joyfully. The scheme aims to keep vulnerable families together and improve their long-term outcomes. Read more about Parent and Child fostering.