Bridges Foster Care
Thank you for wanting to enquire about becoming a foster carer with Bridges Foster Care, the local provider of foster care to young people aged 0-17 in the municipalities of Wyndham, Hobson’s Bay and (parts of) Maribyrnong.
Foster carers come from all types of backgrounds and families. Foster carers can be individuals, couples or part of a family. Foster carers are culturally, religiously and ethnically diverse, male or female and come from a range of age groups. What is important is that foster carers can provide a safe and nurturing environment for young people who need care.
Enclosed in this information is:
Information about foster care, such as what foster care is, who needs foster care, who foster carers are, what foster carers do, what foster care community service organisations are.
How to become a foster carer, how foster carers are supported, and the next steps from here.
Some common myths and realities about foster care are also discussed.
Please feel free to share this information with your family and friends. The information pack raises important questions you should consider with your partner, your children or other significant people in your life.
If you would like to go ahead with finding out more about fostering by participating in an initial home visit, or you have any questions, please contact the Bridges Foster Care Team on 9742 6452.
We look forward to hearing from you soon.
Bridges Foster Care Team
Uniting Care Werribee Support and Housing
Information about foster care
What is foster care?
Foster care is care provided by people in their own homes for children and young people who cannot live with their families.
Where it is in their best interest, children and young people are reunited back with their natural family as soon as possible.
Who can become a foster carer?
Foster carers come from all types of backgrounds and families. Foster carers can be individuals, couples or part of a family. Foster carers can work part time or full time or be at home full time. Foster carers are culturally, religiously and ethnically diverse, male or female, and come from a range of age groups. What is important is that foster carers can provide a safe and nurturing environment for children and young people who need care. Foster carers must show a commitment to meeting the needs of the children and young people they are looking after. This includes an acceptance of individual diversity and difference. They must also be able to work as part of a team.
As part of the assessment process for becoming a foster carer, you will be required to complete a number of screening checks, including a health check, referee checks, a home and environment check, police checks and Working with Children Checks. Other people over 18 years of age living in your household need to have a police check and in some circumstance may also need a Working with Children Check. You can clarify this with your community service organisation.
You will also be required to attend training before being approved as a foster carer and commencing in the role of caring for children and young people.
Who needs foster care?
Children and young people from birth to 17 years of age can need foster care.
The decision to place a child or young person in foster care can be made by either the Child Protection service, which is part of the Department of Human Services, or the child or young person’s family. Foster care may be required for children or young people who have had a number of difficult experiences, including the death or illness of family members, coming from a family that requires extra support, being abused or neglected, displaying at-risk behaviour and their parents being unable to protect them, or being homeless.
Children and young people may enter foster care individually or as a sibling group. They may have a disability and may display emotional or behavioural difficulties or mental health problems.
What do foster carers do?
Foster carers look after children and young people in their own home. A foster carer and their family provide care, support and stability for a child or young person in a caring home environment.
Foster carers play an important role in caring for children and young people. They help children and young people to keep in touch with their parents, brothers, sisters and other significant people. This is usually done through regular planned visits. As part of their role, foster carers may be required at times to transport children and young people to appointments, pick them up from school when they are sick, or take them to activities, such as football training or ballet.
Foster carers are part of what is known as the ‘care team’, which is the group of people who share the parenting responsibilities for a child or young person while they are living away from their family. The ‘care team’ usually involves the parents, the foster carer, the foster care community service organisation caseworker, the Child Protection worker and any other significant adults, all working together to consider the things that any good parent would naturally consider when caring for their own children. To help everyone to do this, there is a tool for good practice called Looking After Children. You will learn more about Looking After Children as you find out more about fostering.
Types of foster care programs
For children and young people up to 17 years of age years who are experiencing crisis and are unable to live with their families for a range of reasons. This can be for a period of time on a temporary basis from a few days to a period of years. Bridges provides general, intensive and complex placements.
Intensive home-based care
Care for children and young people with intensive needs up to the age of 17 years. Their additional needs may be behavioural, emotional or physical and are significantly greater than those of children in general foster care. Foster carers who care for these children or young people are given additional training, reimbursement and support.
Complex home-based care
Usually one-to-one care for children and young people aged seven to 17 years with very high, complex needs. A small proportion of children and young people who come into care have extremely high needs and a range of behaviours requiring more specialised care and support. For foster carers who choose to care for these children and young people there is additional training, reimbursement and support available. You should speak to your local foster care community service organisation for more information.
What are foster care community service organisations?
Foster care community service organisations, such as Bridges, are funded by the Department of Human Services to provide foster care programs. Foster care community service organisations ensure high quality care is provided for children and young people who cannot live with their own family for a period of time.
The safety and wellbeing of children and young people in foster care is of prime importance. Foster carers are required to provide a level of care that is consistent with or exceeds the Minimum standards and outcome objectives for home-based care services in Victoria. The standards are in line with what the community expects a good parent should provide for a child or young person and form the basis for assessing whether the care given to children and young people is adequate.
In line with the standards, all people interested in becoming foster carers are assessed, trained and approved by the foster care community service organisation. As outlined, as part of the assessment process you will be required to complete a number of screening checks. You will also need to participate in several interviews with assessors from the foster care community service organisation.
Once you are approved as a foster carer, staff from the foster care community service organisation will provide support, regular supervision, ongoing training and information.
The rewards of foster care
People who make the decision to become foster carers are willing to share their lives with children and young people in need of care and stability, demonstrating incredible dedication and commitment. It is important to remember that caring for a child or young person can also be very rewarding.
As a foster carer, you will provide a child or young person with a caring, nurturing and positive family environment—essential elements for any child! Many foster carers and their families have experienced a sense of satisfaction and achievement in playing such a major role in a child or young person’s life by providing them with safety, security, support and a positive family experience.
An adolescent carer says, ‘Caring for a teenager in your own home is more rewarding than most people think … something as small as a ‘thank you for listening’ or ‘thank you for understanding’ is the first step in what might be an amazing friendship between teen and adult’.
A foster carer says, ‘Being a foster carer is a very important part of my life … It has not always been easy to let go … But in the end it has all been worth it—to know that you have made a difference in the life of one child’.
What are some important questions that I should consider?
As foster care involves the entire family, partners, children, grandparents and others need to understand how it may impact them. If you are considering becoming a foster carer you need to ask yourself and your family a number of important questions:
Having another child or young person living with you may require a number of lifestyle changes. Have you considered these changes? Are you and your family able to adjust to additional members? If you have children, think carefully about their needs and make sure you talk to them about this.
A child or young person in foster care may display difficult behaviours. The experience of managing challenging behaviours can at times be frustrating. For each step forward there may be two steps backwards. It is important to recognise that the child or young person may have had a number of difficult experiences, including separation, grief and loss. How do you feel you will cope in dealing with these behaviours and experiences?
Caring for a child or young person can be quite challenging. Foster carers need to have enough time, energy, and space available (both physically and emotionally). Is this the right time in your life and in your family’s life for new challenges?
Natural family and reunification
Where possible, children and young people in foster care are reunited back with their family. The decision making process and the need to help children and young people move on can sometimes raise a number of issues and feelings for foster carers related to their own values. Are you prepared to consider these things when making a decision to become a foster carer?
If I have a police record will I still be eligible to become a foster carer?
A police record would not automatically stop you from being approved as a foster carer. It would depend on the type and recency of the offence; however, certain offences, such as sexual or physical abuse, particularly of a child, would rule out approval.
What healthy environment standards do I need to be aware of?
Foster carers need to ensure children and young people are being cared for in a healthy environment at their home. Things you need to be aware of include infection control procedures (training will be provided) and ensuring there is no smoking in the home.
How are foster carers supported?
Foster care community service organisations provide regular support to carers through telephone calls, home visits, and afterhours support. You will also receive regular supervision sessions. As a foster carer you will receive training in dealing with some of the challenges and behaviours. You’ll never be alone in caring for a child or young person, and will receive ongoing support in your role.
Foster carers can receive support through broader statewide networks with other foster carers, such as support groups and telephone linkups. Social events organised by the foster care community service organisation can also provide a good source of support through networking with other foster carers.
Once approved by their community service organisation, foster carers are required to undertake ongoing training, and this is another way to gain valuable information, knowledge and support from the community service organisation workers and other carers.
The Foster Care Association of Victoria represents all Victorian foster carers. The association is made up of foster carers who volunteer their time to advocate for foster carers and the children and young people in their care to government, foster care community service organisations and the wider community.
Are foster carers paid?
Foster carers receive a reimbursement towards the day-to-day costs of caring for a child or young person. Payments are made fortnightly directly into the foster carer’s bank account by the Department of Human Services. Where extra expenses are incurred beyond what is considered the ordinary costs of care, additional financial support may be available. Foster care community service organisations will be able to provide you with more information about reimbursements.
How do I become a foster carer?
Becoming a foster carer involves a number of steps. You will go through a process of assessment, including undergoing the screening checks outlined earlier, and pre-service training before you can be approved as a foster carer. This may take a few months.
How do I find out more?
If you are interested in finding out more about foster care, contact the community service organisation listed below to find out when their next information session is being held. Some community service organisations arrange a home visit instead of an information session.
What are the next steps?
Once you have been in touch with a foster care community service organisation they will visit you in your home to provide you and your family with more information about foster care.
Information will cover:
• foster care, its rewards and challenges
• the legal system in which foster care operates
• the children and young people in foster care
• the foster care community service organisation
• important policies and procedures
• the assessment, training and approval process to become a foster carer.
Steps to becoming a foster carer
In Victoria, different foster care community service organisations process applications in slightly different ways. Some community service organisations commence assessment before training, others conduct training first, while still others undertake concurrent assessment and training. Some community service organisations will conduct general information sessions while others will conduct an initial home visit in your home.
The following is a general outline of the steps involved in becoming a foster carer:
Personal experiences of foster care
Young people’s experience of foster care
‘I have been in a few foster homes, many that did not work for me because I felt I was expected to change myself to fit into the family. It is hard to move into a new home with a new family. You can’t just blend in [because] a lot of things change like rules, religion and a way of life that is often very different to your own family’s. But it can happen.
I think carers and kids need to communicate and work together to make change. You need to sit down and chat about things so both carers and kids can understand where each other comes from. You can’t just force a kid to fit in because it just won’t happen. All kids are different. They have different backgrounds, beliefs, ideas and experiences and will deal with change differently. Unfortunately not all foster placements work out, but if you try, and if you communicate honestly and with respect, it just might.’ Nicole
‘All up I have spent three years of my life in foster care spending an average of six months in six different placements from the age of three. I don’t remember much from my first or second placement. At the age of eight I was living in my third placement. This was one of my two favourite placements because I felt like I could talk about anything and we played games such as checkers with each other. Another thing that helped was the neighbourhood. I had a school two blocks down the road and two of my new friends from school lived within five houses of ours. I believe this placement helped me and therefore I was able to return to my mother’s house after a while. But at the age of 13 I was back in the system. First I went to a residential unit for a month and then was placed in three different foster placements over the next one and a half years. The first I stayed in for eight months but as I grew more opinionated and started making choices about my family and friends, he tried more and more to be in control of me and the placement ended. The next one I stayed for seven months and this was my other favourite place. It had the same stuff, carers who I could talk to and friends lived close by so I wasn’t home all day.
Overall I think the time spent in foster care benefited me in many ways. One was by having a positive relationship with the carers enabling me to build on this and other relationships and learn new people skills.
Due to this positive relationship I kept in contact with some of the carers who have become good friends and with their range of different experiences I have people I can talk to and go to for advice.
I would like to thank these people for their time, patience and allowing me to stay in their homes while I was unable to return to my parents. There are probably other things these people could have been doing instead of looking after me but they did, and I don’t know where I would be by now if they hadn’t, so once again I would like to just say thanks.’ Stephen
Foster carer’s testimonies
‘Caring for a young person in your own home is more rewarding than most people think. Young people for a number of reasons may find that they can no longer reside with their own family and require a safe and secure placement with carers through the Bridges foster care program for short.
Many young people have come from a diverse range of situations and family settings so whilst some people might find young people ‘difficult’ to understand, have a thought for the young person that has landed for no fault of their own in the home of carers, and don’t forget we were all young once too!
Offering safety and security, a good listening ear and some TLC is sometimes the catalyst in receiving the rewards from the kids in your care. Most of the young people that come into placement have had amazing life journeys so something as small as a ‘thank you for listening’ or ‘thank you for understanding’ is the first step in what might be an amazing friendship between child and adult.
Bridges foster carers are supported by the Bridges foster care staff and agency and receive a carer reimbursement. Ongoing training is provided and assists carers to keep up to date with relevant issues and behaviours to support successful placements.’
About the Bridges Program
Bridges Foster Care is a program of UnitingCare Werribee Support and Housing (UCWSH). UCWSH is a small community organisation and member of the UnitingCare Victoria and Tasmania federation. The agency’s focus is the prevention of homelessness; please see the agency leaflet explaining our services enclosed for further information.
The Bridges program was established in 1991 and is currently funded to provide foster care placements for young people aged 0-17. Being a relatively small program, we pride ourselves on the consistency and accessibility of our service.
Services Provided by Bridges Staff
The responsibilities of the Bridges program include:
recruitment, assessment and training of caregivers;
providing on going support and ‘on the job’ training to caregivers;
providing casework services to the young people in placement;
being available 24 hours, 7 days a week through our emergency on call service; and
liaising with the child protection system, natural families and other stakeholders.
Myths and Realities of Bridges Foster Care
Myth: All caregivers are married with children of their own
Lots of different young people need care, and therefore lots of different caregivers are needed. If you are married, or not married, with or without children, single, part of a group household or a grandparent, you are eligible to apply to become a caregiver.
Myth: You can’t care for a child or a young person if you work full time
Many Bridges caregivers work full time. However most young people go to school or are working and do not need 24 hour a day care. Our goal is to encourage young people toward motivation and independence, living in a busy household helps in this process.
Myth: Caring for a young person is always a full time commitment
Some caregivers prefer to provide continuous care. However, many caregivers care for young people for short periods of time, perhaps a week or two, overnight or the weekend. Caregivers decide the level of time commitment they are able to contribute.
Myth: You have to give up your own personal life to become a caregiver
Caregivers may have some adaptations to their lifestyle when a young person joins the household. However, the young person should become part of your current lifestyle rather than rearrange it.
Myth: Caregivers must be ‘well off’
Being well off is not a prerequisite for caregiving. Many caregivers rent their homes, receive pensions or other government benefits. Caregivers receive a reimbursement, which contributes to the cost of caring for a young person.
Myth: People become caregivers for the money
Caregivers are basically volunteers who receive a reimbursement for each young person in their care on a fortnightly basis. Caregivers provide accommodation, care and support and have the interest of the young people in their care at heart – it is certainly not a ‘for profit’ activity!
Not the full story: Young people are always placed in care due to abuse or neglect
Young people enter care for all types of reasons, including abuse and neglect. Other reasons include family conflict or breakdown, family crisis, lack of family supports, natural parents who suffer from mental or physical illness or drug and alcohol addiction
Myth: Home based care focuses on taking children from their families
Home based care aims to prevent family breakdown and provide support for families during difficult periods. The ultimate aim is to reunite young people with their families or, if appropriate, prepare them for independent living.
Myth: Home based care is the same as adoption
The aim of out of home care is to provide a family environment for children and young people while they are unable to live with their parents, if possible return them to their families or work towards permanent arrangements. While caregivers are responsible for the day to day care of the young people in their care, unlike adoption, caregivers never become guardians. Guardianship remains with the natural parents or the Department of Human Services.
Myth: Once you become are caregiver you are on your own
Bridges foster care places great importance on supporting caregivers – after all, they are the backbone of the program! After initial assessment and training, caregivers are required to attend regular training sessions, receive ‘on the job’ training and support from staff while they have a young person in their care.
Myth: Lots of caregivers are available for young people needing care
There is a chronic shortage of caregivers throughout Victoria. The number of caregivers in the Bridges program is currently more than 50% below the requirement. In other words we are always on the lookout for new caregivers.
Myth: If I become a caregiver, I’ll have to care for kids who are dangerous or who use drugs.
While there are young people in the out of home care system with these sort of problems, Bridges foster care is not the right type of accommodation for them. Bridges would not place such a young person in a caregiver’s home. If these issues developed during the placement, immediate action would be taken.
Of course! Caregivers are very special people
Bridges caregivers are everyday people from a wide diversity of lifestyles and cultures. They give up some of their time, heart and home to children and young people in need of care.