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How do you choose which agency to foster with?

Choosing a foster care agency

When you start to think about fostering, it can be easy 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 you will look after to the level of support available.

St Christopher’s has run two successful fostering services since 2007. Our carers often say that our charitable status was one of the reasons they chose to foster with us rather than another agency.

Dean 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 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 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 our ethos. We run a successful participation programme and go 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 and say what they really need.

Top level support is offered to carers too. Jo 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 we do – staff, carers and children all know each other and enjoy spending time together.

Linda 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.”

Jo 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 we 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 Dean. “Especially when the only ones who profit are the young people in need.”

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This piece was originally published on the Guardian website as a paid advertorial.