Posted: Friday 3rd September 2021
A mother and baby foster placement is a specialist type of fostering where typically a young parent, usually a mother and baby, comes to stay with you for up to 4 months. The mum will need some extra help and advice until they can safely care for their baby on their own.
If you’ve considered looking after a teenage mother and baby, here’s everything you need to know. Real foster carers share their experience and the top 10 things you need to know about mother and baby fostering.
10 things you need to know about mother and baby fostering
Who are the mums?
Why do they need support?
Does mother and baby fostering work?
Where does the baby sleep and who does the night feeds?
As a foster carer, what am I looking out for?
Are partners safe?
What if I have concerns about the baby's safety?
How long do the mothers and babies stay?
What happens when parent and child fostering goes wrong?
What happens when they move out?
1. Who are the mums?
The mums are usually young teenager mothers, but we’ve also had mums in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s. We’ve had a couple of dads too. They’ve often experienced poor parenting themselves. They’ve had a difficult childhood or been in care themselves. Some mums might have a mental health condition which means they need extra support and observation.
Often the mums don’t have the support of family and friends around them. They have often been a victim of domestic abuse. The mums are usually vulnerable women who have very low self-esteem and lack confidence.
"I’ve cared for 18 mums, and 2 dads. They’ve come from terrible backgrounds, all kinds of abuse. Most of them have been young. The biggest problem is that they’ve never been parented properly themselves. A lot of them have been in the care system themselves or slipped through the net" Foster Carer
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2. Why do they need support?
The mums need guidance and support, to parent their child. They need to show that they can keep their baby safe. They have often not experienced positive parenting themselves. They really struggle to know what their child needs. Some mums manage the practical side of caring for a child easily; they can make up the feeds, wash the clothes, change the nappies etc but really struggle to give their child the emotional warmth they so desperately need.
Often the mums struggle to understand the importance of providing a stimulating environment. They might be on their phone or watching TV and not give their full attention to their child. This lack of stimulation can impact on the child’s development.
The foster carer will provide support and guidance. They will prompt the parents to carry out tasks, they will explain to them how they can improve. They will praise them when they are doing well. Building confidence and self-esteem is an important part of the foster carer’s role.
"First off, you need to get their trust. You start slowly by looking after the mums so they can do the same for their babies. When they come home from hospital, they are tired, so you cook meals for them, help them to have a rest and show them you care" Foster Carer
3. Does it work?
Parent and child together foster placements give mums (and dads) a fantastic opportunity to learn how to parent their child. They can prove to themselves and others that they have the ability and actually want to achieve. Parent and child together foster placements do work. Parents who want to achieve often do.
Some parents find caring for their child too difficult. They sometimes struggle to prioritise the needs of their child above their own. This may be because of a pull towards an abusive partner. It may be influenced by a drug addiction. The parents may have a learning need which effects their ability to develop their parenting skills.
Or it may be that the parent just can’t do it because emotionally it is too much for them.
"Most of the time, it works. The baby stays with the parent and they move out together. Some of them say they are not going to leave my house. If it’s right, then they go with the babies, if it’s not then they don’t.
Sometimes they hold their hands up and say I can’t do this, I need to go. You can see they are not coping but you have to let them carry on. They are so worried that they are not coping, they come to you crying and upset.
I put in everything I can for these mums. I do everything I can to help. Sometimes they go without the babies. That’s happened 3 times for me. It’s hard for them to do, but they want a better life for their babies, and they know because they’ve been there themselves" Foster Carer
4. Where does the baby sleep and who does the night feeds?
The baby usually sleeps in their parent’s room. If the parent is considered a risk, because they are under the influence of alcohol, upset or angry, then the foster carer would be given guidance to care for the baby into their room.
The parents are expected to do all the feeds eventually. Initially the foster carers will provide as much support as is needed, this can be up to 24 hours supervision and support. If the parent needs support with night feeds, the carer is up in the night with them to do this.
Over time, the parents should feel more confident and will manage all feeds without support from the foster carer. This varies from one parent to another. Some parents pick this up really quickly, whilst other parents take much longer.
It can be difficult for some parents to recognise what the child needs from their cry. Are they crying because they are hungry, are they tired, do they have wind? The foster carers will support the parent to identify what it is the child is crying for.
"If there is significant concern, then the placement would be fully supervised – the foster carer wouldn’t go anywhere without the baby – so in these cases when they first arrive the baby has slept in the room with me. I’ve had 4 like that. When the baby wakes in the night, I’d take them down to be fed by the mum.
Once you get a feeling that the baby is safe and mum is going to wake up, then the baby would sleep in the mum’s room. I’d have an intercom to hear the baby crying and check mum is getting up" Foster Carer
5. As a foster carer, what am I looking out for?
As a foster carer you will be observing all of the time. Is the parent giving their child their full attention? Is the parent spending more time on their phone than with their child? How long does the parent leave the child to cry? Can the parent manage more than one thing at once e.g. if the parent focuses on interacting with the child does the house work then slip? Is the parent able to do chores?
Is the child dressed in appropriate clothing? Are they warm or cool enough? How patient is the parent with the child? Are they sensitive to the child’s needs or are they impatient and shout at the child.
Is the parent sticking to the plan of who does what? When the parent goes out without the child is this planned or do they walk out leaving the child in the carers care with little or no notice? Do they prep the child’s bottles before they go out or do they expect the foster carer to do this?
How does the parent communicate with the foster carer? Are they willing to learn or are they obstructive and confrontational?
"I’m looking if the parent is responding to the child’s needs; are they fed and changed. Also is there affection with the baby, is there love there?" Foster Carer
6. Are partners safe?
Not always. If partners pose a risk to the child they will not be allowed access to the child. The foster carer's address will be kept anonymous and not shared with anyone. Social workers are very clear to parents about the rules regarding safety. Parents sign an agreement when they first come to stay. If the parent discloses the foster carer's address to a partner who is considered a risk, the fostering placement will end immediately.
"If there is a violent partner, they don’t come to the house. I’ve never had a violent partner come to the house. It’s made clear to the mum. If there is a violent partner and they find out where she is, then that’s going to risk staying here" Foster Carer
7. What if I have concerns about the baby's safety?
The foster carers will record information every day about how well the parent is doing, and any areas that need improvement. The parent is aware from the beginning that they are been observed. Weekly meetings are held with the foster carer, parent and social workers to see how things are going and any observations are shared.
Foster carers receive full support from their social worker. If a foster carers is worried about anything, they can phone or email at any time of day, no matter how trivial it is.
The foster carer would report concerns immediately to either the social worker or to the out-of-hours team. The foster carer would then be given appropriate guidance.
"I’m prompting all the time; baby needs this, baby needs that. There’s a meeting every week with social workers, the foster carer and the parent. Any time I’m concerned about the baby’s safety, I would step in and call social services." Foster Carer
8. How long do they stay?
Mother and baby foster placements (or parents and child together) are usually a 12 week assessment placement. A request can be made to the court to extend the date if necessary. This may be because the parenting assessment needs more time or the parent needs additional support.
"Sometimes the younger ones need more time, they are in care themselves, so they’ve stayed a bit longer" Foster Carer
9. What happens when it goes wrong?
It’s always sad for us when the baby doesn’t stay with mum or dad. This isn’t the outcome we want for the parent or the child. Our goal is always to try to keep families together. In the majority of the cases we see mum successfully go home with baby. But sometimes the baby’s safety is at risk. Sometimes the parent chooses a partner or lifestyle over their child.
"When things start to go wrong, the mums might say things. They will say "she didn’t tell me that". They want to blame someone else. That’s where your daily recording are essential. I write down everything and any arguments word for word" Foster Carer
10. What happens when they move out?
When a parent successfully moves out with their baby, they will continue to receive support from social services. They may move into independent living or somewhere they can continue to receive some support. The child will continue to have a social worker until the parent is able to keep their child safe without any additional support. The foster carer usually needs a good rest before another foster placement arrives.
"When they move out with the baby, sometimes they go back to family, but not very often. They are found somewhere to live by social services and they are supported by other staff at social services.
The ones that move out without the babies, are the ones that need me more. On Christmas, Mothers Days and the baby’s birthdays they are on the phone. If the babies don’t go to a family member they go for adoption. They are upset and I support the mums through that." Foster Carer
Keeping families together is the most rewarding role
Learning to be a parent is daunting for anyone; health visitor appointments, routine, hormones and lack of sleep. Without family support or a knowledge of what good parenting looks like, it’s even harder.
We have young mums and dads who feel completely overwhelmed. Foster carers offer a safe place for a parent to take their first steps. As a foster carer, you can pass along wisdom and offer support until they can do it on their own.
You are not in this alone, there is special training and a whole team supporting you, the mum and their baby.
Keeping families together and preventing children entering the care system is the most rewarding part. You get to watch them become the best parent they can be, and see their little family thrive.
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