As the director of an independent fostering agency, the best part of my job has to be meeting with our current families and hearing about all of their fantastic achievements and milestones from the last few months. This is because of our children have traumatic backgrounds and therefore, knowing they are flourishing with their new families is amazing news.
I recently visited one of our foster families in a village near Southend - a couple looking after three young people with autism. With many years of experience caring for autistic children, their home is a comfortable environment where each child’s needs are nurtured. One of their children has a particular interest in art and photography and so, they have created an outdoor studio where she can get creative.
Following my meeting with this family, I started to think about the way children with autism are often misrepresented in foster care. As the director of a local therapeutic foster care provider, I have seen a large intake of children with autism over my twenty-year career. It’s often hard to find foster parents who understand the best ways of looking after children with autism. However, we soon put together highly-qualified and dedicated team of social workers, therapists and foster parents to work with them.
As part of our ongoing process to improve our long-term foster care services, we recently asked our team for their top tips when fostering children with autism. Read below to find out what they had to say:
1. Understand who they are.
The greatest thing you can do as a foster parent is to try and understand your child (or children) as much as possible. This might be difficult in the early stages, particularly if they’re shy or even reluctant to share information. However, be sure to gather as many details about them as you can – whether that’s from them or their social workers. This will help make the process of fostering much easier for them and build trust with you quicker. Good questions to ask are:
For many children with autism, change can be an extremely upsetting experience. However, given the nature of fostering, moving around households and meeting new people is a big part of finding them a safe and comfortable environment. One way foster parents can prevent distressing the foster child would be to avoid making any sudden changes. Make sure you don’t throw away any of the child’s belongings or overload their bedroom with new things. It’s important to give them space and allow them to adjust to the situation before putting in your boundaries.
Children with autism tend to exhibit behaviours that many people find challenging. Whether it’s violent outbursts or avoiding to cooperate with their caregivers, it’s important to understand that the child is most likely experiencing high levels of anxiety and dealing with past trauma. You may or may not understand exactly what has triggered their behaviour so it’s vital that you listen to the advice of their support team. It may be difficult at first (and there may be some rough days in between) but you will get to see their growth in the long-run, which is such a reward!
Mosaic Foster Care are a long-term foster care agency covering areas in both Essex and Suffolk. We are currently looking to recruit open-minded and empathic foster parents who can help improve the lives of children in care.
- Andre Palmer, Director of Mosaic Foster Care