Mutual Benefits – The Potential of Disabled People as Foster Carers

There is a huge shortage of foster carers in England. We sought to find out why Disabled people are not being asked to help fill this recruitment gap of 8,500 people.

The University of Worcester worked alongside Shaping Our Lives Service User and Disabled Persons’ Network and the Foster Care Co-operative agency to look in-depth at four fostering agencies in England. Training about disability awareness was provided by Becki Meakin from Shaping Our Lives. Participants felt it helped them change attitudes and practice in their workplace and made them more confident about working with Disabled people – looking at what they have to offer, rather than what they can’t do.

Many barriers were found, even though many Disabled people have their own children and have a wide range of life skills. These included discriminatory attitudes held by professionals; a lack of clarity about medical fitness; a lack of role models; and uncertainty around benefits eligibility. The central role of medical assessments in the application process was also found to present a significant impediment for Disabled people seeking to foster, often being based on a medical rather than a social model of disability.

We have found it very challenging to get many fostering agencies and Disabled people’s organisations interested in this project which we see as a ‘win-win’ opportunity. Disabled people will be able to step into employment, children needing care will have a greater choice of placement and the recruitment gap will be greatly reduced.

The research found that agencies are doing little to encourage Disabled people to apply to foster. Disabled people faced unnecessary barriers – such as inaccessible buildings, information systems and support structures – that could be easily addressed at little or no cost. Foster agency websites do not often mention Disabled foster parents and rarely have positive images of Disabled foster parents.

The research team made good progress across the four research sites, and interviewed twelve Disabled foster carers who are living proof that Disabled people can successfully foster. A majority of these had been previously rejected by fostering agencies solely because of their having declared a disability, and often no assessment was even made. Alison said: “… as a Disabled foster carer, I would have never expected to be matched with a child with complex needs. I expected to maybe have to wait a while for a placement and to only take easy placements maybe, but my agency haven’t been like that at all, which is again a credit to them”

If you’d like to hear more from Alison, you can listen to her interview on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour earlier this month.

Jon said:
“I have two children living with me since they were very young and they just see Disabled people as people. This is what inclusion brings – natural equality.”

It is hoped that dissemination of the project’s findings and highlighting success stories such as Alison’s and Jon’s will encourage both fostering agencies and Disabled people to embrace the great potential in Disabled people as foster carers.

The University of Worcester is seeking new funding to continue the project on a wider scale, planning further training for foster agencies and has written a practice guide about Disabled foster carers.

You can download a copy of the report here.

Dr Peter Unwin is principle lecturer of social work at the University of Worcester and lead author of ‘Mutual Benefits – The Potential of Disabled People as Foster Carers’.

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