I wish we'd started this blog earlier! While we're waiting for a placement I thought I'd write about our experiences of various parts of the process so far...
We chose to go with our local authority rather than an agency because LAs will always look at placing a child with their own carers before choosing an agency carer (mainly due to cost - as I understand it agencies charge the LA a placing fee as well as ongoing fees), so we are more likely to get younger children with less challenging behaviour. That's the theory anyway - as we haven't had our own children yet we have a limited skill set, and we definitely don't want to set ourselves up to fail. We were also really impressed with the training and support available.
We went on the mandatory training course in June/July - 6 weekly evening sessions of 3 hours each, covering things like working with birth families, safer caring (protecting yourself from allegations), the differences between caring for fostered children and caring for your own children, and supporting children moving on (either back to family, to a permanent home or ageing out of the care system.) There was something hugely thought provoking in every session, and the intense emotions were sometimes exhausting - Esmeralda and I both found we were tired the day after a session. There was homework each week completing a chapter of the workbook, which contained case studies, activities and exercises to do at home that really made you think about your own experiences and opinions relating to fostering. We never went through these together during the sessions, but we found them really helpful once the assessment with our Social Worker started, as we'd already talked through various points that she raised and were able to give her considered answers.
There was one particular activity we did in one of the early sessions that made a huge impact on both of us. It was really simple - everyone in the room stood in a circle and was given a name or job title (there were about 20 of us), such as child, mother, social worker, foster carer, judge, police officer, teacher etc. During the exercise we were told to think about how our characters would be feeling. The leader then read out a case study about a little girl who disclosed some abuse to her teacher. She gave the end of a ball of string to the first character mentioned in the case study, and each time characters had an interaction, the string passed to them. By the end of the case study, which was only a couple of paragraphs long, the whole room was covered in a thick web of string. It was quite shocking, and really helped show us how many people, how much emotion and how many individual actions are involved in caring for one little child, who has no control over the situation or what happens to her whatsoever.
Overall the course was great - the leaders were knowledgeable and willing to answer questions (one was a foster carer, another was a support worker) and we met some lovely people. I don't know whether it's the same everywhere, but in our LA you can just go on the course for more information whilst you decide whether it's for you or not, you don't have to be certain. I'd highly recommend it if you're considering fostering as an option.