Fostering with a history of mental health problems

(65 Posts)
AlexanderS Mon 22-Oct-12 17:45:28

As I understand it, before you can be approved as a foster carer social services approach your GP for a summary of your medical history and any ongoing medical issues and they can turn you down on the basis of that.

But I'm wondering how this can be allowed now we have the Equality Act, which states that somebody can't be discriminated against on the basis of either physical or mental health problems. I thought it was great when that was brought in. I have a diagnosis of obsessive-compulsive disorder and when I applied for my first job as a teaching assistant in the days before the Act, after my prospective employers had asked for a medical report from my GP that of course showed I had OCD, I was hauled up before a suspicious occupational health nurse where I had to make the case for why doing stuff like taking my socks off and putting them back on ten times in a row didn't make me a danger to the kids hmm.

It couldn't have been more different when I applied for my current job just after the Act came into force. Again I had to have an occupational health interview but it was all about how my employer could make reasonable adjustments to help me do my best in the role. There was, rightly, no question of me not getting the job because of the OCD.

So how are social services able to discriminate in this way? Or have I got this wrong? I'm sure I read on here that they will not approve you as a foster carer if you are currently undergoing treatment for mental health problems e.g. if you're on anti-depressants. But where does that leave people like me? I have wrestled with OCD (and the associated depression) for 20 years and maybe always will, but believe I am a good mother to my DS and would be a good foster carer, and that, in fact, the sense of purpose that fostering would give me would be beneficial in terms of my mental health issues. I feel I have have a lot to offer society. I've been on and off anti-depressants, and have had some dark times, but I've never been sectioned. I work (both in paid employment and as a volunteer), I study and I look after my son (and have never had any social services input into my family).

However, I suspect that in addition to my other problems I meet the criteria for Asperger's syndrome, and have been considering going to get myself tested - the one thing that is putting me off is that I have always wanted to foster and I don't want yet another thing on my medical record that could count against me.

It is very difficult. I once read that people with moderate mental health issues occupy a sort of twilight world, functioning but struggling - it's so true!

AlexanderS Mon 22-Oct-12 19:15:11

Bump!

AlexanderS Mon 22-Oct-12 20:17:28

Anybody? NanaNina?

GoSakuramachi Mon 22-Oct-12 20:21:53

Fostering isn't just a job though, is it? I don't think it would be called discrimination in this instance, you can be turned down for fostering for a great number of reasons, and I would expect ongoing mental health problems would be one of them.

helpyourself Mon 22-Oct-12 20:27:14

It's a 24 hour job with no respite.
I'm a recovering alcoholic and although the only paper trail of my alcoholism is from the GP with related anxiety I wouldn't expect to qualify as a foster carer. I know

helpyourself Mon 22-Oct-12 20:29:27

Sorry-
I know I'm as safe as anyone else, as do friends, family and neighbours, but why should a 'bureaucrat' put their reputation on the line to vouch for me?

AlexanderS Mon 22-Oct-12 20:32:17

The thing is caring for a toddler is also a 24 hour job with no respite and I'm doing that (except when I'm at work doing my paid job). Did you miss a bit off the end of your post help?

AlexanderS Mon 22-Oct-12 20:33:04

X-post.

GoSakuramachi Mon 22-Oct-12 20:34:52

Fostering is much harder than parenting though. There is a lot more to it.

AlexanderS Mon 22-Oct-12 20:40:49

I'm not sure about that. By the way, I would want to work with babies and toddlers, because I feel I know where I'm at with those - I wouldn't want, and don't think I'd be any good at, looking after older children and teenagers.

AlexanderS Mon 22-Oct-12 20:43:32

Not at this stage in my life, anyway.

DowagersHump Mon 22-Oct-12 20:45:58

There are some jobs where I think they can make reasonable adjustments to MH issues. I don't think fostering is one of them.

And I don't think you can consider yourself unfairly discriminated against.

Children who go into foster care are usually fairly damaged, need consistency and stability. I'm sure you're absolutely fine most of the time. But it would be wrong of any fostering agency to take the risk because you'd not be the one taking the risk - the kids would be.

AlexanderS Mon 22-Oct-12 20:55:21

I wouldn't want or expect any adjustments.

GoSakuramachi Mon 22-Oct-12 21:00:35

I don't think you have a realistic view of fostering, to be honest.

bonnieslilsister Mon 22-Oct-12 21:14:22

There's only one way to find out op because everyone is different. I think it would be good if you could ask for a visit from someone in sw to come and talk to you about fostering and you could mention the things you have said.

I find it hard to believe there are no foster carers on ad's but I have no idea. I would have thought if you are on ad's and settled on them you would be able to go through the assessment but I really don't know what ss's policies are. Invite them round for a chat.

The other thing to mention is looking after babies and toddlers who have been abused and neglected is a totally different experience to caring for your own children. You might think because they are only 18 months say that they will be similar to your own at that age and like you say "you would know where you are with them" but that couldn't be further from the truth with many of these children.

They might not be able to tolerate being held by you or they might be used to no boundaries (very common) and be wild! Even at that age!

I can think of a few children I have had stay with us, none of them stayed that long btw (by chance not by design grin ) and even though they were under 2 they were incredibly hard work if I am honest. Lovely children though and of course some are much easier although that is not always a good sign for their emotional health and well being.

Good luck anyway smile

AlexanderS Mon 22-Oct-12 21:57:11

Thank you bonnie. I will think about doing that.

Are you foster carers or social workers, Go and Dowagers? Because lay people speculating about whether or not I would be approved isn't very helpful. Dowagers, I find it quite offensive that you think I could pose a risk to the children.

I just want to be useful, but it seems that because I have mental health problems some people think I should just crawl away and spend the rest of my life under some rock somewhere.

MrsDeVere Mon 22-Oct-12 22:05:12

Having a history of MH issues does not preclude you from adoption. I was not aware that it did from fostering.

Its not about posing a risk to the children.
It is about whether you would be able to cope with the considerable stress of fostering.

Fostering is nothing like having your own child.

I know its hard to hear but fostering is not about what you want, it has to be about the child.

You need to be able to provide stability and consistency.
If you can do that you should be considered for assessment.

But if your condition is exacerbated by stress I do not think fostering is such a good idea. That isn't discrimination. Its being realistic.

Have you approached any agencies?

AlexanderS Mon 22-Oct-12 22:14:51

Of course it has to be about the child, I wouldn't go ahead if I wasn't absolutely sure I could take good care of the child.

So far all I've done is gotten an enquiry pack from the local authority.

Fosterangel Mon 22-Oct-12 22:31:33

From your post AlexanderS I could not tell if you had approached Social Services about fostering yet or were thinking that you would not be considered because of your OCD and depression.

You really need to speak to someone in fostering face to face and tell them honestly about how you manage your OCD etc. That is the only way you will find out if fostering is for you and you are for fostering. One in four people will have mental health issues so do not let that put you off. Foster carers need to be as diverse as the children they foster. You may have better insight into the children you foster. Many top managers and CEO's (and politicians!) present with Aspergian traits!

If you progress to the training it can take up to a year and is extremely thorough. It teaches you a lot about yourself (what you can tolerate, what your triggers are) and you still have the opportunity at the end to decide if fostering is for you as you can walk away right up to panel. No one will judge you.

From memory, our medical was done just before panel so it was quite late into the process. It was just a chat with our GP confirming we were reasonably fit and ok to foster.

We also had our worries as we were over 50yrs old when we applied to foster. We were afraid we would be too old and out of touch. Everyone has their doubts as it is a big thing to take on a traumatised child, with some pretty bizarre coping strategies, and care for them as if they were your own. You just have to give it a go or you will never know.

MrsDeVere Mon 22-Oct-12 23:01:12

It wasn't meant to be patronising.
Its a phrase people use but its quite hard to really get it until you have to deal with it.

Until you have been through the training you cannot be absolutely sure you could take good care of the child. None of us can.

People drop out of fostering prep courses all the time once reality hits them.

Its not a judgement. Its not a failure. Its is because most people really do not have a real idea of what fostering involves.

With regards to MH issues they will want to know how you will cope with stress and what strategies you use.

I could be wrong, its been a while, but I would be surprised if they just said 'no' from the off because you have had MH issues.

They will want to explore them in some depth. Many children in the system are coming into care due to their parent's MH issues. It is not pleasant to have your medical history laid bare but it is a necessary evil.

DowagersHump Tue 23-Oct-12 13:57:42

Sorry I phrased that really badly - I meant a risk in terms of you not being able to cope and therefore the placement breaking down, not a risk as in you damaging the children.

parsnipcake Tue 23-Oct-12 15:34:12

I think you are being unrealistic. Fostering is an extremely stressful role, and tests you to the limits emotionally. Hearing disclosures, saying goodbye to a child, false allegations, retuning to violent parents, being threatened and assaulted are all part of the job. I was in great mental health, but 10 years of fostering has at times taken me to the depths of despair, and I don't think I'm unusual. Fostering babies and toddlers would not mean you avoided this stuff - fostering little ones usually means working with teenage or young volatile patents, which brings its own problems. Your responses on this thread have been fairly defensive - you will have to deal with a lot worse when fostering. it's not discrimination, but realism.

Lilka Tue 23-Oct-12 21:16:40

They won't ususally take one glance at a medical history and say no. Whether you adopt or foster, the decision (if you have medical issues of any sort) should be made after discussions with you and with other medical professionals if necessary. Certain complex health issues and past health issues might need more than a few discussion and might need more investigation

At the end of the day, social services become fully responsible for a childs health and wellbeing etc when they are in care, and so all aspects of the foster carers life, including their medical issues, have to be evaluated carefully and a decisions about their suitability made based upon the possible children you would foster. They certainly should not be ignoring the health issues of potential carers

Perfection is not necessary, and mental health issues are not a blanket barrier (which is why I don't think equality and the equality act comes into this, it isn't about excluding an entire group of people based on disability, this is about possibly excluding inidividuals because their specific circumstances make them unsuitable). People foster and adopt with past and current MH issues ranging from quite severe depression to one-off sections under the mental health act, and on the physical side, people in wheelchairs to people with cystic fibrosis can foster/adopt if they are currently well enough to do so and can expect to remain well enough for the forseeable future. That's an individual thing. Some people might be affected by OCD to the extent that they shouldn't foster, and many others will not be affected to that extent. But that's the judgement call of social services, given that they are responsible for the children, and they are responsible if they approve someone who later causes harm to the children in their care.

Fostering is certainly very stressful and not like caring for your own children, but that's what the training is for, to open everyone's eyes and make people think very carefully about whether it's for them or not

AlexanderS Wed 24-Oct-12 11:17:04

The only reason I've been defensive on this thread, parsnip, is that there is a fine line between realism and prejudice. This is shown by the kind of language people have been using on here - there is no chance that I would "cause harm to the children" Lilka, it would, if anything, be a case of getting too stressed, feeling unable to cope and the placement breaking down, as Dowagers said - I appreciated that clarification, Dowagers. I'm not and never have been a danger to either anybody else or myself.

MrsDeVere Wed 24-Oct-12 11:27:16

These children are already harmed.
Being a danger doesnt mean being cruel to them.
It means behaving in a way that may cause further emotional harm.

You know how your condition affects you so you have to be perfectly honest with yourself.
But first you have to find out much more about the realities of fostering children in the care system.

How will you know if you can do it otherwise?

People are not turned away for having MH issues. They are turned away if the refuse to acknowledge the MH issues could have an impact.
That would be true of any condition.

The assessment is tough on everyone.

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