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 Wed 24-Oct-12 11:33:41

The reason why I questioned GoSakuramachi's comment that fostering is much harder than parenting is that parenting is a pretty tough job! I'm sure fostering has its own unique challenges but they both, at the end of the day, involve looking after a child even when you and/or they are tired, hungry, fraught, sad etc., that is to say, hard work.

Like I said, I've only gotten as far as requesting an information pack and doing a bit of reading online. I can't be blamed for not knowing things I will only know if I get further along in the process!

AlexanderS Wed 24-Oct-12 11:42:01

X-post. I don't think my mental health problems aren't an issue, I just don't think I should be written off because of them.

GoSakuramachi Wed 24-Oct-12 11:57:18

But it is by its nature far harder. You are doing all the regular parenting, but for a child who is not your own, with extra problems. Add to that the vast amount of liasing you need to do with other people and agencies, which all brings their own problems.
It is harder than parenting.

Fosterangel Wed 24-Oct-12 12:04:28

That is a good point MDV. I agree it can be the carer's parenting style rather than mental health that could cause more harm to emotionally harmed lo's. Your mental health issues may have no bearing on how you cope with what fostered children can throw at you when they are hurting. You just need a really tough skin and a soft heart (and that is just to deal with the SW's!!).

Could you speak to some experienced foster carers? Your LA may allow you to come along to one of their foster carers coffee mornings for a short period (usually run monthly by the LA so foster carers can get together). It is worth asking.

Lilka Wed 24-Oct-12 13:39:00

"X-post. I don't think my mental health problems aren't an issue, I just don't think I should be written off because of them"

I did say in my post that you wouldn't be written off for them, but that they will be looked at carefully, as are all health issues. They shouldn't be disregarded

"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"

I'm not prejudiced, goodness knows I've suffered from mental health problems myself. I also wasn't saying that you personally would cause harm, I was saying that in general social services are responsible for harm caused to children in FC, and that is why assessments and discussions of disability are very important. In fact, what I meant by harm was not abuse, but like you said, extreme stress causing placement breakdown and further problems with the childs emotional/mental health.

I didn't have any current or past MH problems when I adopted the first time, but a couple of years later I was on anti-depressants and displaying plenty of symptoms of secondary trauma eg. nightmares and flashbacks and insomnia. It was pretty awful. If i had been displaying those kinds of problems before adopting, I wouldn't have placed my DD1 with me, so I wouldn't expect a SW to place them with me either. You have to be in a good enough place when you start, and although no one can predict what will happen after, you have to think carefully about it yourself and be honest with yourself about - how you have reacted to very stressful situations in the past, and - if it was like that again, what effect would that have on a child in your care? Would it make them unhappy and stressed? etc

I'm not trying to put you off fostering at all, plenty of FC's and AP's have MH issues, I am just trying to be realistic

gallivantsaregood Wed 24-Oct-12 16:01:47

I think you do need to speak to someone from an agency/LA and get a feel for what their policies are.

TBH I think that potentially ( and I do mean potentially) your thinking you have Aspergers would be more of a concern to me than the OCD ( depending on what form your OCD takes, if I was your worker. The very nature of Aspergers means that you possibly struggle with facial/emonitonal cues and for traumatised little people it is vital that the person caring for them can tune-in to them.

Re the task of foster caring being more difficult than parenting : That is absolutely spot on. There may be things you do with your own children which you could not do with a foster child of any age. You are essentially living in a goldfish bowl with lots of professionals, birth family etc watching your every move and often on th epart of the birth family waiting for a perfect opportunity to complain.

You say you only want to care for babies/toddlers........In the first instance most LAs have lots of carers for babies and so there isn't really a huge need. Secondly though would you plan on moving the children on when they get older? I personally struggle with that idea. As a carer I give a child a home for as long as that child needs it/us whether that be 24 hours or years.

What I would say is, if it is something you really would like to do, then don't write yourself off. Approach the LA/agencies and if there are going to be issues then they will tell you.

Take care

NanaNina Wed 24-Oct-12 16:10:43

Hi AS as you know I am not a "lay person" - I think most posters on here are being very understanding (as far as anyone can be who has not suffered the type of mental illness that you have) of your mh difficulties whilst at the same time being realistic about what exactly is involved in fostering. I too think you are being a tad defensive to be honest. If you post on here, you can't expect professionals to be responding, so saying the views of lay people is of no use is unrealistic and a bit unkind, and you have displayed defensiveness in the posts of others who have not meant to be disparaging of you in any way.

OK the process is that if you apply to foster, you have a medical with your GP and he/she has a form to complete about your physical and mental health. This form gets forwarded to the Medical Adviser for the LA and he/she makes a decision on the basis of the GP's form of someone suitability (or not) to be approved to foster. I confess to not knowing about the "Equality Act" and will google it, as I really can't believe that people cannot be discrimated against on the grounds of mental health. Some people have psychotic illnesses which mean they are out of touch with reality and could be highly unsuitable to care for children. Indeed a lot of children come into care because of the severe mental health problems of their parents. Others have pyschosis with paranoia which again is a potentially dangerous condition.

One of my concerns is that you seem to find it difficult to accept that fostering in not like looking after your own child, no matter how tiring that can be. Children needing to be fostered will have in the main been abused/neglected and the manifestation of that trauma will be played out in numerous ways with foster carers. Alongside that you will have to cope with birthparents who can be aggressive, make complaints about you etc., and many fcs now are being expected to transport children to contact several times a week with their bps and are not even being paid a mileage allowance!

Then there is your paid employment and voluntary work. If you are considering babies and young children you will need to be at home which will mean giving up your job (and of course you can never be guaranteed placements for 52 weeks of the year) A lot of carers are complaining about lack of placements and of course if there is no placement there is no money.

So to be honest I think there are quite a few issues that you need to think about (and no of course you can't know everything about fostering) at the stage you are at - no one would expect that. You mentioned in your original post that fostering may help you with your condition, but this is about the child and not you, as I'm sure you realise.

I would give the same advice to you as to anyone else. There will probably be a reply slip contained in the info pack and if you send it back, someone in the course of time will visit you. That is the time for you to talk about your mental health issues and anything else that is a concern to you. SO come on AS step down a little from your "high horse" and you will find a great deal of support on here, and posters are not judgemental - honest.

Wishing you well.

MrsDeVere Wed 24-Oct-12 16:36:38

Yes to nana's post.

It does seem as if you are not listening to the fact that fostering children is vastly different from parenting your own children.

TBH most people think this way. Its a common misconception.
But you don't seem to be taking on board what experienced people are telling you.

IME the most stressful part of fostering was not the child's behaviour. It was being the least important cog in the wheel. Not because I am egotistical but because I was doing all the work but had the least say in what happened to the child.

Quite rightly the child's needs came first but the needs of the demanding birth parent plus the busy schedules of the SWs and other professionals involved were also prioritized way above my wishes/wants/needs/schedule.

Add to that the stress of caring for a traumatised new born. One who doesnt know you, you dont know them, they may be withdrawing from drugs, they will almost certainly be very unsettled...

THAT is why it is different from bringing your own, expected, cherished and well cared for baby home from the hospital.

NanaNina Wed 24-Oct-12 16:53:16

I have just looked at the "Equality Act" (though not in great detail) but the characteristics the legislation deals with are:

Age
Disability
Gender Re-Assignment
Marriage and Civil Partnership
Pregnancy and Maternity
Race
Religion or Beliefs
Sex
Sexual orientation.

I am assuming for the purposes of this Act that Disability is meant to cover physical disability, and I think I'm right in saying that a Disability Discrimation Act preceeded this legislation but I might be wrong. However I don't think Disability includes mental health as this is an illness, rather than a Disability (at least in the sense of the legislation)

Do you have anything more detailed AS as would be very interested if you have. Thanks.

MrsDeVere Wed 24-Oct-12 17:13:43

also, are not certain posts/jobs exempt?
For example you can advertise a post for men/women only for specific reasons?

AlexanderS Wed 24-Oct-12 17:33:50

Mental health problems/autism are considered a disability. Mental illness is in so many ways the last taboo. Of course somebody who is floridly psychotic can't take care of a child. But surely that they are floridly psychotic would become clear in the course of the interviewing/training process? I'm thinking aloud here. It would soon become clear if somebody was unable to look after themselves, for example, once you went to look round their house.

I already knew that foster parents spend a lot of time taking children to and from contact with birthparents who can be difficult. I also understood that taking of a baby who is withdrawing from, say, heroin is different to taking care of your average newborn baby. I only work one day a week, on a Saturday, when DP would be able to care for the LO. I have thought about this a lot.

The thing is people with Asperger's can adapt and learn to accommodate it. I know somebody who had a statement of special educational needs for their Asperger's at school who is just about to qualify as a solicitor. I think that's what I have done, adapted, largely, and that's why I've never been diagnosed (if indeed I do have it).

Of course, of course, of course the child comes first. But there is nothing wrong in thinking I might benefit from fostering, I seem to have committed some sort of sin by admitting that! It's not like it's my primary reason for wanting to foster.

Am going to go away and do some research into the Equality Act and will get back to you NanaNina.

AlexanderS Wed 24-Oct-12 17:45:39

"Under the EqA a person will be considered to have a disability if they:

Have an impairment that is either physical or mental; and
The impairment has substantial adverse and long-term effects on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.

Impairment: It is not possible to give a complete list of impairments recognised under the EqA but they include developmental impairments such as dyslexia or autism, learning difficulties and mental health conditions such as depression, schizophrenia and bi-polar affective disorder. The EqA does not require someone’s mental health problem to be a clinically recognised mental illness in order for it to count as an impairment.

The first step is to show that someone has an impairment. This is normally quite straightforward. The second step is to show what effect the impairment has on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.

Substantial adverse effect: A substantial adverse effect is something that is more than minor or trivial. When deciding whether an impairment has a substantial adverse effect on someone’s ability to carry out day-to-day tasks the following should be taken into consideration (this is not an exhaustive list):

The time it takes them to complete a task, compared with the time it would take someone without the impairment
The way they would complete task, compared with how someone without the impairment would complete the task
The cumulative effect of the impairment on their ability to carry out everyday tasks.

Under the EqA a person only needs to show that their impairment gives rise to adverse effects, not that those adverse effects impact on any particular capacity, such as a person’s memory or their ability to concentrate.

If someone is receiving treatment or medication for their disability that helps them carry out their daily activities, they may still be a person with a disability protected by the EqA. This will depend on whether their ability to carry out day-to-day tasks would be affected in a significant and adverse way if they stopped taking their medication or having treatment. If this is in doubt at any stage it might help to get a medical opinion on what the consequences of stopping treatment or medication would be on someone’s day-to-day activities.

Long-term: A long-term impairment is one:

Which has lasted at least 12 months; or
Which is likely to last at least 12 months; or
Which is likely to recur.

If someone has as mental health problem that fluctuates over time they may still be regarded as having a long-term impairment. If someone has episodes of mental illness that have a serious adverse affect on their ability to carry out daily activities and those episodes could well occur again, their mental illness are considered long-term for the purposes of the EqA."

Taken from the Mind website. Still researching, will be back!

NanaNina Wed 24-Oct-12 17:48:36

Oh AS please try to stop thinking that you are being "picked on" in some way - it really isn't the case. OF course you haven't "committed some kind of sin for admitting you are interested in fostering" - it's a great shame that you are still feeling defensive, as this will be picked up by a social worker who is visiting you for a preliminary discussion about fostering. I hadn't realised that you only worked one day a week, nor that you had a partner who could take over, so my concern over finance may not be a problem.

If the applicant has mental health issues, learning disabilities or some physical illness that might affect their ability to foster, then it is usual for a medical to be done first, to clarify the position. That is the same as if people have offences, then the CRB check is sent for immediately, although both medicals and CRBs should be done very early on in the process.

Can you start to trust us a little and maybe we can be of more help.

MrsDeVere Wed 24-Oct-12 18:05:45

No one is suggesting you have committed a sin.

You seem bent on proving everyone wrong. Posters are just trying to point out a few facts to you.

The OP is based on you looking at the information pack and jumping to a conclusion.

People are not turned down for having MH issues. They are turned down for being unsuitable.

That unsuitability may be down to current mental health issues or a hundred other things. Lack of physical fitness, an unrealistic view of fostering, extreme but sincerely held views etc.

Everyone who is turned down probably feels discriminated against. Perhaps they are but its for sound reasons.

If you are managing your condition well, have good insight, have contingency plans and plenty of support, you stand as much chance of being approved as anyone.

parsnipcake Wed 24-Oct-12 18:11:51

Honestly, whether it's discriminatory or not, I would not consider fostering if you have depression and OCD as current issues. Not because you aren't trustworthy, but because it will probably destroy you or st least make your problems significantly worse. Wait until you are emotionally strong. I often explain to people that fostering involves an emotional skillset and a lot of laundry. The children will often try to recreate the chaos of their lives within your household - if they see you struggle with dirt ( for instance, I have no idea what your issues are) , they will smear poo. They will reject your food, tell their parents you whipped them ( leading to police interviews), they will injure your pets and everything else that they can think of to make you reject them. It's part of their trauma. It is nothing like normal parenting. I used to consider myself very robust, but ended up with PTSD from dealing with one of my children. You don't gave anything to prove - concentrate on your own wellness and maybe think about it in the future, as your experiences may well bd very useful in time.

Fostering is very rewarding, but there is a reason there is such a shortage of carers, otherwise people would be queuing up to take an extra child!

Wishing you well

AlexanderS Wed 24-Oct-12 18:54:58

"*Disability discrimination*

It is unlawful to discriminate against workers because of a physical or mental disability or fail to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate a worker with a disability. Under the Equality Act 2010 a person is classified as disabled if they have a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. Day-to-day activities include things such as using a telephone, reading a book or using public transport.

The Equality Act 2010 provides disabled people with protection from discrimination in a range of areas, including in employment and occupation.

This means that employers:

•must not directly discriminate against a person because of their actual or perceived disability, or because they associate with a disabled person
•must not treat a disabled person less favourably for a reason related to his or her impairment, unless that treatment can be justified for example an employer may reject someone who has a severe back problem where the job entails heavy lifting.
•must not have procedures, policy or practices which, although applicable to all workers, disproportionately disadvantage those who share a particular disability, unless these can be justified
•must make reasonable adjustments in the recruitment and employment of disabled people. This can include, for example, adjustments to recruitment and selection procedures, to terms and conditions of employment, to working arrangements and physical changes to the premises or equipment
•must not treat an employee unfairly who has made or supported a complaint about discrimination because of disability."

Taken from the ACAS website.

"Applications will be considered from married and unmarried couples, single people, heterosexual, lesbian or gay couples, those who are able bodied and those who are disabled.
All assessments and preparation of foster carers will fit within a framework of equal opportunities and anti discriminatory practice.
The primary consideration in any decision about accepting an application and in any assessment will be the capacity of an applicant to meet the needs of a looked after child in a safe and effective capacity during placement. This is in the context of the needs of looked after children, most of whom will have experienced some degree of loss, trauma, emotional or physical abuse or neglect or disruption in their early lives, which will inevitably have had an impact on their functioning and development. Few situations therefore are straightforward.

All of those interested in fostering will be welcomed without prejudice, responded to promptly, given clear information about recruitment, assessment and approval, and treated fairly, openly and with respect throughout the process.
Information about the relevant policies will be given to all applicants at the information evening. No applicant will automatically be excluded, except in the case of certain criminal convictions which are laid down in legislation. There are no blanket bans."

Taken from Bournemouth Borough Council's Fostering Policy (I don't live in Bournemouth, by the way, this is for illustration purposes).

What I have to demonstrate is that I wouldn't jeopardise the LO's health and safety, and I don't see how they can argue that I would when I look after my own little boy perfectly well.

GoSakuramachi Wed 24-Oct-12 19:00:22

As you've been told several times, foster children have higher needs than your own child, so thats not really the point.

Your quotes on the EA are to do with employment, fostering does not come under that heading. It's not just a job.

MrsDeVere Wed 24-Oct-12 19:08:43

It is NOT the same as looking after your own little boy.

Going by your posts I can not see you getting past the initial interview. I am not being a bitch I am being honest.

How about you stop trying to prove everyone wrong and actually take note of what we are trying to tell you?

My OH is disabled. We were approved to foster. We might not have been. If he was unable to care for the child. Would that have been discrimination?

parsnipcake Wed 24-Oct-12 20:09:05

To foster you also need to be able to reflect on and learn from your experience, work as part of a team, and understand your own limitations. You also need to understand that fostering is not like looking after your own children. Disability aside, I think you are going to struggle to be honest.

AlexanderS Wed 24-Oct-12 20:24:21

The recruitment of foster carers is subject to the Equality Act according to the Bournemouth Borough Council website, Go.

NanaNina, you said a while back that I was wrong to not want to talk to lay people, but talking to people who are not in the know is really not helpful if all they are going to do is reproduce the prejudice that exists in wider society. In the absolutely nicest possible way you yourself, a professional who should know better, assumed that the Equality Act couldn't possibly apply to people with mental health problems. Is it any wonder that I'm feeling a tad defensive?!

Parsnip, ok, that is interesting. I have no problem with people saying it might not be advisable to me to foster at the current time. What I have an issue with is people saying I automatically shouldn't be allowed to foster or assuming that because of how I am I won't be able to care for the child.

MrsDeVere, now tell me if I'm wrong but what you seem to be saying is that less than ideal care is fine for 'normal' children but foster children need perfect care. If my care is good enough for my son surely, surely, it is good enough for a foster child. Unless you think my son should be taken into care? I thought the whole point was foster carers are not expected to be superhuman? I'm not saying this to be confrontational, I'm genuinely trying to understand.

I can't help but feel people with mental health problems are expected to sit at home and twiddle their thumbs and feel grateful they've been given the opportunity to do even that.

AlexanderS Wed 24-Oct-12 20:25:48

There is a difference between understanding my own limitations and selling myself short Parsnip.

AlexanderS Wed 24-Oct-12 20:28:22

P.S. I work in healthcare and reflective practice, working as a part of a team and working within my limitations, is something I do all the time.

AlexanderS Wed 24-Oct-12 20:33:04

One final point: what exactly is it you're trying to tell me Parsnip?

MrsDeVere Wed 24-Oct-12 20:37:06

I am sorry but I find your perception of my post a bit odd.

It isn't what I am saying at all.

It is different caring for fostered children. I do not understand your link to different and less than perfect.

You do realise that the people on this thread have either fostered or worked in foster care?
Why on earth do you think we are telling you these things?

I do not think Nana was trying to tell you that the Equalities Act didn't apply to MH issues and she certainly didn't say 'it couldn't possibly' (and AFAIK NN was working when it was the DDA which didn't apply to many conditions that the EA does).
Everyone is telling you that Foster caring is not classed in the same way as a job is. AND as I pointed out there are certain posts that are exempt from the DDA/EA anyway.

So let us be practical. When the SW asks you to explore you MH issues and how they affect you and how you think they may affect your day to day caring for a foster child - what are you going to say?

NanaNina Wed 24-Oct-12 21:19:29

Thank you for the info on the legislation AS - yes I can see that the Discrimination Act does indeed state physical or mental disability, which I didn't realise. However there does seem to be an emphasis on physical disability, but I'm sure you could argue that the law also states that mental disability is included.

However this isn't about the law really. Most LAs have their own policies and procedures and should be working to the Fostering Regulations 2000 (think thay was the date) The thing is no one has the right to foster, no one has the right for their application to be taken up. I'm sure you realise all LAs are severely under-resourced and preparation and assessment of prospective carers is very costly. If therefore applicants are considering say babies and under 2's (and I'm not saying this because that is the age range you are considering) the LA may well have sufficient carers who are approved for that age range, and so it is not cost effective to take on new applicants. The usual need is for older children, sibling groups and children with disabilities (and this means physical disabilities) as children are not normally diagnosed as having mental health difficulties.

If the LA do still need carers for babies and younger children, they may well take up your application and you would be invited to a preparation group, usuallu about 8 sessions, where a lot of information is given about all aspects of fostering.

I would point out that this is a 2 way process and applicants need to use this time to see if fostering is something that they actually do want to take on, after hearing a great deal of information. If so then a comprehensive assessment will be undertaken (though there may be a delay as social workers are somewhat thin on the ground in most LAs) Reference will be taken up and as already said medicals and CRB checks taken up. Also a Health & Safety check will be done on your home. At the end of all this the assessing sw will make a recommendation as to your suitability (or otherwise) to foster. If there are problems along the way (as there often are) then the sw must talk over with the applicants the areas of difficulties in the hope that matters can be resolved. Sometimes in such cases, applicants withdraw, or the sw has to be straight and say they cannot give a positive recommendation (has to be something quite serious for this to happen).

All assessments for fostering have to be presented to the LA multi disciplinary Fostering Panel, chaired by an independent person. The vast majority of cases have a positive recommendation. However IF the assessing sw cannot give a positive recommendation (and they must provide full details of the reasons) applicants still have the right for their assesment to go before the panel. All applicants are encouraged to attend the panel; indeed most LAs make this a requirement.

Lets say it is a normal positive recommendation and the panel agree, they still cannot give official approval until the papers have been scrutinised by the Agency Decision Maker (senior manager) and then the formal letter of approval is sent out. IF there is not a positive recommendation, then the panel can agree or not. Either way, they must follow the agencie's procedures and send the papers to the Agency Decision Maker, and he or she makes the decision about approval or not. If the assessing sw, the fostering panel, and the agency decision maker do not believe that they can give approval, the agency decision maker will usually visit the applicants to explain why they could not be approved.

I have carried out hundreds of assessments for fostering and adoption and I can honestly say only 1 applicant for adoption, for whom I gave a positive recommendation, was turned down by the Fostering Panel, but the Agency Decision Maker overturned this on the grounds that the Panel had given insubstantial reasons for turning the applicant down. She was subsequently approved. I have had cases where early on (or part way through) the assessment, difficulties have arisen and discussed honestly with the applicants. This hasn't happened very often but in cases where it did the applicants withdrew their application.

SO in essence I am saying that no one has the right for their aplication to be taken up, nor the right to be approved as foster carers.

I hope AS that instead of finding out more and more information on the law that you contact the LA and declare your continuing interest after reading the information pack, and take it from there.

Coo sorry that was so long..........

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