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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!

gallivantsaregood Thu 25-Oct-12 16:06:00

I am going to throw in my last tuppenceworth. AS you don't appear to be open to listening to other people's opinions. So perhaps better not to ask.

It was suggested by me and others that you contact the LA/Agency and enquire and see what they say.

I raised the potential difficulty in relation to your (possible) Aspergers in that for many people with Aspergers it is difficult to translate emotion/facial expression and in order to foster you need to be able to tune-in to the children's emotional states. I stand by this and your post have not convinced me otherwise.

Parsnipcakes described her daughter as being a very positive part of her foster children's lives, but acknowledged her tendancy to latch on to things and struggle to move on from them. I think that this is exactly what has happened with you in this thread. This is not a helpful/appropriate attribute in a foster carer ( not foster parent btw).

I will lay my cards on the table and say, that from what I have read and can perceive of you from here, I do not think you are in the right place to become a foster carer. ( I am both a foster carer and a parent of a child with disabilities and probable ASD). I am not getting a caring/nurturing vibe at all from you. Sorry.

By all means contact the LA/Agency, but I would suggest that before you do that you read through the whole of this thread again and try and work out why you have been so offended by people giving you good advice. If this is how you usually respond to situations then try and find some ways of managing things differently. And lastly maybe you would benefit from getting some support in relaton to dealing with the fact that you are living with MH issues as it comes across like you are carrying a huge chip on your shoulder.

I wish you well.

MrsDeVere Thu 25-Oct-12 13:55:38

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

AlexanderS Thu 25-Oct-12 08:28:59

At no point did I say I was banned confused .

I had already said that fostering is definitely not an exempt occupation from the EA but you still said it might be exempt, hence you must think I'm a bit dim (I think you don't fully know what you're talking about and don't like at all that this thread has made that clear). NanaNina may have 30 years experience and is clearly knowledgeable about the application process, but she also, it turned out, did not fully know about the implications of the EA for fostering.

You're right, you don't know me, but that hasn't stopped you passing judgement on my ability to foster, only negatively instead of positively. Because that is the gist of what you're saying, isn't it, that it would be a bad idea for me to foster and I shouldn't do it? But then when I listen to that and say ok, maybe this isn't for me I'm passive-aggressive?!

And what is all this crap about I don't have a clue about what it entails? What exactly is it that I haven't grasped? That it is a superhuman feat only achieved by exceptional people, that normal parenting isn't enough? That's funny, because the literature the LA sent me talks a lot about how foster carers are just ordinary people, nothing special.

There is nothing helpful about just saying, 'That's a rubbish idea'. Nothing helpful at all.

The people who have been helpful on here are the ones who have told me a bit more about fostering or the training process, or who suggested talking to the LA (which I may do), or said that whilst I could apply it might not be the best thing at the minute for me personally and backed that up with a reasoned argument. The people, frankly, whose responses have not been coloured by prejudice.

parsnipcake Thu 25-Oct-12 07:28:26

Alexander, my daughter has aspergers, and there is no way she harms our foster children - she is very positive in their lives. However, I think she would struggle to foster as she gets very caught up with things she needs to let go of, and she can become very frustrated. Im not sure what it would be like for you, all you can do is apply and find out more. I think this thread is becoming unhelpful and personal, so I will now out but wishing you well x

MrsDeVere Wed 24-Oct-12 23:33:44

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

GoSakuramachi Wed 24-Oct-12 23:29:15

You don't seem to appreciate the thoughts and feelings of others.

Nobody is being bitchy, and nobody is saying the frankly rather odd statements you keep assigning to others.

Lilka Wed 24-Oct-12 23:28:27

Look, nobody on this thread has said you are rubbish or shouldn't foster, or that people with MH problems shouldn't foster. Nobody. So i've no idea where this is coming from. We've (especially NN) explained the procedures and why they are necessary, and confirmed that there is no blanket ban on people with disabilities fostering (which is what you asked in the Op wasn't it?). None of the talking about the difficulties of fostering is designed to make you run away, or upset you, because the poeple on this forum are really not like that

AlexanderS Wed 24-Oct-12 23:01:17

There is a person with feelings here, you know!

AlexanderS Wed 24-Oct-12 22:58:32

Somebody on here actually said something like "I'm not being a bitch, I'm just being honest". People only ever say they're not being a bitch when they're being bitchy.

I don't get it. Did everybody just expect me to say 'Oh, you're right, I've got a mental illness so I must be a rubbish person and I've obviously got no business fostering'?

bonnieslilsister Wed 24-Oct-12 22:50:49

Never mind NN everyone loves to read your posts so they will not have been in vain xx

NanaNina Wed 24-Oct-12 22:42:02

I am wondering if there is anything to be gained either for the OP (as she says it isn't helping her) and despite our best efforts we all seem to be making matters worse. For this reason I am bowing out of the thread.

bonnieslilsister Wed 24-Oct-12 22:40:26

From what I can see Alex, you are jumping to the wrong conclusion. Maybe re read the thread. I think everyone has been supportive and realistic and have written good posts.

AlexanderS Wed 24-Oct-12 22:29:51

The Equality Act is central to social work - I thought social work was based, amongst other things, on the principle of equality?

AlexanderS Wed 24-Oct-12 22:26:16

Fostering is exempt from the EA, MrsDeVere, as I've already said (sorry, I forgot - because I have mental health problems I must be stupid too).

Nana said, and I quote, "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".

What you (and GoSakuramachi ) seem to be saying is that I would need to be a better parent to a foster child than I am to my own son. Indeed, Go said "Fostering is harder than parenting".

Nana, I've not at any point said that I have a right to have my application taken up (I understand that my LA might not need foster carers for babies and toddlers at the current time) or that I have a right to be approved as a foster carer. What I am saying is that should my application be taken up I have as much right as any other candidate to be considered. Of course the law matters! The policies and procedures of LAs can't contravene the law.

As for what I'd say to a social worker MrsDeVere, at the minute I'm leaning towards not going ahead with the application. It is very hard for me to be confident generally. This thread isn't helping. A number of people, including you, evidently think I have nothing to offer.

NanaNina Wed 24-Oct-12 21:49:02

Oh dear SA if you think all social workers will know the content of all legislation that is not specifically related to social work i.e. Children Act 1989, you are going to be very disappointed!!

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..........

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

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

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

One final point: what exactly is it you're trying to tell me 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 20:25:48

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

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.

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.

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

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

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.

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.

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