Leaving the Armed Forces can result in a sudden change of lifestyle. A big part of this can be finding something to fill the void, whether this is a new career or something to keep you busy in retirement. Many ex-service personnel don’t realise that there is a different ‘frontline’ out there that can be similarly challenging, and rewarding, and can also utilise your transferable skills from armed forces training.

The vast majority of children – around three-quarters – who are in care, currently live with foster families. That’s around 64,000 children and young people living with 55,000 foster families every day. Fostering is a crucial role, sometimes giving these children their first positive experience of family life. Foster carers provide care and stability, not just a roof over children’s heads, for as long as a child needs it – sometimes just a few days, other times for a whole childhood. They are child care experts who get ongoing training and support to ensure children have the best possible chance at leading a normal, happy life.

There are hundreds of foster carers in the UK with experience of the armed forces. Many say it is the perfect ‘next step’ after a career in the forces and some even foster while they are still in service. There is a misconception that, due to the nature of the work, fostering could be impossible to manage alongside serving, but there are many success stories, along with many examples of retired personnel finding a new calling.

There’s no pretence here – fostering can be tough at times. Some children in care have experienced abuse, neglect or witnessed domestic violence and this can have an obvious effect. Some children can exhibit challenging behaviours and handling them can require patience and fast-thinking, two key skills taught in army training. You would have been taught how to diffuse difficult situations while working as a team, which is essential for foster care, whether it is with a partner in the home or coming together with social workers to support a child in your care. There is a whole team around the child and you will be an integral part of that team.

Communication skills are vital to good fostering and leadership can help the child, as well as the whole family, to find solutions and coping strategies. Those in the armed forces are taught to achieve under pressure and find resolutions against the odds. These are the kind of skills that can make you a great foster carer.

Whatever challenges you may face, the positives of caring for children are endless. Foster carers constantly share their success stories and proud moments, whether it’s something as small as a child sleeping through the night for the first time or as big as watching them graduate from university after years of struggling at school. Fostering is simply one of the most rewarding things you can do.

Practically, there are a few considerations. To become a foster carer in the UK you must have a spare bedroom, be a full-time resident (or have leave to remain) and be able to give the time to care for a child or young person. Beyond the necessities, other factors you should take into account are your health and financial security, but there are a lot of misconceptions surrounding who can foster. Your age, gender, religion, sexual orientation or marital status will not hold you back.

Many people say that the potential impact on their birth children is one of the major barriers to becoming a foster carer. The reality is that many children benefit from being part of the support network offered by a fostering family to a fostered child. Seeing life from another’s perspective can be an enriching experience and can help a child learn and develop as an individual.

On the other hand, some worry that not having their own children could affect their ability to foster. You don’t need to have your own children – all you really need to show is that you have right skills to care for a child, and experience in the armed forces is certainly something that will be viewed positively by fostering services in the application process.

Is foster care starting to sound like a possibility? It’s a good idea to approach a fostering service and find out more information about the process. Your local area may have more several fostering services, so make a list and decide which ones you want to approach. Factors to consider when choosing include the support they offer, the type of foster carers they need to recruit, whether they pay fees for your skills and experience and what the weekly allowance is that you will be given to spend on the child in your care.

The journey to fostering can be a fairly lengthy one and but you will be supported throughout. If you decide to go ahead, you will be asked to complete an application form and a social worker will be assigned to you. They will put together a detailed assessment as to whether you are suitable to foster and what kind of children would be right for you. This can take several months to complete as it includes home visits and a training course, usually called ‘Skills to Foster’. At the end of the assessment your social worker will submit a report to the fostering panel who will then consider your suitability.

On average, the journey to approval can take around eight months from your first enquiry. It may seem like a long time but due to the nature of the role, fostering services need to know you are going to offer the support, stability and love to a child or young person in your care, as well as making sure you are prepared for fostering.

Being a foster carer can make a real difference to looked after children’s lives. If you are looking for a new challenge on a new frontline, you can find more advice and information on our websitewww.thefosteringnetwork.org.uk

Written by: Rochelle Bisson, Media and Communications Officer at The Fostering Network