Can I foster babies?

Parent and child

Can I foster babies?

Although the average age of children in foster care is slightly older, babies and toddlers under 4 years old can need foster care too, sometimes newborns straight from hospital when they are just a few hours old.

In Wales, nearly 2 out of 5 children in care were aged 10 to 15, and fewer than 1 in 20 were under 1 (source: Welsh Government, March 2022) (external website).

Why we foster babies

Jennie and her husband Simon, along with their two children, who are now 13 and 10, have been fostering with their local authority Foster Wales Denbighshire since 2014.

Simon and Jennie Walker
Simon and Jennie Walker

Jennie shares the joy and priviledge of having foster babies in their lives.

Positives of fostering a baby

Fostering babies can be particularly rewarding because those early experiences are when the foundations for later development are laid, giving them the best start in life.

"As our own children were young when we started fostering full time, fostering babies best suited our family situation at the time”, explains Jennie, who first started thinking about fostering when she was supporting a local mother and her baby whilst working as a youth worker.

Babies are really vulnerable and I see it as such a privilege to look after them at such a young age. We get to see all their first smiles, first words, first steps and all those special milestones.

There is a real opportunity to support healthy development and attachment during the first three years of a child’s life, and if this is done well, there is a greater chance of success in whichever transition they make.

We also find that most people like to be around babies. They enable us to connect with others and they bring us closer together as a family too. Family members love to help, especially when it comes to cuddles!

And I do love shopping for baby clothes!"

What do newborn babies in foster care need?

Newborn babies will often arrive with foster carers at very short notice and like all babies, they will need constant care and attention. It is a 24/7 commitment.

“Initially, newborn babies who are fostered will need the same care as all newborn babies. They need to feel loved, they need to be nurtured and they need to feel safe. They need to be fed - day and night. Their nappies need changing. They need somewhere safe to sleep and they need to be comforted - like my own children needed when they were babies. Occasionally, some babies who are fostered will have additional health care needs but we have a lot of experience of looking after children with disabilities and special needs.”

What do older foster babies need?

As well as fostering newborns, Jennie and her family have also fostered older babies, ranging from 6 - 18 months old. The family contiune to provide a loving family environment for one baby, who came to live with them at 18 month old and is now 7 years old, on a longer-term basis.

“Fostering older babies is a slightly different experience. They still have the same practical needs as newborns, but the emotional response can be different.

One baby we fostered was very stiff when held. Initially, it was thought that there was a medical issue but it turned out that the baby was just very wary. But within 6 weeks with us the baby had relaxed and went from strength to strength, reaching all the developmental milestones, just a little slower to start with. The baby was an absolute joy to be around.”

Fostering babies - the essential checklist

Babies who are fostered often arrive at very short notice. Here is Jennie’s baby essentials checklist:

  • Moses basket
  • Cot
  • Mattress
  • Blankets
  • Changing mat
  • Changing bag
  • Clothes
  • Nappies
  • Milk
  • Bottles
  • Bottle steriliser
  • Baby wipes
  • Nappy bags
  • Travel system - pram and baby car sar seat ("I have collected 3 newborns straight from the hospital, so a car seat is essential for doing this - Jennie").

Do you need a spare room to foster a baby?

Babies can share a foster carer’s bedroom until they are at least six months old. A child over the age of two needs their own bedroom to ensure that they have their own space and privacy.

“You don’t know how long they will be with you so you will need a spare bedroom at some point. Most of the babies that we have fostered have been with us for at least 18 months, sometimes longer, if the final outcome is adoption, whilst the shortest time for us was 6 months when the outcome was return to birth family.

During their time with us, the baby will usually move into their own room when they are at least six months old, which is beneficial for their development. It also helps them to be able to move on as they are used to being in their own room.”

How to encourage foster babies to bond with their carers?

All children need to develop an emotional attachment to their foster carers at an early stage and the ability to attach and form a bond often depends on the type of care they received before coming into foster care.

“We encourage attachment with plenty of affection, playing, taking an interest in what matters to the child and providing opportunities and new experiences.

Where babies haven’t been as responsive in return when they first come to us, they just need a little extra care, warmth, understanding, consistency, routine and reasurrance. In time this then becomes the child’s anchor point and their expectations adjust to fit in with their new routines. Whatever a child has experienced in the past, they start associating different experiences and new routines with their foster families.”

Will foster babies still have contact with the birth parents?

Most foster babies and children will have contact with their birth parents. Regular contact helps children develop a sense of identity, as well as feelings of stability and security.

“In my experience, most fostered newborns will have regular contact with their birth family, between 3 and 5 times a week, which will normally take place between Monday and Friday. The circumstances of why a newborn is fostered differ and these reasons will also dictate the amount of contact offered. Only in very rare and extreme circumstances have I seen a newborn having no contact with their birth family.

When meeting birth parents I am always conscious that it is often a difficult time for them. As the link to their child, I do what I can to reassure them and listen to them. However, the relationship can sometimes be strained. It is then important to keep a professional mindset and focus on the best interests of the child and be respectful, even if it’s not always reciprocated.”

Ensuring foster babies have memories of their early life

Memory boxes can help children make some sense of their early life and are a good way of helping children to keep hold of those important memories.

“I always think what might the child want to know at a later date, and what I kept for my own children,” Jennie explains.

As soon as a newborn is in my care, I take lots of photos and create photo books. I ensure that important details are documented, such as who is in hospital with the baby and record information about weight, date and time of birth. If the birth parents have dressed the baby in specific clothes and given a toy and/or blanket, those are all kept close to the baby and eventually kept in a memory box. Hospital tags also go into the memory box. As time goes on, most memories are created through photo books, and any gifts, special toys, favourite clothes and other memories from days out and first experiences, all go into the memory box. When they leave and move on, the child can keep this with them forever.

During contact, birth families will often bring gifts, such as new clothes. I will never get rid of these, even when they outgrow them. I will label them from the person who gave them, and keep them safe with all the other memories.”

Fostering a baby, with your own children

Lots of foster families are made up of both adults and children, with the children of foster carers playing a key role in the fostering household.

“We always involve our own children in the process. Before a child or baby arrives, we all go shopping together for new clothes and baby essentials. When a newborn arrives, my kids are always on hand to give lots of cuddles, and love helping with the feeds.

With older foster children, my kids will help them settle in by showing them around the house and will dig out the age appropriate toy boxes, which they helped put together. We once fostered a child who didn’t really know how to play with toys but after some interaction with other children in the house, the child gradually learnt how to play.

Sometimes, the children that we foster have had to leave their siblings for various reasons, so having other children in the house to play and have fun with brings a sense of normality and helps them to relax and settle in – children seem to have that effect on each other!”

We treat all of our foster children like our own. They are loved unconditionally and treated as members of the family."

Caleb and Joel Walker
Caleb and Joel, Jennie and Simon’s children

"Fostering babies brings us closer together as a family" - Jennie.

When babies in foster care move on

Fostering can provide some babies with a long term home, like in Jennie’s case at the moment, but most babies move on – back to their birth families or to be adopted. Saying goodbye to a foster child can be a time of mixed emotions and is one aspect of fostering that many people may find difficult.

“Of course, handing them over after they have been with us for a while involves a ‘letting go process’, but also an important part in supporting the long term plan for the child. Knowing that we have played our part in their story and assisted in giving them the best possible chance for moving on in life makes it all worthwhile, and that is why we do it.

I have only found the experience of fostering babies a pleasure. They bring so much joy - despite the interuption of sleep for the night feeds! Seeing them develop and progress is so rewarding.”

Can I choose an age range when fostering?

Fostering babies is often short term and you will need a spare bedroom. Although you can have a preference for fostering babies, you will need flexibility for a wide age range of children to fit your family. Fostering babies, toddlers and younger children is often more likely if you foster with your local authority, Foster Wales (external website).

“Having a preferred age range could be due to various family circumstances, such as the age of your own children and how many children live in the house”, explains Julie Fisher, Fostering Team Manager, Foster Wales Denbighshire.

At Foster Wales, we work with you to match children with the right family. We will listen to you, get to know you and your family, your life, your home. We can then match you with the foster child who is the best fit for your skills and circumstances, and better matches mean better outcomes for the child.”

Could you foster with your Local Authority?

If you live in Denbighshire and feel that you could help build better futures for local children, contact Foster Wales Denbighshire and a member of our dedicated team will be in touch for a friendly, no obligation conversation to help you decide if fostering is right for you.

If you live anywhere else in Wales, visit Foster Wales (external website) for more information and to find your local authority fostering team.