Hosting a young person in my home gave me perspective

Could you tell me a little bit about yourself?

I'm in my late thirties, single with no children, and work full time. I bought my first home a few years ago and have a spare bedroom. A couple of my older relatives had fostered and found it really rewarding, but I'd always thought you needed to be a full-time foster carer and/or in a couple, and that wouldn't have worked for me. I'd always liked the idea of sharing my home with someone who might benefit from it as more than just a lodger.

How did you get started with being a host?

My sister mentioned that the options around fostering had changed, so I did some online digging and came across Supported Lodgings. The scheme is offered through local authorities, either via their social services teams directly or via subcontracted providers like Barnardo's. It's aimed at young people aged 16—21 who want semi-independent living, and may already be in the care system or whose family relationships have broken down.

I had an initial interview with the LA and then took part in a ‘Skills to Foster’ course over a few days.  I then had weekly meetings with a social worker who asked lots of questions about my lifestyle, family relationships, interests, thoughts on the role etc. Some were a little bit personal but you can understand them asking.

I was put forward for 'panel', which is where you meet a mix of social services and fostering professionals who interview you about your expectations and motivations. If they're happy, they will recommend you as a host, and the authority can choose to onboard you.

After this comes all the operational stuff like H&S check at home, starting the process for matching with potential young people, etc. The whole process took about 8 months but was spread out. The most intensive bit was the weekly meetings, but I think we met around 6 times in total. It's less intensive than the fostering application process due to the nature of the role.

What does the scheme actually involve?

Basically, you're providing a room for a young person to be part of your family, and to help them develop independence skills like cooking, cleaning, washing, budgeting. I see it as a big sister role - I'm there to listen and help bounce ideas around. Generally the young people who benefit most are those in college, training or work and so they have their own schedule. I've reviewed college applications and helped with claiming benefits. You're given ongoing training and your own designated social worker to support you - although the training and peer support available is still mainly targeted at those who foster.

You generally have to anticipate that they'll be with you for at least 1 year. It's fun too! We've been to the panto at Christmas, out for meals to celebrate birthdays, to the cinema, to the beach, and do a lot of telly watching!

You get paid an allowance. In my case, it works out slightly more than I would receive for rent and bills if I rented the room privately (and is tax free), which reflects the fact you also provide some support. I provide bedding, furnishings, and household items like loo roll, cleaning and washing products. The young person covers their own food and toiletries, but we would take turns to cook and I'd usually cover the more expensive ingredients. You also get a small allowance for furnishing the room and buying necessary household items.

How has it been so far? What are the pros and cons?

It's been great! The young people are really interesting and come from a variety of backgrounds - it really challenges your view of the care system and who is in it. It's nice sharing your home in a way that makes a tangible difference to someone.

The main advantages are having a young person in your home that you hopefully build a relationship with. And it's a good second income stream - whilst I'd need to keep my job, it does provide a good additional sum which I can save. Supported Lodgings hosts can claim qualifying care relief from income tax in the same way as foster carers (you have to register as self employed for this role and complete a tax return), so for me it works out tax free. The amount varies by local authority but in my case is around £1000 per month.

The disadvantages are limited but definitely worth keeping in mind. It can be challenging - social services are much more used to working with foster carers who are more readily available for meetings, and the finer details of the role are still being honed which can sometimes leave you feeling like you've fallen through the cracks.

Also, if a young person is under 18 then they cannot be left alone overnight. You'd need to have a back up carer (family member or friend with a DBS) in place. Organising respite care through Social Services is quite stressful.

You also don't get a holiday allowance for the young person (unlike foster carers), although you can take them with you at your own cost. Something to bear in mind if you like your holidays or spur-of-the-moment weekends away! Personally, I'd probably only have an over 18 in future because of this (although I wouldn't leave them alone for longer than a few nights anyway). It can be quite lonely if you're having a tough time, so you need supportive family and friends around you.

It also really depends on the personality of the young person and whether you fit well together - it's taken me a while to realise that you can take the matching process at your own pace and suggest meet-ups and sleepovers before either of you commit. Social Services want a quick match as they have such heavy workloads, you need to stand up for yourself as at the end of the day, it's your home!

This has been my experience (in the South East of England) but may vary elsewhere!

Has it changed your perspective on kids?

I would say it's made me realise that I wouldn't want to intentionally have a child on my own and it's not made me particularly change my view on having children whether biologically or through adoption, I feel like I have a purpose and meaning in my life outside of that traditional route, and maybe being a host to a young person is part of that purpose and meaning. It's probably lucky I'm not dating though as I've not had to have any awkward conversations with social services or the young person about men staying over (as well as the safeguarding considerations, which are important but a bit of a mood killer!)