Allergies affect more than one in four people in the UK and are particularly common in children[1]. With this in mind, Allergy UK has launched a #toobigtoignore campaign for Allergy Awareness Week this spring – an opportunity to better understand what we can do to support those who suffer from allergic reactions.

If you’re a foster carer, or interested in fostering, you may be responsible for a child with a food allergy – it’s estimated that around 8% of children in the UK are living with a food allergy[2].

In this blog post, we’ll zoom in on what foster carers can do to support children affected by food allergies so they can provide a safe and supportive home.

A food allergy is the body’s immune system responding to a normally harmless substance. In an allergic individual, their immune system identifies the allergen as a ‘threat’ and produces a response.

Common food allergy symptoms include digestive problems, skin reactions, respiratory issues, swelling and cardiovascular issues. The most fatal allergic reactions can cause anaphylaxis, which is potentially life-threatening.

As the severity of symptoms differ from person to person, it’s important to seek advice from a healthcare professional to understand the different types of triggers and reactions.

When you foster with Unity Foster Care, you’ll have full access to a range of excellent training courses to help you care for a child with an allergy.

It’s crucial that you’re aware of any specific allergens your foster child has so you can help prevent reactions. If the allergy hasn’t yet been diagnosed, a healthcare professional will run tests and identify triggers.

Once you’ve established the allergens, here are some tips to help avoid reactions:

  1. Always check ingredient labels

All pre-packaged foods must show a list of ingredients. Allergy UK has compiled a helpful leaflet to help you understand what these labels really mean. If you’re buying food from a restaurant or café, ask a member of staff for allergen information.

  1. Communicate with others

Make sure teachers, family members or anyone else caring for a child with an allergy is aware of their allergies and knows what to do in an emergency.

  1. Avoid cross-contamination

Keeping your kitchen clean will prevent cross-contamination. Separate utensils when preparing meals, clean surfaces thoroughly and, if possible, designate certain areas of your kitchen as allergen-free zones.

  1. Be prepared

Before you go out, make sure you’ve packed a supply of safe snacks and any relevant medication. If you’re fostering a child with severe allergies, you’ll need to know how to use an adrenaline auto-injector. This pre-filled syringe is designed for self-administration but can be used by caregivers in an emergency.

Caring for a child with allergies involves more than addressing practical support. It’s also about nurturing their emotional well-being and guiding them through the challenges and anxieties that might arise from dietary restrictions.

Living with allergies can trigger feelings of apprehension, isolation and frustration. Offer reassurance and validate these emotions so the child feels supported and accepted. Listening to their concerns, encouraging open conversations around their allergies, avoiding assumptions and establishing strategies that will help manage their condition will also make them feel confident and secure. 

Allergies can have a profound impact on the daily lives of foster carers too.

Caring for a child with a food allergy may stir up a whirlwind of emotions. It’s natural to feel concerned about how to best support them. But remember, you don’t have to do it alone.

At Unity Foster Care, our social workers are on hand 24/7 to offer guidance to fostering families across Yorkshire and the North East. To find out more about the resources available to our foster carers, visit our support page.