Gwen has been fostering with Excel Fostering for 7 years, she has cared for many children on her fostering journey and is encouraging others to do the same.
I am entering into my seventh year of fostering with Excel Fostering and it has been such an amazing journey so far!
Many children have passed through my door and although there have been many challenges, the challenges come with big rewards. There is no better feeling than helping a child get on in life and achieve their goals that they thought were impossible, that is the reason why I continue to foster.
I had thought about fostering for a while but I hadn’t took the steps to start my fostering journey until one day as I was leaving the supermarket, I noticed a stand outside where there was more information about fostering. The woman on the stall said to me as I walked past would I be interested in fostering but I told her I did not have the time to stop and talk. Before I reached my car, I thought if I do not make the time now, then I will never be able to follow my dream of becoming a foster carer. I headed back to the stall and I asked the woman to provide me with some details about fostering and then I went home and researched more about it.
I have children of my own and I did intend on having more children, but I had to have a hysterectomy at 29 for medical reasons. My husband and I had discussed the possibility of fostering or adoption as we loved children and we decided fostering would be the best option as we could help many children. Unfortunately, we were never able to fulfil this dream of ours because my husband passed away before we were able to start our fostering journey together, so I put it on hold and pushed it to the back of my mind.
After a few years, the thought of fostering was still there, I knew this was something I definitely wanted to do, bumping into the fostering stall at the supermarket was a sign for me to go ahead and embark on my fostering journey as a solo carer. I knew now was the right time as I was alone in my house as my children had moved away and I wanted to do something for myself which would fit around my lifestyle. With fostering I knew I could work from home and I would be making a difference to many young children’s lives. I wanted to help as many children as I could, so I moved to a bigger house with a bigger garden to allow the children to have more space to play.
I knew a couple of people who were foster carers with Excel, so I talked to them to find out more about them. I also did some research about other fostering agencies but I decided to go with Excel because they resonated with me more, they had the personal feeling that I was looking for and I knew I would be well supported there. I was ideally looking for a fostering agency where if I wanted to contact the person at the top I could do, it’s nice when you know everyone in the organisation knows who you are. I know I am listened to and any concerns I have are dealt with no issues. I like the simplicity of knowing I can get support from the bottom to the top, it is vital in this journey that we have that access. It is hard to find that personal touch and I knew Excel would be the perfect place for me to start my fostering journey, and seven years on I am still with them!
When I told my friends that I was going to start fostering they thought I was crazy for considering fostering at my age! When I told my family and children about it they were supportive, it was important for me to get approval from my grandchildren so I sat them all down and we talked it through. I told them why I wanted to do it and how I can help many young children by welcoming them into my home. After I had explained why I wanted to foster, my grandson responded with ‘that is well sick’, I had to confirm with him that was a good thing, he said yes it means I am happy with the decision!
All my children and grandchildren get along with the children I look after but at times they find it difficult, especially when they think I am being treated badly. They find it hard to watch me being verbally abused but they can see the benefits and the good times outweigh the bad. Being a foster carer is worth it, and even with its ups and downs, it is all pretty good. I think a lot of people think the children who are in care are children that nobody wants and are bad children. I want to emphasise that is not the case at all, they are children who need some love and care to help them grow up into confident and good people.
Many of my friends consider me to be brave and have considered fostering themselves after seeing the difference I make. Unfortunately, because of Covid I have not been able to have these conversations with them about how they can start their journey. When things are a little better and it is safe to meet up, I have offered to chat to them over some coffee about fostering. I have forwarded them to the Excel website for more information, but I think sometimes these conversations are better face to face.
When I got my first placement I was overjoyed! It was an emergency placement and she arrived late at night, she looked petrified and did not really know what was happening. She had a bath and we read a book together so she could feel comfortable in her new home. Over the time she was with me we became good friends, and she still keeps in contact which is nice. She often says she cannot thank me enough and that I saved her life, this is why fostering is the best job and seeing the children do well independently is the best feeling ever.
My current placement is different to what I am normally used to as they are younger and have special needs requirement, but I do feel that I have found my niche with this placement. I know where they are all the time, and we have a routine which works for all of us. With my past placements, there were times where I would go to sleep and the children who were staying with me would sneak out of their bedroom window. At least with my current placement, I can go to sleep knowing they will be there the next morning!
I want to emphasis to anyone who is thinking of fostering to have an open mind. I knew when I started that it was not all going to be wonderfully behaved children but the important factor for me was that I knew these children needed a loving home. That was enough for me to welcome the children into my home so I could provide them with the care they desperately needed. You must remember that life is not all plain sailing, there is a lot of laughter but a lot of tears too. Balancing out what life throws at you and you make it what you want of it, there will always be some ups and downs but that is what keeps the journey interesting. It is best not to have any preconceived ideas about fostering, a lot of people go into the journey with this mindset and that is where it lets them down.
The support I have had from Excel has been fabulous, I cannot fault them at all! There has been a variety of social workers I have had, and they were all great. They all had different experiences and their knowledge was invaluable, they really helped when I had any concerns or queries. There is also lots of training available which teaches you so much and provides you with everything you need to know when starting your fostering journey, as well as during it. For now, the training has been delayed because of Covid but there are online resources available. When the training days were running, I always revisited them even if it is a session I have done before because I learn new things each time.
I would recommend fostering to anyone who is considering it, I have already recommended to my friends and family, and a couple of them are seriously considering it. If the time is right for you and you feel you can help a child and make a difference to their life, have the patience, and the love to give them then you should become a foster carer. I must be honest and say it is not all roses, but it is immensely rewarding.