I have been fostering now for around 8 years. I previously worked in a school and saw first-hand the difference that fostering families could make to children’s lives. I felt like I wanted to do more and to be able to make a difference to children in care myself. Including respite care, I have cared for a total of 55 children over these eight years!
I have been fostering now for around 8 years. I previously worked in a school and saw first-hand the difference that fostering families could make to children’s lives. I felt like I wanted to do more and to be able to make a difference to children in care myself.
I made enquiries to both the local authority and Excel Fostering and from the different responses received, I decided without any doubt to go ahead with Excel. I can remember the assessment process being quite intrusive, but I also understood that this was for a very good reason. The process was actually very thought provoking and I talked through things that I hadn’t thought about for many years.
I started out with a short respite placement then after a few months of waiting, I had a 14-year-old boy for my first placement. I’ll never forget how he arrived. In jogging bottoms, with just a carrier bag and he also had some teeth missing. I was ecstatic to have him and be able to care for him, but at the same time it was so incredibly sad seeing him that first time. He had moved area to be placed with me and unfortunately over time, he kept going missing, so the placement didn’t work out in the end. As with all the children I care for, I wanted what was best for him and at the time, that was being in the area where he had connections. Despite this, his time with me was definitely well spent and so there were no regrets.
One of the challenging things about fostering can be having different children from different families at the same time (as I have now). They all have different interests, so making sure that you do things to suit all of them and helping them to gel together can be difficult. They all go to different clubs, and we have had to arrange transport to four different schools. Although we have now found a solution going forward, things like this do crop up as a foster carer where you might have a period of time where you could be in the car for four hours a day just for school runs! My family have always been incredibly supportive of me. My mum has always helped out and she lives with me now, which is great for the children. My granddaughter, who is 19 also still lives with me and she has been amazing help with the school runs, etc.
The household dynamics do change when you become a foster carer. My granddaughters have lived with me for their whole lives, and it can be the case that foster children naturally feel jealous of other children. Over time though, this does tend to work out. One of our foster children who initially struggled quite a lot with jealousy has grown up to be an incredibly understanding young woman. In fact, so much so that she is dedicating her career to becoming a clinical psychologist which is just amazing.
Including respite care, we worked out that I have cared for a total of 55 children over these eight years! Another foster family who I trained with when I started out have had just two long-term placements this whole time which just shows how individual and different everyone’s fostering journeys can be.
There was a girl who came to me at aged 14. She’d had a number of placements before coming to me and as soon as she walked through the door, she asked if she could stay forever. She had lots of mental health challenges and difficulties to begin with and had missed out on so much school. She went on to get all of her GCSE’s and A-Levels and is now studying towards a social work degree. It feels so amazing to see just how far she has come.
I’ve also taken a number of parent and child placements. These placements are where one, or both parents come to stay with their new-born baby over a period of time and they are later assessed as to whether they can safely care for their baby independently. Some parent and child placements have been mothers in their 30’s, but one in particular was a 16-year-old girl. She initially came to me as a respite placement but ended up staying. At the time, there was another baby in our household and so it was really beneficial in helping her to build her skills and confidence as a new mum. I’m happy to say that she kept her baby and there is nothing more rewarding than hearing this news as a foster carer. She has thanked me so much and said that if it wasn’t for me, she wouldn’t have her baby now. I tell her that it was her who did all the hard work!
It is hard when a placement breaks down, or when a child you’ve become attached to has to move on. My way of coping with that is by helping another child as quickly as I possibly can. It would be easy to wallow otherwise, and I like to keep busy. No matter what happens though, you never ever forget any child you have had in your care. Sometimes you get to find out what happens next with them, but not always.
… overall fostering was different to what I expected. I knew how to help children as a teacher. It’s very different when you’re caring for children in your own home. It’s not as personal in a school environment as a teacher. Although it isn’t, it just feels more personal in your own home, and I’ve had to learn over the years not to take anything personally as a foster carer. It’s a constant balancing act, as it’s important to deal with things in a professional way, but at the same time to be a mum to the children in your care. You can’t help but get emotionally attached.
I often talk to new foster carers at the Skills to Foster training sessions, that are delivered by Excel Fostering, and one of the most important things is to have an open mind and to try not to be too set on things and how you imagine it will be. A respite placement for example, can end up staying with you for a couple of years!
Another example of this is getting too hung up on the ages of children you would be prepared to foster. A worry that is often brought up with new foster carers is about caring for teenagers. I can honestly say that I have had younger children with more difficulties than the teenagers I’ve cared for. Before going to university, one of my foster children used to come along to training sessions to say “please help a teenager. We’re not all bad!”.
My advice would be to instead, look at each placement referral individually, with an open mind and make a decision on a case-by-case basis with what will fit in well with your individual household.
Another thing to mention would be about being aware of the initial honeymoon period with foster children. In my experience, this can last anywhere from 2 weeks up to 6 months and is where a child is holding everything in because they do not yet feel able to fully relax. It is a positive step when a child feels comfortable and settled enough to start showing their feelings (which can sometimes display as challenging behaviour), as that’s when you can truly start helping them.
This and many other things are covered by the training sessions with Excel, which really are amazing. Becoming a foster carer is such an individual career path. If something difficult comes up whilst fostering, then training for that situation will always be provided for you. The support at Excel is incredible.