Valerie and Wayne have been fostering for seven years with Excel Fostering, read more about their journey here.
Wayne and I began our fostering journey 7 years ago, we have always been with Excel Fostering and the support we have received has been amazing.
I previously worked for the Metropolitan Police in the domestic violence and child protection department. I did this role for over 20 years which meant I was already familiar with the legal proceedings and how fostering worked. Even though I knew how fostering worked, I had not considered it as a potential career until our next-door neighbours had applied to become foster carers. Our neighbours asked if Wayne and I would write a witness statement for them as part of their approval process, and you could say, since that day we have never left their doorstep! We would always help them when they needed us and from seeing the huge difference, they were making to so many children and young people’s lives, we decided to apply to become foster carers ourselves.
We had an initial visit from Michelle from the Excel Fostering team who spoke at great length about what fostering would involve and answered any questions we had. The next stage was completing an application form and entering an assessment process which was very in depth, we had lots of homework to complete! One piece of advice we would give to others who are considering fostering is to be prepared to speak about personal things at length, but remember it is all part of the package, as a foster carer, you must be open and honest. I know a lot of people are put off about having ex partners contacted as part of the process, and we knew ours would be difficult, but Excel Fostering was used to those hard questions and they can work with you if you receive any negative comments through these situations.
As part of the assessment process, we also attended the ‘Skills to Foster’ training course provided by Excel Fostering, it was a great course and it really helped us to understand the many different reasons why children may need to enter foster care. It was fantastic to meet other carers at the training sessions, for me having knowledge on certain subjects is great but learning tips from other carers is more important. We know every foster carer deals with situations differently, but we can learn from each other’s experience. It is like attending a mother and toddler group when preparing for a new child, so for us, going to the Excel Fostering training was a very similar experience and helped us prepare for our placements. Having local support is important to us which is why we want to see more people applying in the Cumbria area as there is a real shortage of carers here.
Our family and friends have been very supportive about our decision to become foster carers which we are grateful for. Our youngest daughter was the only remaining child at home, she was 10 years old when we started fostering and we both agreed that she would be the oldest child in the house if we were to start fostering. We have had two placements so far; we were offered lots of placements, but we had to turn them down as we felt they were not the right match for us. The great thing about Excel Fostering is that they allow you to have the final decision regarding if a child is placed with you or not.
Our daughter did initially find fostering difficult to deal with and we did question whether to continue our fostering journey as we did not want it to affect our daughter. We thought long and hard and after many discussions with our daughter, we still felt it was the right time and the right career for us. Our daughter had won a competition at school when she submitted a story about our fostering journey and how we help many children in need. It made us really appreciate how caring she is and showed us how fostering has had a positive impact on her life too.
Our daughter is now 17 years old and our foster children look up to her like a sister, she regularly helps the youngest child to do her hair and make-up.
Three years ago, we all went away as a large group with the whole family which included my other birth children and their families. We were all sat around the table together and I remember both foster children wishing that my birth children were their actual siblings as they had only experienced constant fighting within their own family. It was a completely new experience for them to see a family getting along.
My eldest daughter is 27 and will often help with respite when required and the children love it when she visits with our grandchild. Everyone is very much part of the family; they understand the tantrums that happen due to the trauma the children have been through and know how to help calm situations when needed.
When we applied to become foster carers, we decided that being short term carers was the best option for us as we felt we could provide a caring home to many children as our time as carers. Sometimes things do not go the way you planned which is what happened to us! Our second placement who is currently with us will be our last placement as they are remaining long term with us.
For us, and I am sure other carers feel the same, it is always hard to support meetings for the children to continue contact with their birth families, as we know the trauma and heart-breaking situations these children have been in. Our role as foster carers is to see past that and do what is best for the children we are caring for. For us, the best thing about fostering is when you see that glimmer of hope when the children calm down from being upset and experiencing heightened emotions, and to know that without you they could easily revert to their past behaviours. As we are with the children all the time, we do not always notice the little changes, so when the children’s social worker visits and witnesses the progress they have made, she is always impressed which confirms to us we are doing the right thing!
At times, our role can be hard, it has been difficult dealing with children at heightened emotions and is especially hard when they say things to hurt or offend you. The reality is that they have been through so much and are on a roller coaster of emotions, so it is natural for them to take a little longer to calm down. When they finally calm down and you see the apologetic look and hurt within themselves, you know you are doing the right thing by keeping them safe. A lot of people have the misconception that fostering is just babysitting but that is not the case at all, it is allowing the child or young person to become a part of your family when they need it the most.
The support we have received from Excel Fostering has been excellent, our social worker is always at the end of the phone and through email if we ever need to contact her. The training available is brilliant and we could not fault our review or panel meetings at all. We are always listened to and any grievances we may have are dealt with immediately. I like to gain knowledge from literature and whenever I cannot find a book from the Excel Fostering library, they just order it in for me which is great.
We would say to anyone reading this who is considering fostering, please do get in touch with the Excel Fostering team as we would love to see more people applying to become foster carers. There are many children out there who need safe and caring homes, you could be the person who is able to provide that for them.