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Nowhere else to go: why we decided to foster children with disabilities

Posted by Kevin and Sylvia on 17th, May, 2016
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We are Kevin and Sylvia Mahal and we have been fostering coming up for 11 years. The majority of those have been looking after children with disabilities. At the moment we have a teenager who has Quadriplegic Cerebral Palsy with learning difficulties, and two able-bodied teenagers. The reason we came into fostering was to look after children with disabilities, initially to offer respite to parents who needed a break.

Very soon we realized we wanted to foster full time and made this into our career. Fostering any child is much more than offering a roof over their head, a clean bed and food in their tummies. When you take any child into your family you are offering them unconditional love. This is even more relevant to a child who has either a learning disability or physical or both. These children are extremely vulnerable and may have experienced severe neglect and abuse prior to coming into care. But because of their disabilities they may not be able to verbalise what has happened to them in the past. As a foster carer we have to become a detective, trying to rationalise what each incident of challenging behaviour or isolation or verbal abuse is telling us.

Looking after disabled children is both rewarding and frustrating. Austerity has severely impacted the resources local authorities have to offer you and the child. You become dogmatic and persistent when trying to get the equipment, school place, respite or therapy you feel your foster child needs. At times we become unpopular and a pain in the proverbial when we are not satisfied that we are being taken seriously. To successfully foster a child with disabilities you need to have a good team around the child, particularly a local authority social worker, who equally has the child’s best interest at heart.

Fostering children with disabilities can be hard work both physically and emotionally but it is also very rewarding. Our young man came to us from residential care because there was nowhere else for him to go. Since living with us his speech and language has improved. He is more confident and he is able to contribute his opinions to our active family discussions. His health has improved and he has all of the equipment he needs. He is able to live as a member of a family which was not previously possible.

With everything our young man has gone through and what he has to deal with day in day out, he still wakes up every morning with a great big beaming smile. For this one thing alone makes it all worthwhile fostering children with disabilities.

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