Our advice if you’re thinking of fostering a child this Foster Care Fortnight
Posted by Davette from Belfast on 9th, May, 2016
Before becoming foster carers we were both working. My partner Sam was self-employed and I was working in my local community with many disadvantaged families and at times supporting mothers whose children had been taken into care or put on the ‘At Risk’ register. I remember thinking, “I would love to be able to care for the children until their family circumstances improved.”
In 2010 the funding for my post was not renewed so I was looking for part-time work. Around that time, there were always advertisements in our local paper for foster carers and I had mentioned it to my daughter who was then 25 years old. She said, “Mum, just do it, you’ve talked about it for years. Make the phone call.” Our three youngest were all in secondary school and my oldest son and my daughter were living independently, so we had two spare bedrooms.
We had talked about fostering as a family many times. I had two children from a previous relationship and Sam and I had three children together. We decided to wait until our children could understand the procedure and our reasons for wanting to foster and also so that they could be part of the decision making process. Fostering isn’t a job that just you and your partner share; everyone that lives in your home is going to be affected, so it really has to be a family decision.
We chose to foster through FCA because of the amount of support and training that was offered, and because it felt that we would be part of a team and not just left to get on with it when a child was placed in our care. Our families were very supportive of our decision, but some of our friends thought we were crazy and couldn’t understand why we wanted to have strangers living in our home.
People are usually very surprised when they find out that we have foster children, especially now that we have three foster children and three of our own children still at home. Other comments include, “You must have the patience of a saint”. Or, “That’s really great that you can do that”. But I don’t think anyone has ever responded negatively.
Some of the challenges of fostering can depend totally on the child or children placed with your family. Sam and I have learned that each child has to be ‘parented’ differently, and what works with one child will not necessarily work for another. Some children come from households where there have been no rules or boundaries in place, and it can be hard for them getting used to routines and schedules and understanding what behavior is acceptable or unacceptable in our home. But these rules and boundaries are the very things that make children feel safe and secure.
The support we receive from FCA has enabled us to work through every challenge that we have faced over the past five years including the assessment process. We have never felt alone. There is also support from an Education Officer to help with placing children in schools closer to our home and addressing any additional educational needs the child may have.
FCA also offers therapeutic services, team parenting meetings and resource workers to take a child out for a few hours, all of which we have used at some stage. We feel very confident that we are part of a professional organisation and successful long term placements are due to the effort of a whole team that includes us.
Fostering children is very different to bringing up your own children because children in care usually have a very different experience compared to children who live in a safe, secure, family unit. Their outlook on life is different as are their perceptions and expectations and this can take a while to understand.
We feel that our own children have benefitted from the experience too because they get to appreciate how fortunate they have been. They have also been very helpful in making connections with the boys placed with us and they look out for the younger ones we have at the moment, often helping with homework while we prepare the dinner.
Fostering is hard work but it is very satisfying and rewarding. I guess we started it a bit later than we originally planned but the time has to be right and everyone has to be prepared to make little sacrifices. It has been challenging. We have built resilience, become more understanding and reflective of our working practices, we nurture, we mentor, we advocate; we have become professionals and we love doing what we do!
If we were to advise new carers, we would tell them not to have high expectations. Don’t think that you will be able to ‘fix’ a child that is placed with you. These children are not ‘broken’. They have just had different experiences than most of us and that means they think and behave in a different way. Each child is an individual so you need to work out what makes them tick AND what makes them kick off. You need to be in tune with them and if you get it right, the ‘music’ will be sweet.
The very fact that you are thinking about fostering means you are a giving person, a caring person and an understanding person. Take it a step further. Ask all the questions that have been niggling at you, get all the information you can. Then, imagine opening a door to meet your first foster child in your own home. Are you nervous? Are you afraid? Now imagine how that child is feeling!