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Stopping history from repeating itself: Why I became a foster carer

Posted by Heather from the Isle of Wight on 29th, October, 2015
Relevant tags: #fostercarerstories #mentalhealth #south #teenagers

I’ve often been asked why I chose to become a foster carer, and if I’m honest, the answer isn’t an easy one. There are many reasons… and I’ll try to explain some of those reasons here.

My younger brother was a very emotionally damaged young man, with suspected mental health and definite drug problems. Shortly after his 18th birthday he hanged himself whilst on remand waiting to be sentenced for mugging someone at a cash point machine. I was 20 and very newly pregnant with my first daughter. This was one of the biggest heartbreaks I ever experienced. My brother, James, was revived after being dead for too long, and then spent the next 15 years of his life purely existing, as a tetraplegic with a tracheotomy to breathe, a feeding tube into his stomach to provide his body with the nutrients it needed to exist, and no voice with which to communicate.

James and I were incredibly close. Yes we argued like any other brother and sister, but when push came to shove we always had each others’ backs. At times it felt as though it was him and me against the world. Our childhood had not been a happy one.

What happened with my little brother started me thinking. My purpose in life soon became that I needed to find a way to help myself recover from losing my beloved brother by trying to preventing another young person from killing themself.

When my beautiful daughter started school my mission began. I did some research and started working as a voluntary youth worker at a drop-in centre. The centre was open for young people aged 14-25. It provided very cheap meals and advice on almost any issues that might be affecting the young people who used the centre… if we didn’t know the answers we would do all we could to find them.

I developed some very good working relationships with many of the young people, and some would seek me out on my shifts. I found that playing pool with some of the young people made it easier for them to talk about things that were affecting them… as the focus would be on my terrible playing, and it was very different to a typical therapeutic situation.

I will never forget Christmas Eve at the centre. It is etched on my mind forever. A young man who I had been supporting for many months (the running pool score was 94-2 – I was very proud of even winning two games!) came into the centre. He was absolutely distraught. He was facing Christmas alone and started talking about committing suicide by hanging himself. This obviously struck a chord for me. We spent a lot of time together at the centre that Christmas Eve; my attention was focused on him, and trying to find a way of keeping him emotionally safe over Christmas. Every single piece of me just wanted to take him home and keep him safe, but I knew this was not an option. By the time the centre closed that evening the young man promised me that he would not kill himself and that I would see him at the first session after Christmas.  He kept to his word. He was waiting at the door when we opened after Christmas. He grinned at me and said “I promised you’d see me again. Here I am”. He is now married with his own family. I felt that I had in some way helped him, by being in the right place at the right time.

I soon secured some paid youth work in another project and met a whole new group of young people, each with their own issues. My new role was to offer emotional support to young people, whilst working within very strict guidelines and boundaries. One of these young people was a young man of 14. He was very cheeky, but behind the mischief I could sense that there was a huge amount of sadness. I was able to encourage the young man, over many months, to talk about what was going on for him. His story was so sad. His mother and grandmother were abusive towards him. He sometimes seemed to be a lost little soul. He became another young person that I just wanted to do everything I could to help.

It was around this time that I was given an interim care order to have a friend’s little girl live with me for a few weeks until her dad was in a position to care for her full time. This was my first experience of having someone else’s child live with me, and I really enjoyed having her to stay.

My work experience soon lead to me becoming a full time youth worker, and within a year I was running a health project for young people. During my time there I became involved in evolving many projects for young people which included an already established and very successful sexual health project, a project to support LGBT young people,  a peer educators project, and my favourite… a mental health support project for young people. I found the mental health support project  the most rewarding, and I was given the opportunity at one point to work with up to 12 young people a week on a one to one basis, offering them my listening ears.

I soon learnt that so many young people lacked a person to just listen to them, and the opportunity to talk about what was going on for them in a safe environment, without any judgement being passed on them.  It was here I really learnt about child protection, and where I got a huge insight into children being taken into the care system. I became involved in supporting young people if disclosures were made by them, and began working closely with social workers. I thrived in this role, and found it the most rewarding part of my job. I got a great deal of satisfaction from being able to help  young people in crisis. I had realised by now that I had a natural and easy connection with young people,  and the belief in myself to know that I would be able to face the challenges and support young people within my own home. The seed that had been planted right back on that Christmas Eve when I wanted to take that young man home and keep him safe was beginning to blossom.

I met and married, and became pregnant with my second daughter. While I was on maternity leave I was offered voluntary redundancy which, although I loved my job, I snapped up. This was the final piece of the puzzle and gave me the opportunity I needed to be able to begin my journey into fostering. This would be give me the opportunity to be at home with my new daughter, while giving another child a safe home in a caring environment, with someone who possessed many skills to enable a young person to blossom.

When my youngest daughter reached two years old I did a lot of research into different agencies, and apart from being one of the few agencies that would consider taking on anyone to become a carer with their own children of such a young age, there was something about FCA that drew me to them. I picked up the phone and rang the recruitment line and very quickly we were in the midst of the assessment process. I have found FCA staff to be incredibly supportive, and feel lucky to have met so many like minded people as I’ve made my way into the FCA fostering family. My fostering family will be written about in my next FCA blog.

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