What nine years of fostering has given me
New Year has always been a time for me to set new goals, new beginnings and new challenges, even though every year was my promise to get fit and lose weight it still remains top of the list. But nine years ago, it was to become a foster carer with Foster Care Associates (FCA).
I had just been made redundant from a relatively good job, and at 49 years old, it provided me with an opportunity to review my priorities, options, values and my future. Having never had children but wanting a family, my husband and I discussed the idea of fostering. My sister-in-law was a foster carer, so we were aware of what it entailed and the process involved.
No matter how ready you feel, nothing can prepare you for what can be the most wonderful, rewarding and exciting career, as well as being the most heart wrenching, challenging and demanding journey. The truth is that at times, I have been in tears more times than the children we care for, whether this has been through sheer pride in their achievements and progress, or out of frustration with bureaucracy.
Why become a foster carer? My starting point has always been that it is not the fault of the child that they are in this position. Like us, all these children need love, security, and their self-esteem and self-belief nurturing. It can be quite a journey for all concerned and everyone’s situation and circumstances are different. For me, the core to being a foster carer with FCA is to know that you can turn a child’s life around by providing them with opportunities they wouldn’t have had otherwise. To see them thrive in your care is reward enough.
What you learn on your journey as a carer is however much people say you mustn’t get too attached to the children, the simple fact is that however hard you try you cannot help forming an emotional bond. When it’s time to say goodbye as they move on to pastures new, it’s hard. It doesn’t matter what age they are or how many times you do it. The most you can expect is the occasional call to tell you they are OK. But sometimes you never hear from them again and you are left wondering. Another thing I have found is the involvement with the family can be a strain both on yourself and the child. The let-downs, disappointments and belligerence can often take the patience of a saint. But you are there to support your child and hopefully find some compromise you can all work to.
You are the main advocate for the child and sometimes it feels like all you are doing is fighting their corner, whether it’s against the bureaucratic system, social workers and any other professional you come into contact with. You hear that a looked-after child should receive the highest priority for services but at times it feels like you are the only one battling against the system and its outcomes.
One thing about working with FCA is that you feel supported by the organisation and other foster carers, whether that’s in support groups, through the buddy system or through the relationships you form with other carers. It’s a special club and I’m proud to be part of it. We have all experienced the highs and the lows, and because your job can be so isolating you think you are the only one in the world these things happen to. You very quickly find out that isn’t the case, and often you learn new approaches or lessons. What once had you tearing your hair out, you can now laugh about.
In the nine years that we have been fostering for FCA, we have looked after about 12 children of all ages for long and short stays, respite and emergency care. We currently have a 17-year-old young man who has lived with us for eight years. He is autistic and has complex needs. We also have a six-year-old quadriplegic little lad with cerebral palsy and is blind. Both have been challenging in their own ways, and both have made great progress while staying with us. It amazes me how resilient these children are and how far they have come from the first day they walked through our door. I feel lucky and blessed. In truth, I have probably learnt more from them than they have from us!
My advice is to go in to fostering with an open mind, a loving heart, plenty of energy and a streak of resilience. You are in good hands with FCA and they will support you all the way.
What new beginnings will 2018 bring for us? We have decided to adopt our six-year-old boy and we are commencing the adoption process as I write. Our 17-year-old has said that he didn’t want to be adopted as there were enough problems with his family as it is. He will be moving into adult services this year and no doubt that will bring its own rewards and challenges. But I have no doubt he will succeed and while his plans are not to flee the nest for a while, the day will come and I will find it very hard to see him go.
Needless to say, I still have losing weight and getting fit as a goal for 2018 but I have promised to be kinder to myself. So instead of my all-or-nothing approach, I am going to take it one step at a time. It made me laugh when I heard Tom Kerridge TV Chef say that it’s no surprise that the first three letters in diet spell DIE. Wish me luck, and here’s to an exciting year ahead for all of us.