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20 years of fostering, Helen and Ken’s story so far

Helen and Ken from FCA South East share their fostering story so far as they look back over the past 20 years.

October 6 2020 - 5 min read

If you were asked what you were doing on Wednesday 15th November 2000, many would say “I can’t remember that far back!” However, if we asked you how you felt or what you remember about the day you went to panel, you would most probably know every tiny detail down to what you were wearing.

Well, for the Warren family, we remember everything about that date, as that is the day we sat nervously waiting outside a door, wondering what lay ahead of us, what questions we were going to be asked by a panel of strangers, would our own sons accept any new children and most importantly would we make good foster parents.
If we are totally honest, we don’t know what was more nerve wracking; going to panel and waiting for their response, and finally hearing “yes we are pleased to say you are foster parents!” or on December 1st 2000 when we said yes to our first foster placement.

What we can say, is that almost 20 years later, getting to know five new offices and seven supervising social workers, we are still fostering in the South East with FCA and we have had the most amazing journey of our lives; full of ups and downs, tears (both happy and sad), moments of despair, magical moments that take your breath away and had the privilege of meeting and caring for 46 amazing babies, children, young persons and adults, all of whom have needed a stable, caring environment to be able to thrive.  We initially did respite for eight weeks, mainly to enable us to see how our own sons coped as they were only little, aged almost three and almost six years of age. However, we very quickly realised that we wanted to foster full time and shortly afterwards took on our first parent and child placement. In total, we have cared for 14 parent and child placements, one of which was a brief father and child placement who went on to keep his child.

Each child we have cared for, have had their own stories to tell, stories at times of despair, lack of love and attention, abuse and a feeling of not being wanted or listened to. However, with time, patience, a sense of humour (which is a must in the caring profession!!), routine and boundaries and achievable goal setting, most children will start to feel safe and secure again and start to turn their lives around. Throughout the whole of our fostering lives, we have found the hardest part about it is when we have to let go and say goodbye. Several children and young people stick in our minds and Christmas 2015 was one of those times. Whilst sorting through our youngest son’s baby photos ready for his 18th birthday, his partner commented that he thought he knew the “lady in the photo”. Initially, we felt this wasn’t possible as she was our second parent and child placement, however, it quickly became apparent that he did know her and that she was friends with his family. What a small world!! Although nervous about contacting her, we agreed it would be good to see how she was and through the power of social media we “spoke” again. T (the mum), explained that she now had three more beautiful children (three previous children were in care and the fourth was adopted) and was happily married. However, for us the most magical thing was what she said next; “Had you not given me the strength to carry on and believed in me, then I wouldn’t be where I am today. I remember every tiny bit of Christmas that year, the gifts you gave me (a mobile phone) and all the gifts you gave my son. I know I didn’t get to keep him, but we have letterbox contact once a year and he’s doing well. My life changed for the better and it was being in your foster care that made me realise I needed to change. Thank you!” As you can probably imagine, I was blubbing at this point, knowing that the small but significant time we cared for them both had made such a difference.

Equally, we had the pleasure of caring for two amazing and wonderful young children for three and half years from January 2011 until August 2014. They finally went on to find their own forever family, but the memories of all the time we cared for them remain with us all the time. Shortly after we started to care for J, we had a call from her school, and as any foster carer knows, a school phone call can mean anything! However, the headteacher rang to say that on that particular day she was sat in her office when she could hear a child singing, but not a child she recognised by voice alone. On looking out of her office door she saw a happy four-year-old skipping down the corridor, singing and smiling without a care in the world; yet six months previous she was a quiet child who never spoke, someone who hid during school performances and someone who certainly never skipped! All things we took for granted with our own children, but something hugely significant in this little girl’s life. Through the support our whole family gave her and the input our own sons gave, she slowly started to become a confident, happy child who loved to dance, something which our own son had taught her to do and continued to encourage through dance classes. After only 18 months of being in our care she had grown so much in confidence that she felt able to perform in her first dance show in a local theatre, dancing in front of over 300 people. An amazing achievement!

We have been extremely privileged to have been able to stay in touch with these two children and their adoptive parents have been amazing. In June 2019, aged 12 and 8, the children were bridesmaids and page boy at our eldest son’s wedding.

Likewise, our longest placement of five and a half years, was the usher and is someone who we still see regularly and who has become part of our extended family. He too has made us feel so proud at what he has achieved, from being a young person who was always in trouble, to an amazing young man who has recently become “young entrepreneur of the year” and allowed me to be his guest at his award ceremony.

Recently, we have had the pleasure of caring for another amazing parent, baby and toddler. At the beginning of their time with us, R aged two only knew one word, spending a lot of his time frustrated and pointing at what he wanted. Today, aged two years five months and having lived with us for five months, he can say 76 words and is beginning to put two words together, helping him communicate and become less frustrated. Again, another proud moment and an amazing achievement for him!

All the children and parent/child placements hold special stories for us all in different ways. Stories where at times we have wanted to give up but realised we needed to keep going, which in turn have shown the young people in our care the importance of persistence and taking “the rough with the smooth”. There have been times when we have laughed so much that to this day it still makes us giggle and smile, times when we felt elated at watching the child or young person achieve something they felt they would never do…the memories are not only priceless but endless!
Of course, all of the knowledge we have gained to enable us to help these young people has come from not only being a mum and dad to our own children, but from our life experiences and the comprehensive training package that we have accessed throughout fostering with FCA, both face to face training and online. Our experience has been further enhanced with the help of the young people, teaching us what it is like “in their shoes” and as they put it, “like us kids in care”.

Over the past 20 years, we have definitely fostered as a family, each one of us bringing different skills and abilities to each and every young person in our care. As part of this journey, our youngest son was awarded the Foster Talk Young person foster carer award in 2016. An immensely proud moment for any parent to watch, but also a measure of the positive impact fostering has had on all our lives. And although our own sons have grown up and moved out, one having just finished his dance degree at university and the other having got married, they are still very much part of the fostering role.

As with any career, no one can predict what will happen in the future, which has become even more apparent in recent months with the Corona Virus and being in lockdown. However, for now, we continue to enjoy fostering and the new challenges, experiences and joys that each and every day brings and will hopefully continue to bring.

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