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“My second ever foster child defied all expectations and changed my Christmases forever.”

Fostering over Christmas can make a world of difference to children in care and foster carers alike. Since Caroline’s first Christmas as a foster parent she has supported all kinds of children and young people over Christmas, and would urge others to do the same.

December 16 2021 - 5 min read

Fostering dropped on to Caroline’s radar at an exceptionally young age. Her father was an electrician, and throughout Caroline’s childhood he worked on the electrics at a children’s home. Caroline explains: “I can remember as clear as day my dad explaining to me that these children weren’t going back to their own homes. I was six or seven years old, and just didn’t understand it. So I asked my dad to bring all of the children home with us!”

Eight years ago, Caroline’s father sadly passed away. “It was then that I started thinking seriously about going into fostering, I wanted to do it in dad’s honour and to make him proud”, said Caroline. She continued: “On top of that, I had friends who fostered with FCA and they kept asking me why I hadn’t done it yet. So six years ago, I finally took the plunge.” Other than raising her own four children who are aged between 17 and 31, and now supporting her first grandchild, Caroline had no professional experience in working with children before she took up fostering

It was very early into Caroline’s fostering career that she took on her first respite child. Approval to start fostering came in November, and by Christmas, her second foster child had come to stay for the festive period.  Caroline started: “If I am being really honest, I was very reluctant about this youung person. He was 17, and I wasn’t sure if I was able to support teenagers. But I thought: ‘no, I have to do this’. He was supposed to be spending Christmas Day and Boxing Day with his dad and grandmother, but his dad was arrested and he could no longer visit his grandmother.”

The young man in Caroline’s care told her not to worry, and that he would be able to sleep on a friend’s sofa for the nights he was supposed to be away. “I told him absolutely not, in no world would he be going anywhere else for Christmas! So he stayed with me, and my family, which was lovely because two of my kids were of a similar age at the time”, said Caroline. “His mum had died when he was really young, and I learnt that he had never had a proper Christmas. He had never had Christmas dinner in his life. He had never had a Christmas tree put up at home. And when we gave him gifts in the morning, he cried”, Caroline recalls.

That first Christmas that Caroline and her family spent with a foster child made a lasting impression on her and her children, and they are all in agreement that it was the best Christmas they have ever had. They spent their day playing board games, eating Christmas dinner and just spending time together as a family. Caroline said: “That young man, who was my second ever foster placement defied all expectations, and changed my Christmases forever. Spending time with him for those two weeks, and especially Christmas Day, made my family and I realise what was important, it was a big reality check.”

Caroline describes the relationship she built with the young man as great, even though he only stayed with her for a few weeks. When he stayed in Caroline’s care, six years ago, the young man had a girlfriend. The girlfriend’s father didn’t approve of the relationship because he was a looked after child. Caroline said: “It’s amazing you know. He is still with the same girl from school, and now he has two children of his own. He brought them round recently and told me that he is going to give his children the same Christmas that he had when he spent that time with us. He regularly stays in touch and keeps me updated, and even brings me a card and chocolates on Mother’s Day. Saying yes that first Christmas honestly changed my life forever. I’ve gained a son, and there’s not a Christmas that goes by where I don’t hear from him and his family.” It changed my family and I so much. We talk about it every year and imagine him now with his children and think about the impact that Christmas had on him and us”, Caroline shared.

Caroline has lots of inspirational stories from fostering over Christmas, and has supported ‘cheeky little two year olds’, ‘mums and babies who needed extra support’ and ‘teenagers who are on the cusp of adulthood’. “I think that everyone should consider opening their homes up over Christmas.”

Whilst Caroline loves fostering over Christmas and seeing the difference it can make to foster children in her care, she shared one top tip: “As a foster parent you are opening your home up 365 days per year, more than that even! But Christmas is always regarded as family time. Whilst it’s important to make space where you can for children who need support, it’s just as important that your own family is okay with it. So at Christmas time I call my kids, and check with the ones who still live with me to make sure everyone is alright. You have to consider their opinions too.”

Throughout her fostering career, Caroline has learnt a lot. She loves fostering teenagers, although at the start she didn’t think that would be the case. “I would say that you definitely shouldn’t rule any age out. Anyone will take on a cute, little child, but teenagers really need your support. People think they don’t want drama, but they are brilliant and full of such personality. You are really sculpting their future lives at this point.” said Caroline.

Having done her fair share of long-term and respite fostering, Caroline thinks that all foster parents should start off with respite fostering. “There are lots of great things about respite placements” she said, “By taking on a few respite placements, you really get to grips with what it’s like to be a foster parent, and learn what type of placement may suit you a long-term basis. Plus you get to do lots of fun stuff, as you can be like a holiday destination for that child. And when you bring Christmas into the mix, it just fills respite placements with even more joy.”

Caroline loves her role as a foster parent, but says it is not without its difficulties. “You go through so many emotions when you do this job and it can also be hard when you meet your foster child’s relatives and you can start to see all of the reasons why that young person needs the support that they do. But that’s why we do what we do, to make that difference”, she said.

About being a foster parent, Caroline said: “I am going to carry on supporting these children for as long as I can. Without a doubt, these children make our lives better. The rewards are so small, but make such a difference. The little girl I have with me now, who will spend this Christmas with me, just told me she loves me for the first time. She knows I’m not her mum, but she knows I look after her like a mum.”

Caroline’s message to foster parents who are considering offering their home to a child or young person over Christmas is: “Don’t be put off. In my case, they have made my Christmas, and made my Christmases forever. I can see the difference that this special time of year makes to young people, and it is absolutely worth it.”

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