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“He isn’t the same as when he arrived with me. He has transformed.”

Cathy Richards from Anglesey digs deep as she talks about her first 16 months as a foster parent.

November 24 2021 - 5 min read

Deciding to become a foster parent wasn’t a difficult choice for Cathy, it was just something that had to go on hold for a while as life got in the way. Cathy looked into fostering for the first time just over 23 years ago. This wasn’t originally a solo mission, but as Cathy’s last husband’s health deteriorated, they knew that fostering would have to wait for another day.

Over the years, fostering continued to be a point of conversation. ‘Could we do it?’, ‘Will it be alright?’, ‘Could we cope?’. But Cathy’s husband was never well enough to embark on this journey. In the final few weeks of his life, together, they had a serious conversation about Cathy pursuing fostering on her own. She said: “I had always wanted to do it, and I always knew that I would do it. My husband and I both felt so strongly about it, but the time had never been right for us to do it together. When it came to our final weeks together, we decided that as soon as the time was right for me, I was going to go for it.”

It came as no surprise to Cathy’s friends and family that she pursued fostering. Before this, Cathy enjoyed a career as a teaching assistant for more than 20 years where she closely supported students to get the most out of their school life. She said: “There are actually quite a few similarities between fostering and working in a school. Working with children who needed extra support or had different learning styles has given me great skills to transfer into fostering.

“Lots of the support you give to a child is like shepherding; helping, supporting and guiding all comes part and parcel of what you do to help. Working with children for over 20 years, as well as having my own child really assured me that fostering was the right choice.”

Cathy passed the panel process in July 2020, and has been fostering ever since. But it wasn’t the journey she was anticipating. Within days of her passing, she was contacted by FCA about a young person who needed a foster parent, but it was only a respite placement. Cathy said: “It was quite a whirlwind, within days I was being asked to take on a respite placement which of course I agreed to instantly. He came to stay with me for seven days, and we had a really good time together, and I felt like we’d really gelled. He left me on a Friday. The same day, I got a phone call asking me if he could come back on a short-term basis. By the following Monday, he was back with me and has stayed here ever since.”

Cathy explained that the impact of having him come to stay, seeing the help and support he needed and the connection they had as two people was enough to change her status from short-term to full-term. She said about the decision: “I just thought, if it’s not broken, why fix it? We get on so well and have a really authentic relationship. Even the social workers comment on how we bounce off of each other and have similar senses of humour. He has done so much for me, he has given me another family since my own daughter has grown up and the loss of my husband. He has given me purpose, and I have given him safety.”

There are ups and downs when a new foster child comes to stay in your home. But Cathy explained the positives and improvements far outweigh the difficulties. “For the first three months I didn’t hear him laugh. He didn’t talk much. It was difficult for me, and I found myself worrying about how he was doing. By giving him support, encouragement and attention - and in particular helping him learn how to deal with his emotions, he isn’t the same as when he arrived with me, he has transformed. He is now happy and enthusiastic, a huge change.” Cathy said.

“The progression and development never stops, and this is one of the most rewarding parts of this process. The last three months in particular have shown significant changes and progress. We are able to better manage behaviour and any outbursts, but more than that I am watching him flourish and mature. I hear him laugh every day. Together we are working on communicative tactics and methods, to help him as much as possible, and the progress has just been incredible.

“Perhaps the most moving part of our journey together so far was when, mid-conversation, he turned and said to me: ‘I think I’ve been sad for about half of my life, and happy for the other half.’ I asked him when the sad part was, and when the happy part was, and his response was that the happy half of his life started when he came to live with me.’ To know that that’s the difference you can make to someone’s life is just unbelievable.”

Cathy explained that the personal development you witness as a foster parent is like nothing else. But still, fostering isn’t without its difficulties and there is definitely a learning curve. Cathy said: “The behavioural issues you have to deal with as a foster parent can be complex. Having to learn and understand why a child acts in a certain way, looking into the reasons behind behaviours and reactions are crucial to overcoming these difficulties. Triggers could bring on unpleasant memories or a difficult reaction, so learning to navigate this was hard work. But when you start to see the improvements, it is so worth it.”

For Cathy, the entire fostering process, from her initial application to having her first placement, all took place during lockdown. A daunting prospect for some, Cathy explained: “Everything was done virtually. Despite lockdown, it was a really good process. Because I was at home with not much else to do I managed to get through the work quite quickly.

“Although the process itself is easy, my advice to someone going through the process is never expect it to be easy. It might seem frustrating, but you expect that. Your whole life is looked at to make sure you are the right person for the job.”

Throughout the process Cathy said that she ‘never felt alone’ and that ‘the FCA fully supported her.’ “Every question I had from start to finish was answered well. I felt entirely supported throughout the entire journey and continue to feel supported now. On top of that, the way that they match you up with your child is just incredible.”

On top of being supported by the FCA, Cathy has also had ample support from family and friends. She said: “My sister, daughter and best friend have all been incredibly supportive throughout this process. They spoil him rotten, send him letters and have welcomed him with open arms.

“We also have support from one of the students I used to support when I was a TA. Ben, who is now in his adult life, visits us at the weekend and has almost taken on the role of big brother! They play football together, chat and just hang out. It’s so lovely for them to have each other, and for my young man to have another role model to help him navigate life.”

Cathy describes fostering as ‘hard and challenging, but so worthwhile’. She said: “If you have a spare bedroom and you’ve thought about it, do more. Don’t stop there. Look into it. The difference that fostering can make to your life, and to the life of your foster child(ren) is second-to-none. Don’t be scared of the paperwork, and don’t be scared of the hurdles. They are there to protect the child and to protect you too. You will be given all the tools that you need to do this well, and you’ll then be able to turn someone’s entire world around, and that is truly a gift.”

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24/7 local support, excellent ongoing training and competitive allowances are just a few of the reasons why you should choose FCA for your fostering journey.

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