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"My biggest regret is that we didn't do this earlier"

Meet Elaine and Stephen, foster parents from Northern Ireland. In 2020 they decided it was the perfect time to embark on their fostering journey. Here is their story...

January 15 2024 - 4 min read

Meet Elaine and Stephen, foster parents from Northern Ireland. They've been married for 35 years, with three grown-up children who now live independently. In 2020, they decided it was the perfect time to embark on their fostering journey.

Previously, Elaine dedicated herself to nursing while Stephen held the position as a Chief Executive at a company in Liverpool. Despite their interest in fostering and discussions about it, their demanding careers made it difficult to commit. They’d even consulted with their youngest, then 15 years old who expressed concerns about having another teenager join the household. Consequently, they felt it was sensible to delay fostering.

When Stephen semi-retired and Elaine retired from nursing, they saw an opportunity to pursue fostering. They felt it was the right moment to explore this long-held desire and decided to enquire further.

Elaine tells us “when we told our children they were all really supportive, in fact our youngest can't wait to foster too.   We had friends who fostered and that is how we found out about FCA and they recommended we speak to someone at FCA and find out more and that is exactly what we did”.

“Once we were approved the first child who came to us was a ten year old boy, we had a call from the referrals team to ask if we would consider giving him a home.  At our first meeting we took a Batman Lego kit and Stephen and the young boy sat at the coffee table and assembled the Lego.  That really helped him bond with Stephen and a week later he came to live with us”.

“In our two-year journey with him, we shared wonderful moments while watching him grow amid our collective efforts in addressing his anxieties and challenging behaviours. Transitioning him to residential care was a painful decision, deeply affecting us both. However, everyone involved agreed it was the best choice for his needs and well-being”.

“We then decided to provide only short break foster care, but we received another call from the referrals team regarding a three year old girl who needed a foster home.  We’d only had an older child previously so had to go and buy nappies and managed to get toys from an online market place and friends that were appropriate for a younger child”.

“Upon her arrival she brought only a toothbrush and a coat hanger which were her toys. Initially, she resisted any physical contact, preferring to observe from a distance, whenever we entered the living room she would move to the door, she was incredibly cautious. The toys we’d provided didn't interest her much; she'd carry them briefly but always reverted to her toothbrush and coat hanger. As time passed her curiosity grew and she started showing interest in the toys we offered, particularly those with noise or flashing lights and she began to enjoy them more”.

Speaking about the support from FCA Elaine says “they’ve given us a lot of support, we have had some difficult times but our supervising social worker has been there with advice, guidance, practical support - sending links to websites organisations, and the training we can access is excellent”.

Challenges to fostering

“I think that the challenges are to understand that behind a child’s behaviour there is a reason for it, it's an emotional response to something that they are overwhelmed with. If you have a child who cannot or will not articulate what is upsetting them or causing their behaviours, it's incredibly hard to handle and manage. Naturally, you want to assist and alleviate whatever is causing their anxiety, but when they shut down or experience a meltdown, they're unable to communicate the source of their distress. For instance, with our older foster child, we discovered various solutions and techniques to encourage him to open up and talk about his feelings. We would play Hangman and discovered that he was actually scared of clowns.  Managing to stay calm during the meltdown has definitely been something we were quite good at”.

Our best fostering moments

“Watching our first older foster child learn to swim and find immense joy in the swimming pool was wonderful. Taking him to swimming lessons was a real success.  Social situations posed a challenge for him, but when it came to swimming, something just clicked—he adored the water. A standout memory was celebrating his 10th birthday and arranging a party with his classmates. It was almost overwhelming for him, yet he embraced it so wholeheartedly that he didn't allow himself to get overwhelmed. His 11th birthday took place at a laser quest venue and he thoroughly enjoyed the day. The contrast between this party and previous ones was evident, showing just how much he had progressed, especially in his confidence”.

“With our current foster child, she joined us just a week before her third birthday. On her birthday we got her a cake and a Scuttlebug bike, but initially she didn't know how to use it. However, during the Summer there was a breakthrough she managed to make the bike move. We were overjoyed beyond words”.

“She started attending nursery and accomplished milestones, like shaping play-doh into a sausage. These seemingly small achievements were truly fantastic to witness. While grand events like birthday parties are wonderful witnessing a child's progress every week, every step, holds immense significance.  When she first arrived she would shield herself now she's made remarkable strides, comfortably climbing onto your knee, giggling. Recently she even came over hugged our legs. These moments are precious and speak volumes about her progress and growing comfort in our home. That's the most rewarding”.

Advice you would give to somebody thinking about fostering

“Ask lots of questions and make sure it's right for you, it can be very rewarding but it is a commitment and can be challenging it's not going to be all sweetness and light.  Fostering is a roller coaster at times”.

“Understanding that a child's meltdown isn't personal is crucial; often, it's their way of expressing feelings they can't convey otherwise. It's essential to be patient, have open discussions and allow them the time they need. Creating a happy environment, setting clear boundaries—these boundaries represent safety and love, something these children may have lacked previously. Being fully present in those moments with them is key”.

“If I could go back 20 years and finish nursing and do this I would, my biggest regret is that we didn't do this earlier”.

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