Sheila has been fostering for over 40 years, beginning in 1978, with the support of her husband, family and friends.
Sheila explains it was by chance that she considered fostering back in the 70’s: “My sister and brother-in-law were doing it, and I spent a lot of time at their house and that’s when I believed I could probably do it as well. I hadn't considered it before, and I’m not even sure how much I was aware of it, but that was how this all started, and now it’s just a way of life for me!”
Sheila has two birth children and one adopted daughter, Aged, 51, 49 and 41. Sheila explains she also has a foster daughter who is now 31, who has been with Sheila since she was seven years old. Sheila said: “We’re all one big family! I love everything about it. I’m also a grandmother to my foster daughter’s children, which is very special too”.
However, for the last six years, Sheila has specialised in mother and baby foster placements, which are a specialist type of fostering where typically, a young or inexperienced parent, usually a mother and baby, comes to stay with a foster parent for a few months.
The placement allows the mother to receive some extra help and advice until they can safely care for their baby on their own.
Foster parents like Sheila who specialise in these placements also have to provide a detailed picture of the parents ability to care for their child/children and they do this through observations, interactions and recordings.
She explains: “Mother and baby foster placements weren’t really a thing many years ago, but it’s a very rewarding career and something I really enjoy doing. It’s really beneficial for these mums to be working on one with someone who can help and support them with parenting. Most of the mums that I’ve had have been able to leave me and go home happy with their babies. I also focus on supporting them with their mental health and everything that comes with being a new mum”.
“There are so many advantages of specialising in mother and baby placements. Seeing how a mum can progress with that child and seeing how the baby develops is so positive and lovely to be part of. The current placement that I have has developed so well. No one thought for one minute in the beginning that she would be able to keep this baby, but a year on, she's doing so well and it’s looking very much as though she is keeping the baby”.
One placement stands out for Sheila over the 40 years of foster care she has provided, as she reveals: “I once had a Sudanese mother and baby placements with me. She was with me because they believed the baby was at risk of female genital mutilation (FGM). FGM is illegal in Sudan it still happen there and in this country illegally along with forced marriage. It was an interesting experience for us all and we supported the mother as best we could. No one had really dealt with many FGM risk cases at the time so it was new to us all.”
Sheila believes it is the support she receives from FCA that has made all the difference to her fostering journey: “My FCA supporting social worker is a huge help and a great part of our support system as foster parents. If I need anything I can always speak to her. Working with FCA, I really get the right amount of support I need. It’s a really rewarding career and I am so pleased to be a part of it with FCA.
“My eldest daughter is also the therapeutic lead and senior care worker at a children's home, so it is nice to have someone around who may understand what I’m experiencing.
Fostering is now a way of life for Sheila, as she explains: “Fostering has made a huge difference to family life for us. It’s been something that's helped my children to view life differently and see how some people in this world live. It’s helped them to understand where people come from and widened their view on society. They’re all really good with my placements and they know when they can get involved and help me, and when to not. They’re very aware of safe caring and it’s all been a huge learning experience for our family”.
However, fostering is not always plain sailing: “I suppose, for us, we have experienced difficult behaviours with children in the past. Mainly now, I work with adult mums, which can sometimes be challenging because they have an outside life other than being with me, and it’s sometimes difficult for them as nobody chooses to have to come into a mother and baby placement.
“They come here and have to live by my house rules, although I don’t have many. They’re aware that they’re being recorded on their development and being judged which can be quite challenging for them at times. It’s working with people to understand the sense of what I do, why they're here and the benefits in the long term, if they can see it through”
Sheila still has strong relationships with some of the children she used to foster, as she explains: “Many of the children are now adults and still come and visit me often. Two young men who still visit me now were part of a sibling group from another country. The most significant event for me was getting them British citizenship back when they were with me. One of them is now a student and the other is working for amazon and they’re both doing so well for themselves. It’s so special for me to see, whilst still being a part of their lives”.
For anyone considering specialising in mother and baby foster care, Sheila has the following piece of advice: “Definitely consider it! Listen to the advice of other people who have done this before, and of course the advice from your supervising social worker. The training is also great. If you decide to go ahead with it, I’m sure you’ll find it very rewarding. Be prepared, as your life will change because there is a lot of commitment involved, but it’s so worth it.”
“It is amazing to see what wonderful children they have grown to become.”
March 15 2022
Christie, a Derbyshire local, has been fostering for the past three years and sat down to share her experience and advice for future foster parents.
“It’s not all about making them happy and giving them nice things, it’s about being a comforting presence and being kind. Sometimes they just need to know you are there.”
April 2 2022
Single foster parent, Marlene, based in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, has worked with children with autism, shares her incredible fostering journey so far.