We had known about fostering for many years before we became carers. I have a distant cousin who fosters and I suppose it had always been in the back of my mind, but the time was not right. Nine years ago, my wife and I were very busy, running a Post Office and raising four children.
For various reasons, we had decided that we needed to make some big changes to our lives and one particular day, just as were talking about this, I picked up a copy of the Telegraph and Argus and on the front page was an appeal for people to become foster carers.
The timing seemed perfect for us. However, we knew that we would need our extended family and our children to support the decision and back us up.
The children were very keen, right from the beginning but our extended families were more cautious. The family were worried that our family would be disrupted by having children from difficult backgrounds living with us. All through the assessment and training, we kept talking to our families, educating them and telling them more about fostering. I am pleased to say we have won them over and they now enjoy helping out and see the foster children as part of our big extended family.
Fostering is mainly about liking being with children, having lots of time, and understanding that when children are difficult, it’s not their fault. They have these behaviours and attitudes because of how they have been treated in the past. Adults have been unkind to them and it is our job to be kind and calm and understanding so they can learn better ways of getting on with people.
Fostering requires other skills as well. You also need to be a diplomat, as you deal with lots of different people and you may not agree with them or like what they have done, but you have to be respectful and have a professional approach.
If you are a couple, you need to be good communicators and be consistent with the children.
It also helps to be team player. You also need to work closely with the whole team of people around the child.
We are fostering two children now, who have several brothers and sisters living with other foster carers. We think of those other carers as extended family and do all we can to help the children stay in touch. Before the virus lockdown, we used to meet up with our children’s brothers and sisters regularly, having them over for tea, giving them lifts to activities and having joint family barbecues.
It is hard for the children that that has stopped for now, but we still do what we can with video calls. Foster carers try hard to support one another and there is a good sense of community among Bradford carers.
I have done many jobs in my life and fostering is far and away the best job I have ever had. It is so rewarding and has brought many benefits to my family. My oldest daughter has sad that she will foster once she is married.
But it’s not always easy...
One child came to live with us from a children’s home as his social worker thought he was ready to move into a family, but he sadly just wasn’t ready and it was very disruptive and sad for everyone. He eventually moved to a specialist foster carer, which was the best result for him.
Another time, two children came to live with us who had been very badly neglected. They did not know how to eat properly, or shower, or brush their teeth or use the toilet. They were school age, but had not been going to school. Although they had their own beds, by morning they would always be in the same bed, curled up together. Those children did so well with us that each day there was something to celebrate. It was a hard task for all of the family, but they learned quickly and began to thrive. It was one of our proudest days as carers when the older child won the ‘Star of the Year’ award at his school. The children were from another part of the world and the social worker eventually found their grandparents, who wanted to care for them. It was a sad day when I took them to the airport, to send them back to their family. They were wonderful children and I hope they are doing well.
We have two children with us at the moment whose life was also very chaotic in the past. The older child is only 6, but she is used to being in charge and having to feed and change the baby. She did well to protect the baby when they were at home, but now she has to learn to be a little girl and let us do the caring and cooking and cleaning. I have never met children as tired and listless as these two were when they joined us. They slept most of the time, never smiled and had no shine in their eyes. They are very different now! They laugh and play and can be cheeky and really enjoy life. These children make me and my wife and our family so happy. It is absolute bliss to have them with us.
Fostering is the best job you can have, but it is so much more than a job, it involves every aspect of your life and can be exhausting and heart-breaking, so it’s not for everyone. But the rewards are like nothing else so we would encourage people to make that call and find out more. It might change your life for the better like it did for us.