Our family life was initially just me, Michael and our two children. Then when our children were quite young, we doubled our family size overnight when we began to foster two sisters.
Emma and Fiona were just 6 and 7 when they joined our family and Phase two of our family began. They stayed with us throughout their childhoods and are still very much part of our clan, even though they are adults and live with their own partners now.
Then we realised, as the four children began to grow up and lead their own lives, we just weren't ready to stop being hands-on parents. So we converted our loft to give us more bedrooms and started again fostering young children.
We are now on Phase three of our family story, with three children aged between 9 and 17 living with us. All three are very well settled and will stay with us until they are adults and ready to move into their own homes as adults.
Our girls were 9 and 10 when we began to foster. Right from the beginning, it was important to include them in the decisions and keep checking that they were happy about what we were doing. I remember one evening, we had been out as a family and on our way home, we parked the car in front of a random house and asked our daughters to imagine they would have to move in with the family who lived there. We asked them to think about what it would be like to walk up the path and wait to be let in? What would their hopes and fears be about how that family would treat them? And what if that family also had children? How would they want those children to be with them? Doing things like that helped our children to understand what it might be like for foster children coming to live with us.
You can’t overestimate the impact fostering will have on your children. Ours adapted really well and although they think of our foster children as brothers and sisters, there have been times when it has been difficult.
Emma and Fiona were younger than our two and would go to bed earlier and so we always had the chance to check in with the older two at the end of each day. It is such a big thing for children to share not only their mum and dad, but their grandparents, aunts, uncles and family friends. You also lose your privacy to some extent because you have social workers and other people coming and going from the house.
When we started fostering, Michael and I were both working. We did shifts and thought we could manage the children around this. It didn’t work out like that though. Fostering takes up a lot of time! When children have been through a great deal in their lives, they need time and patience to learn to feel comfortable with their new family. If children have missed out on a lot, you have to plan activities which they will enjoy, to help then catch up. It is quite common for children to be behind at school when they first come into care, so they might need extra help from you with reading and homework.
All the children we have looked after have had brothers and sisters who live with other families, so we arrange to spend time with them. When children are in care, their social worker visits them at least once a month and two or three times year and everyone who is involved with the care of the child gets together regularly to review how they are doing. With three children, that is a lot of visits and meetings. And as I have already said, you need to make sure you can spend time with your own children too. Michael gave up work to be a full time dad and then later, when we had children at three different schools, I gave up my job too. It made life so much easier when we were both at home full time.
I tend to take the view that whatever challenges or difficulties we face as foster carers, someone else will have had that happen too. Foster carers are a great support to one another and when you first start, it’s good to do everything you can to get to meet other carers and learn from them. I love YouTube too; there are lots of talks and videos on there about different things to do with fostering and I have found a couple of people that I have learned lots from. It helps if you can see any issues that arise as challenges needing a solution, rather than setbacks or upsets. Our problem-solving approach has helped with many bumps in the road over the years.
All children are unique, but often children who are fostered struggle with anxiety or anger and can find friendships difficult. An incredibly important part of a foster carer's role is to be able to put the work in to build children’s self-esteem. Our younger three children all have some degree of special needs. We have good relationships with their school and daily contact with one teacher or another. It is certainly never dull being a foster carer.
Who could have imagined that first day we walked in to the meeting to find out about fostering that one day my husband would walk Emma down the aisle at her wedding, with our daughters as bridesmaids, but that is what happened. And Emma and Fiona have blessed us with three grandchildren – all the love, smiles and laughter we have got from fostering has more than made up for any bad days.
or phone 01274 434444