Alan and Nikki
Alan and Nikki have been fostering for five years. They live in Chester and have previously worked in education and social care.
We felt we were at a point in life where we had the love, time and experience to offer children in care a happy home. After considering how it might affect our family, and with our own children supporting us, we decided to find out more about becoming foster carers.
We had both thought of fostering before, but never looked into it in any more depth. We had both worked with children in Education and in Social Care and had an interest in working with children with emotional/ behavioural difficulties.
You don’t need lots of experience or qualifications to foster, but you do need to be understanding and patient. Our children in care are often very complex and need patience and consistency to help them thrive. We decided we had the right qualities and the rest we have learnt ‘on the job’!
Over the five years we have been fostering we have had four placement children living with us, lasting from four months to two years (as we were short term carers). Three of the children were under 10 years of age and one was a teenager. We are now long term carers to a six year old child with special needs.
Alongside our placement child, we have done a lot of day care, supporting other foster and kinship placements and provided respite and emergency fostering. In total we have had 15 children coming to us for varying lengths of time, from babies to teenagers.
Initially we fostered for an agency, but moved to Cheshire West and Chester Council within the first year. We had found fostering for an agency wasn’t what we had hoped. There was a lack of suitable placements offered and children placed with us were usually schooled further away in other authorities so we spent a lot of time each day travelling. Also, unlike fostering for the Council, we had no local network of carers, support groups or easily accessible training. We felt detached and ‘out on a limb’.
Since fostering for the Council we have regular support groups and we now have a network of local fostering friends. Our supervising social worker is there for advice, guidance and emotional support. There are great holiday activities for fostering families, for the children who we look after and also for our birth children. There is a lot of choice of training and it’s always interesting and accessible.
There are lots of rewards with fostering, the biggest and most obvious being able to help a child realise their potential for happiness. It is an amazing feeling to see a child develop self-confidence and self-acceptance.
Fostering is often hard work, but there is a lot of fun involved too. Little things like walking the dog, playing in water, sharing a storybook, playing hide and seek can be really significant to a child who hasn’t experienced these things before, so every day has its highlights.
Our little boy never ceases to amaze us with the progress he makes. It feels good to know we have helped him by providing a supportive and stable life for him and showing him we think he is gorgeous.
Alan and Nikki have previously spoken of their experience at recruitment events and are mentors to new foster carers.
For those people considering fostering we would urge you to look into it now, don’t put it off! Request to speak with a social worker and foster carer, and then ask all those initial questions you are bound to have which might be holding you back. Like us, you might end up wishing you had done it years ago.
It isn’t qualifications or experience that you need to be a good carer. It is having the time to give to a child and an understanding and caring approach. A sense of fun is a must too. Ultimately, what makes the biggest difference for these children is the safety and stability they feel just by being part of your family life. You will never do anything more rewarding.
We have met some carers as they were going through the assessment and preapproval stage and provided a mentoring role, providing information about what lay ahead. For others who had already begun placements, we were there to offer emotional support, sometimes practical suggestions on behaviour management or other aspects of being a carer. In each case we have ended up becoming firm friends.
Sometimes it’s just about being available if the other person needs to offload. Fostering can be tough and you need someone to lean on to get through the difficult periods. Through mentoring we have now made a close group of likeminded friends. We often meet up for walks, days out or at each other’s homes.
Alan and Nikki have kindly helped with some radio adverts on Dee 106.3 to promote our fostering service. Listen to the audio clips to hear them sharing their experience of fostering with us.
Ann is over 60, single and has been fostering for over 15 years. She is currently looking after two teenagers, as well as providing day care to a teenage mother and baby.
I came to fostering because a friend told me she thought I’d be good at it. I wanted to do something worthwhile.
People are often surprised that I foster teenagers – they wonder how I cope. It’s true you do sometimes have to deal with difficult behaviour, but you just have to be patient and remember that it’s their past experiences that make them behave that way, not because they’re somehow bad people. I enjoy caring for teenagers because they keep me on my toes, they keep me young! I lived through the teenage years of my own children so that helps me to understand what makes them tick. You definitely need to be patient and a sympathetic listener to be a good foster carer.
If you are thinking about fostering, I’d say do it! It’s very enjoyable. You do have to be prepared to take on young people with problems but helping them work through these issues can be really rewarding. It makes me really proud when the young person is ready to move on and make their own way in the world. It’s wonderful when you watch a shy, timid person blossom into an adult ready to make a go of their own life.
Doug and Janette
Doug and his partner Janette live in the Wirral and have three adult children. Doug worked in the IT industry for over 30 years which took him and his family across Europe and the Middle East. They have been fostering for four years and have, in that time, fostered around 11 young people for a variety of short term and long term placements.
We had thought about fostering for some time – we felt that we’d been privileged to have had a happy family life and that as our own children were becoming more independent we still had a lot to give. Then when I was made redundant it was time to make some lifestyle changes. We decided to do something that would be more fulfilling for us and also make a positive difference to other people’s lives. So, after discussing it with our children, we decided to foster.
We wanted to help those young people who are often the most difficult to find foster families for, namely teenagers. We do not want to be anybody’s mum and dad. We want to provide a safe, caring, stable environment for teenagers to build their confidence and self esteem. We want to help them achieve everything they possibly can and believe everything is possible. We want to give them hope for the future and prove to them that life can be good. We want to help them build a solid work ethic and an appreciation of the value of education in their life.
We have managed some pretty challenging behaviour such as verbal abuse, self harm, serious medical issues, hygiene, schooling, diet and distress at being separated from their birth families. Nothing can really prepare you for having a foster child. You can do all the theory and training on offer, but it’s different when there is a person, a stranger sitting opposite you, with their own needs and difficulties. You’re involved with their schools, the police, social services reviews and meetings, medical specialists, GPs and dentists. Your life changes. Your social life as well as your family life. Barely a day passes when you aren’t discussing the foster child with each other. It is 24/7 care, and you are conscious of the legal responsibilities you have accepted.
But the positive side is quite simple. It’s when you feel that you have made a positive difference to that child or young person’s life. You don’t notice it on a day to day basis, but something will happen that makes you stop and see the change. It may be a big thing but it’s most likely not. It maybe something more subtle, barely noticeable because you would class it as behaviour you would expect from any child. When you see changes in the child or young person for the better. When you see their attitude to life change positively. When their health improves. When they become more self confident, when they achieve a goal. When you feel that you have made a difference, that’s the tick in the box, that’s what makes it worthwhile. The child or young person may never tell you, but you can see the difference in them.
If you’re thinking about becoming a foster carer, my question to you is: do you want to make a positive difference to a child’s life, one who has had a difficult, stressful start? One who has been treated badly and rejected by those closest to them? If you believe you can help and you will be committed, patient and possess a good sense of humour, then definitely look into it. Talk to the local authority and find out more, then make a decision and stick by it.
Peter and Carol
Peter and his partner Carol have been fostering for just over six months. Carol works for a care home and Peter works in a factory. They have a young daughter.
We had been considering fostering for a while and so went along to an information evening. We found it all really interesting and it sort of naturally progressed from there. The process to become a foster carer does take quite a long time but you do learn an awful lot both about fostering and also about yourself. I thought the training that’s provided while you’re assessed was particularly useful. During the training, we were told about some of the reasons why children need foster care including neglect and abuse which did shock and upset me. We were reassured by our social worker that while this is a perfectly natural reaction it’s really important to focus on the child and what you can do for them, not the reasons they came to be in care.
We look after children for short and planned periods of time. This means we know how long they’re with us and when they’ll be moving on. At the moment we’re looking after a baby boy. It’s been great. There have been challenges – our foster child had some medical issues when he first came to us so we spent quite a lot of time in hospital. But there have been some really positive times too – especially now – he’s coming along in leaps and bounds and is a healthy happy little boy. We’ve had lots of support from the council fostering team. Our social worker is fantastic and has been there whenever we needed help. Plus our daughter has really enjoyed the experience too – she’s very proud of the fact that she’s a foster carer! I think that to be a foster carer you need to be calm, caring and willing to help but other than that there aren’t really any special skills required.
Lots of people I meet are very admiring of the fact I foster but they don’t think they could do it themselves – they’re wrong! If you’re considering fostering, I’d say, do it – it’s so rewarding it’s ridiculous! Yes, there are challenges but the pros far outweigh the cons. How do you know you can’t do it unless you give it a go?