It was a while back now but, my wife and our three daughters, (our youngest at the time was 7 and the other 2 a couple years older) decided to foster for many reasons. Firstly, I come from a background from having been in care myself so part of it was that. We had been thinking about it for a long while but, one day, my wife and I happened to be walking through the local town doing some shopping and the local authority had an open day for fostering.
We popped in and the rest was history! We fostered for about 10 years for Essex local authority and in that time, I think we cared for about 40 children. We fostered sibling groups as well as some respite, so a broad spectrum really. In that time, we saw a good few of the young people that we cared for go on to other families for adoption.
One of the main highlights from our time fostering was seeing children through to adoption. The young people would probably have been with us for a couple of years by then, and what sticks vividly in my mind is the times when we were all outside and seeing the young people into their new family’s car.
All of us were out on the side of the road and waving goodbye, it was really emotional- it still makes me shiver now, it was a really great thing to be part of.
There were also a few challenging times being a foster carer. In one way, it was difficult looking after children that had been seriously abused and then facilitating contact for those young people with their parents in our home, because that’s what we did back then. We understood the importance of the contact for the young people, but it was difficult sometimes.
I always used to use the term of having to put my ‘foster carer hat’ on - you realise all those feelings that you have, and you are aware of them in your mind, but that you understand the task is to ensure that you do what’s best for the children.
The most heart-breaking yet joyous part was giving your all to your makeshift family, loving some of these young people in your care, and then having to see them go. However, we still keep in touch with some of the young people that moved on and went to adoption, and I think the benefits of thinking of the process that enabled our family to come together was the overriding factor of joy for us.
As I mentioned before, I have 3 of my own birth children. It was difficult for them at times I guess, but we all looked after the younger ones in our care and they would become involved as part of the family. They had some really beautiful moments, like when we would all go on holiday together.
If I spoke to my girls about it now, I believe they would say they gained a lot from the experience. They have said that they enjoyed the idea of taking in young people who had been subjected to bad experiences and making them a part of the family and keeping them safe.
For anyone thinking of fostering, I would say be clear about why you want to foster. I think that there is some research that needs to be done before because the young people we are caring for are difficult and will certainly impact your own family, so make sure everyone is on board.
It’s also really important that you have a good support network around you, that for us included extended family and they were invaluable at times.
We also managed to make connections with other foster carers and they were really supportive during our period of fostering. You should also be aware that will you be visited by social workers, by members of the fostering team or supervising social workers, support workers, local authority’s social workers, reviewing officers, etc. there are a lot of people involved in the fostering task.
The process of becoming a foster carer is one where you have to certainly revisit your own life, your own parenting, to acutely to be aware that the young people you will be looking after will have been parented in a different way. It makes you look at your own life experiences and for us, that was part of a sort of therapeutic process, it’s important to be honest and upfront throughout your assessment and your fostering career.
The process could take anywhere between 4 and 8 months and involves all the family, so again, I think it’s important that during this time you should speak to your friends and family about what you are going to be doing.
Because I have had that experience as a foster carer, I use that to inform a lot of my thinking in terms of how we work with our own carers. Supervising social workers have a real commitment to the carers and to the young people and that’s what I’m proud of.
It’s really great to hear a review where carers give feedback about their supervising social worker and say that they have had a positive experience and that they have really felt supported by our social workers, that’s what I am proud of.