Halfway through foster care fortnight, our managing director, Terry reflects on his time as a foster carer.
Being part of a family that looks after other people’s children has been the most important and worthwhile job I have ever had. Rose (my wife) and I had looked after over sixty children in our thirteen years of fostering. The feeling that we were making children safe, for however short or long a time, never failed to give us enormous pride and satisfaction.
We did every type of fostering from emergency short term to longer term. We looked after mothers with their babies, unaccompanied children from Africa and we loved every bit of it. We didn’t restrict ourselves to any narrow age range and, for a while rarely said no to any referrals. We certainly didn’t get put off because they were teenagers or a big sibling group. Every child bought their own challenges and rewards.
As we grew in experience and confidence, we loved the excitement of being emergency foster carers. I spent a number of Friday evenings at the local police station and got to know the duty sargeants quite well. The job was to get the kids out of the cells and to make them feel like children again. We were a strong family ourselves and there was never a time that we felt at risk from any of the children that we looked after.
There were aspects of fostering that never failed to puzzle us especially when some of the children that we had worked so hard to make them feel good about themselves went back into the family environment that had put them into care in the first place. We eventually accepted that sometimes the children went home, and for the best. We all had to learn to come to terms with the situation and it strengthened our determination to work as closely with the birth families as possible.
What we found were the mums and dads of the children we fostered who had been in the care system themselves and they had as many unfulfilled needs as the children. It certainly wasn’t our place to judge. As we looked after children who lived close to our home, we needed to develop the skills and understanding that meant the mums and dads did not feel threatened or patronised by us.
When we first fostered in 1986, it was a different time. There was no children act restricting the number of children placed. We once had a sibling group of seven and often had over three children to look after. We fostered in an age when the foster family would get £12.50 per week per child and the carers had no influence on what would ultimately happen to the children. We fostered in an age when the children didn’t have a care plan, they would drift through the system and the children placed into residential care, were then deemed “naughty”.
So much has changed since then, looking after children is now a respected profession with foster carer fees reflecting the vital importance of the job. On going and rewarding training programs are provided, enriching carers ability to understand children’s behaviours, deal with challenges and, ultimately, maximise the potential of the young people in their care.
But one thing remains the same. Fostering a child, a vulnerable child, or a young person on the brink of adulthood, gives you the opportunity to make a significant change in the outcome of their lives, and Influence their life choices.
The challenges remain the same.
The rewards unparalleled.
Fostering is one of the best and worthwhile jobs you could ever do.