“It was with some degree of trepidation that I embarked on my first year as a foster carer; after all, I had brought up two kids of my own and knew how hard it was. This time it was going to be slightly different as I was taking up this new career path with the help of my very able, grown up daughters and training was provided!
The training was brilliant and not at all what I was expecting. It focussed a great deal on putting you in the shoes of a foster child. For example, what it felt like to have your prize possessions put into a black bin bag; that was an eye-opening experience, it showed how not having something as simple as luggage can add to that feeling of abandonment, of not being wanted, “it’s all my fault”. Then you turn up outside some stranger’s door which is where you are going to stay for who knows how long and you begin to scratch the surface of what it feels like to be a foster child removed from home, sometimes in the middle of the night with just the clothes you stand up in.
With the training completed, the girls and I all decided we wanted to become approved foster carers and the formalities commenced culminating in attending fostering panel before getting final approval. It can be a lengthy process but I found it to be almost cathartic, it was so in depth; I found myself looking back fondly at things in my childhood that I hadn't thought of in years. Panel itself was a slightly daunting experience to begin with, having to sit in front of about ten professionals from various sectors but everyone introduced themselves and made me feel at ease. They each asked me a couple of questions about how I would deal with various circumstances were I to become an approved foster carer. Then I was asked to wait with my social worker in a separate room while they made their decision. The chair of panel then came in and told me I had been approved unanimously and that was it – I was a foster carer.
To ease us in gently we started with the respite care of 15 year old girl in secondary school. She was a lovely young lady, chatty, bubbly with a good sense of humour. We had a busy weekend and when I dropped her off at school on Monday morning she said she would like to return.
The following week we were contacted by The Family Placement Team to say that they had a 16 year old in need of an urgent new placement until she was at least 18. We were slightly apprehensive at the thought of taking on a long term placement so early in our career but were persuaded as it was thought she would fit in well with our outdoors, horse-owning background. Louise* arrived with all her belongings (including her rabbit) and we unloaded the car and carried everything upstairs. We finally found a place for all her belongings and went downstairs to get to know each other. That was eight months ago and although we have had our trials and tribulations, it has been an amazing time during which she has blossomed and her confidence has grown. People who knew her previously say they are amazed at the transformation in her. She is a sweet, kind and thoughtful girl who lacked confidence and self-esteem but this is gradually being restored and her dream now is to return home to live with her mum when she reaches the age of 18. In fact Louise’s birth mother visited for Christmas day this year, it was the first time they had spent Christmas together in three years.
It was during this time that a friend who also fosters commented “they have a lot of babies at the moment, why don’t you see if you would be able to care for one”. Well, after a meeting, some delegated powers and a frantic weekend making over what was going to be my ensuite into a nursery, I got a call from Childrens Services to go to the hospital where they had a 12 day old baby and I was to be supervised and supported to make sure I was able to meet all her needs. Much to my relief, I passed scrutiny and we took the delightful little bundle home, Simona. This was a strange feeling, I recalled how I felt leaving hospital with my own children and felt guilty that I was taking this moment away from her mother. Simona* settled in well, she saw her mum locally three times a week and I would transport her back and forth. I developed a good relationship with her mum, Amy, as I had done with Louise’s mother; we were overjoyed when Simona was returned to Amy’s care. Our work was done.
We weren’t baby-free for long, three days later we had another little bundle of joy who came to us addicted to methadone and who we will probably have until the spring.
When I tell people what we do for a living they are full of praise and say what an amazing thing it is that we are doing. Do I have any regrets? Yes, the fact that I did not do this years ago. I worked in law for 30 years and didn’t know the meaning of job satisfaction until now. Whether it is a baby’s first smile or the achievement of a teenager, the satisfaction is the same. My daughters now want to be approved as full time carers themselves and I plan on getting a larger home to enable us to accommodate more children as this really has to be the best job in the world.