What it's like to be a foster carer
As a single parent, I didn’t think that I would be approved to foster. I believed it would be a barrier – but I was wrong! My children have grown up in a fostering household and together we are proud of our journey.
I foster young people who are preparing to leave the care system and move onto independent living. Supported lodgings can be incredibly rewarding, and it just works really well with my lifestyle and career.
When my friends first heard that I was going to be working with teenagers – they thought I was mad. There are lots of preconceptions surrounding teens and challenging behaviours. I have been there and done that with my own children though.
There are lots of new responsibilities for young people when they first leave home. It is my job to prepare them for this so that they have the best possible start. I am there for all the coming-of-age milestones; from leaving school, finding their first job and learning to drive.
I am currently caring for a young person who has almost finished her final year at college. There have been times when I have helped with revision and time keeping. Most importantly, I have given praise and encouraged them to keep going. If I don’t, who will?
Applying for further education or employment is a big deal. It is important that the young person feels confident and happy with their choices. I do all that I can to support them with this, including interview prep and proof-reading CVs. Once they are in work and receiving a wage, I offer guidance on budgeting and saving.
Learning to drive and buying their first car is another important life event for most young people. Many times I've supported them with finding an instructor, booking lessons, and searching for their first set of wheels. I am at their side for moral support but encourage them to be independent in their actions and decisions.
As a foster carer I take on a parental role. I am always available to listen and offer guidance. Even after they have left my care, there are some young people who I am still in regular contact with.
I have been extremely proud to see them go on to lead fulfilling new lives, with successful careers and families of their own. A memorable moment for me, has been attending a young person’s wedding. Seeing them in a happy relationship was such a comfort and reassurance for me. I know the challenges they overcame in their early childhood.
To anyone who is considering fostering I would say that while it brings challenges but is very rewarding. From offering support, guidance and patience on their journey to independence to seeing them happy and settled.
My own learning journey continues as I support another young person on their journey.
An Island family: the sunflower
As a family we really enjoyed taking part in the sunflower competition organised by fostering. Our experience got me thinking about the children that we welcome into our homes.
We planted our sunflowers the day after Kelly from the team delivered them to our door. We followed the instructions and waited and waited. Gradually, a couple of them showed signs of life with tiny green shoots peeping above the surface of the soil.
We noticed that others were posting on the Facebook page how theirs were doing and how all ten had germinated and already had at least 4 leaves showing.
Ours were clearly slow starters. However, we continued to tend them and take care of them.
By the time the competition was coming to an end we had managed to plant nine outside. Three were absolutely tiny and didn’t look like they would be able to produce and support a flower.
We duly measured our sunflowers and entered our results.
At that point we could have given up on our sunflowers and left them to their own devices. After all, the competition had finished so was there any point in continuing?
Of course there was, I can hear you shouting! Just because the deadline has gone do we then abandon them? No!
We kept watering, tending, supporting them with bamboo and string, tying them up in the storms.
In the end, every sunflower produced a beautiful flower! The tallest managed to grow to over eight feet in height! The smallest only reached a few inches tall. They had all reached their potential.
I started thinking about the children and young people we meet. Some of them have had a very slow start in life for various reasons, through no fault of their own. Some try so hard but aren’t able to keep up with their peers and it is easy for them to give up in life and stop trying. It is so important for us as foster carers to never give up on them.
Even when the storms seem to be buffeting them and we don’t really see any progress or when it looks like they can’t or have given up trying. We mustn’t give up on them; even when we seen to be in the firing line of their angst, we mustn’t give up on them. We need to; tend them, support them, keep believing in them, guide them and point them in the right direction. Each one deserves a chance. Even if everyone else seems to be running ahead in life, there is always time to invest and encourage them to reach their goal.
We had such a feeling of celebration when every sunflower produced a flower. It’s such a special feeling to do the same with our young people no matter how small or big that achievement is. Let’s believe in our children even when they or the world seem to have given up on them. There is always hope. Amazing what a sunflower can teach us!
Janet has been a foster carer for 8 years. She says:
Every child deserves to feel safe and cared for. Sadly this is not always the case for every child. As foster carers we try our hardest to give every child who comes through our door, a moment in their life when they can feel safe, secure and listened to.
They are always traumatised by what they have been through. Some have never experienced anything different in life and assume that is how life is for everyone.
We hope to make a lasting, positive impact on their lives, no matter how long a child is with us.
One young man who was with us for just one night said "I have never been in a house before where people are happy, but legally so."
He said he felt like he was in a top class hotel. All we were doing was:
- offering him a meal that he didn't have to prepare by himself
- a comfy bed to sleep in
- room where he didn't have to keep his coat on to keep warm, and;
- a chance to talk about what had been happening to him in his life.
He had grown up in crack dens, surrounded by adults always high on drugs. This was his idea of how to be happy. He genuinely didn't realise it was possible to be content without illegal substances.
Fostering has changed our lives as a family.
It has had its difficult moments when you wonder if you are really making a difference. There are times of tears and sorrow and of letting go, but also amazing times! When you see a child emerging out of their pain, being able to talk about how they are feeling, seeing them begin to achieve at school and seeing them recognise they do have a bright future ahead of them; knowing that they really matter, are valued and loved.
I would encourage anyone who is feeling that nudge to find out more about fostering. Take those first steps and have those initial conversations. It may be the best, most worthwhile thing you have ever done in your life.
Fostering for the Isle of Wight Council was the best thing
we ever did. The support, advice and communication we receive is really good.
While our previous agency might have been able to offer a higher fostering allowance and more lavish activities, those things don’t matter in comparison to the support service we have now.
We appreciate the efforts that the council’s fostering team have made to remain in touch during the pandemic.
We appreciate how they have included our birth children too.