Rebecca and Gareth – TACT Foster Carers since 2014, Wales
Seven years ago, despite only being in our 20’s with two small children, my husband Gareth and I decided we wanted to foster children in care. Some people might have thought we were mad to take on that extra responsibility, but for us it was one of the best, most rewarding things we have done and continue to do, as a family.
We already knew about what was involved with fostering because Gareth’s father was a foster carer for with TACT, so we knew which agency we wanted to contact and what to expect.
When the time came to finally have our first placement – two sisters aged two and six – we felt a little nervous. But we need not have worried. They were with us for two weeks during summer holidays and we had a lovely time together.
We are now long term fostering two boys aged 14 and 17. And because Gareth’s father recently retired as a foster carer after 15 years, we are also caring for his 13 year old former foster daughter.
A house full of teenagers can be challenging, but it’s good fun as there is always something going on. At first we were nervous about caring for teenagers, due to a lack of experience, but we soon found out it’s a great match for us. They are always open to new activities and experiences – we enjoy going rock climbing, go-karting, or just swimming in a leisure centre together.
Our birth children, who are now 8 and 10, also enjoy these family days out and making their older foster siblings feel welcome. I think fostering had made our own children more resilient and accepting of others. Our oldest Ruby was fairly quiet before we started fostering and now she is a confident, funny young girl. Our youngest Georgia has developed her loving, caring side and she always makes sure everyone is involved in activities. For us fostering is not a job. Our foster children are our extended family.
What I love most about fostering is seeing the progress in the children we care for. The change we have witnessed in the 17-year-old boy who has been with us for two years has been such a pleasure to watch. At first there was a lot of anger inside of him. He would go out without telling us where and who he was with, and when he was home, he would argue with us or just slam the door. He was missing time at school and wasn’t really interested in education. However, with time he began to trust us, and now he lets us know every time he goes out, calls us when he is running late, and talks about his friends with us. He is really engaging with college as well. During parents evening his tutor said he couldn’t believe the change in him. He has a built a particularly lovely relationship with Gareth, as before he came to live with us he’d never had a male role model in his life.
Thanks to the flexibility of our jobs, we’ve managed to stay employed while fostering; I work part time as a teaching assistant and Gareth runs a business from home. We appreciate that not many people are able to continue working while fostering, but the flexibility of our jobs means we are always on our toes ready for when times get challenging. However, when they do, I know I have an excellent partner and fantastic support from TACT.
Read more foster carer stories here.
Joy – TACT Foster Carer since 2012
My fostering journey started six years ago. I was working as a manager in a fast food restaurant and the company offered staff the opportunity to be seconded to work on a community project of our choice. I decided to work in a pupil referral unit which is for children who are not able to attend mainstream schools due to ill health or behavioural problems. The experience taught me how important strong and stable foundations are for children, and it provoked a desire to help more. One day I was driving to work and a TACT advert came up on the radio. It was like a sign was sent to me. I wrote down their number, gave them a call and started the application process.
The application process took eight months and I found it as thorough as it should be. In the meantime, I completed a teaching assistant course as I expected that children put into my care might need educational support and I wanted to be able to provide it.
When I finally heard I was about to have my first placement, I was over the moon. Two little siblings aged two and five stayed with me for nearly three weeks for a respite placement. I thought they were fantastic but I decided I didn’t want a respite again, I wanted a permanent placement. The children returned to their carers on Friday. On the Monday morning I went back on the register, and by teatime two wonderful children called Elisha, now aged 11, and Ethan now 9, walked into my life. They have been with me for nearly six years and are probably not leaving until they go off to university.
Elisha and Ethan are absolutely wonderful; they achieve everything they put their mind to and I am always 100% behind them. Ethan is two whole years above his age in school, while Elisha is in the last year of primary school but she is doing second year level Maths at a comprehensive school. They are both musically gifted – Ethan plays the cornet, piano and drums, while Elisha plays violin, trumpet and piano and they are both in a youth orchestra. They are also keen mountain walkers – together we have already climbed all the Welsh peaks. Last year we climbed Mount Snowdon and raised over £1100 for TACT, and we are getting ready to climb Ben Nevis this July.
They came to care due to severe neglect and abuse. I believe many siblings in care have learnt to rely on each other due to what they have been through and it would be difficult to separate them. Being together definitely helps Ethan and Elisha to grow.
I am a single foster carer but I have a great support network of my partner and my birth children. They are grown up and left home years ago, but they love to come back and spend time with Ethan and Elisha whom they call their brother and sister. In addition, I always have outstanding support from TACT.
I love everything about fostering. I love being able to help a child and I love the challenges. If anybody ever thinks about fostering, don’t think, do it. If your heart is in it, you can’t go wrong.
While growing up our siblings were just as important to us as our parents, so we understand the need for siblings in care to stay together
My husband Rob and I started to consider fostering once our youngest daughter turned 18. We thought caring for children comes naturally for us and we felt we had done a good job with our three girls. We also have a lovely home, an amazing family and all together a lot to offer.
We looked at different agencies and chose TACT (The Adolescent and Children’s Trust) because we liked the fact they’re a charity.
The application process took nine months, less than we expected. It was intense, but we understood the reasons for that. We were approved as foster carers in May 2011. Two weeks later we received a phone call about an emergency placement – two little brothers aged two and five. It was quite a shock, but we decided to go ahead, and rushed home from work so we can greet the boys. We were very nervous but within hours it just felt right. What was supposed to be an emergency placement lasted two and a half years. The boys were brilliant. We really felt like we had made positive changes for them and they did the same for us. When they moved on to a different placement we found the separation very difficult at first, but we still keep in touch and we know they are doing really well.
Since then, we have fostered nine other children including two sibling groups. My husband Rob is the youngest of 13 children and I am the youngest of 5, and we both believe that while growing up our siblings were just as important to us as our parents, so we understand the need for siblings in care to stay together. We are currently fostering a girl aged 11 and her 13 year-old twin brothers. When they came to us four months ago the boys wouldn’t say a word. Instead, their much more confident sister would speak on their behalf. Having the support of each other helped them settle in with us quickly. The boys are still quite shy, but they are much more social and we love to see them laughing and playing together. We often have fun days out and we encourage them to be active. As a result, the boys recently got into fitness and the girl is really into street dancing. We also encouraged our foster daughter to apply for the Blue Peter badge. Her stories were so good that a video clip was shown on the programme. We were all so delighted.
To us, fostering is a way of life rather than a job. We have so many precious memories with all our foster children, such as the first goal our foster son scored when he played football for a local team, teaching two foster children to ride a bike while away on a caravan holiday and many more.
Of course, fostering can be demanding at times, we are human after all, and we do get frustrated sometimes. However, TACT is always there to offer guidance, even in the middle of the night on bank holiday. And no matter the challenges that come with fostering, the rewards far outweigh them.
TACT is delighted that one of its’ fantastic foster mums – Lisa Gill, has been announced as a runner up for the Sun’s Fabulous Mum of the Year Award.
45 year old Lisa is an Assistant Head Teacher and mother to three children, she has also fostered 10 children with TACT, many of which have special education needs. And on top of all that, she has also run six London Marathons, four of which to raise money for TACT.
Lisa said: ”I was delighted and very touched to be nominated for the Fabulous Mum of the year competition. I have been privileged over the years to not only bring up my own children but to play a part in supporting some wonderful individuals through my fostering role with TACT”.
She added: ”I feel it is so important in life to try and do something for others and this is something I try to do daily through my fostering role and in my position as an Assistant Head in a Special School. I am proud to see the children and young people I have supported making their impact on the world. It makes it all worthwhile.”
TACT CEO Andy Elvin said: “TACT is so very proud to have Lisa as one of our foster mum’s. Her selfless dedication to her community is reflected by the fact that she has fostered 10 children and works as an assistant headteacher. As if that wasn’t enough she has run 6 London Marathons! She really is a fabulous Mum”
Like all our amazing foster carers, Lisa has found fostering to be very rewarding. If you have a spare bedroom and the desire to improve the lives of vulnerable children and young people in care, then please do not hesitate to contact TACT and find out more about fostering.
Our foster carers come from a wide range of backgrounds, cultures and ethnic groups. We believe the most important criteria for becoming a foster carer is your ability to listen and empathise, to provide a stable and loving home and to speak up for the children you care for. Your sexuality, marital status, age and whether you own a home do not determine your suitability as a foster carer therefore will not impact your fostering application.
Member News: TACT - Same sex foster carers of a sibling group share their story for LGBT Week and Mothering Sunday
Abby and Eira are a same sex couple and TACT foster carers, who last year welcomed into their home a sibling group – a three-year-old girl, a five-year-old boy, and an eight-year-old boy – and absolutely love it. Abby shared their story with BBC Radio Derby to mark Mother’s Day and LGBT Fostering and Adoption Week.
You can listen to her here
And you can read their blog here
TACT – the UK’s largest fostering and adoption charity, warmly welcomes the independent review of foster care in England, produced by Sir Martin Narey and Mark Owers. The report published today, provides an overdue recognition of the importance of foster care to the UK care system and the vital role foster families play in caring for the UK’s most vulnerable children.
TACT CEO Andy Elvin said: “We very much appreciate the report’s kind words about our ground-breaking partnership with Peterborough City Council. We hope other local authorities look at this and consider how they might transform their care services in order to improve outcomes for children in care. We also applaud the reports recognition of foster parents as the experts on their foster child. The professional network often forgets that, along with the birth family, it is the foster carer who knows most about the child. Decisions about the child should never be made without the foster parents’ involvement and insight”
The report’s recommendation that Ministers should direct the setting up of a Permanence Board under the chairmanship of the Director General for Children’s Social Care, is particularly welcome, and something that TACT has long been campaigning for. The focus of a joined-up body should be on supporting all family types so kinship carers and birth parents whose children return to them can access the same long-term assistance as foster carers and adopters.
Andy Elvin said: “It is gratifying that TACT and other smaller voluntary sector providers have been acknowledged as charging fees substantially lower than the average, and that any surplus TACT makes is ‘genuinely – and commendably – modest’. It has always been our ethos that instead of making money from the placing of children in foster homes, all of our excess income goes back into improving the lives of our foster carers and the children we care for”.
On the matter of family contact, TACT warmly endorses the report’s recommendation that the opinion of foster carers about the effect of contact on the child in care should be an important factor in helping courts to come to an informed decision.
Martin Barrow, an experienced foster carer says in the publication ‘Welcoming to Fostering’ co-authored by TACT CEO Andy Elvin and quoted in the report:”On a number of occasions we have been in conflict with placement teams over arrangements for contact, with little success. In our view, placement teams put a parent’s demands ahead of the child’s wishes and will adhere to the family court’s proposed contact schedule even if it is having a materially negative impact on the child.”
We are also pleased that the report shares our belief that children on the edge of care and their families should routinely gain access to foster care. TACT has been successfully running a scheme called Parallel Parenting – with specially trained TACT carers delivering home coaching to help families successfully look after their children to avoid admission into care or when they return home from care.
It is disappointing that the report has rejected the idea of a large-scale national advertising campaign funded by central government. While we acknowledge that there are fostering households without a child living with them, there is an urgent need to attract more people willing and able to care for sibling groups, teenagers and children with disabilities.
On 29th November TACT Head office in South London was visited by childcare professional from Russia conducting a study tour. The group, coordinated by Kluch Foundation, consisted of specialists working in the orphanages and NGOs working in the sphere of child protection and family placement.
The goal of their study visit was to learn about child participation system in the UK and how children are involved in a monitoring and evaluation process.
TACT’s Children Resource Workers presented the benefits and strengths of including young people in decision making and participation in the running of the organisation providing many examples such as DVD made by young people about the journey in care and Big Weekend DVD filmed and edited by young people to promote TACT. In addition, policy interns presented what their department does to involve young people.
Member News: Foster carers should not need worker status to get support and protection, Andy Elvin (TACT)
A survey of more than 200 foster carers for the charity TACT, to be published in the new year, found that 75% saw fostering as a vocation and a lifestyle choice, not a career or a job.
I chair the Fairer Fostering Partnership. All of our members, who are charities or not-for-profit organisations, have clear values and a family-based approach to fostering. None of our agencies take dividends or profits – and all income is reinvested in our foster families, unlike some of the large independent agencies, which pay dividends running into millions of pounds every year to directors and investors.
Providing care in your own home is more profound than employment. Fostering offers the opportunity for a child or young person to experience family life. It is transformative and vocational for carers and the children. Foster carers are sharing one of society’s most fundamental and personal experiences.
Current debates on “workers’ rights” for foster carers focus disproportionately on adults’ rights rather than children’s. Proponents argue that foster carers deserve holiday pay and protection under whistleblowing procedures. At Tact and other not-for-profit fostering agencies, foster carers already have many of these, although with some agencies and local authorities they do not. Tact believes that all foster carers should have these supports and protections but do not need employment or “worker” status to receive them.
Fostering agencies must develop back-up care so children have support when their foster parents are unavailable, as happens in all families across the UK.
Foster carers should not be financially penalised for occasionally using back-up carers; indeed, we would ask the government’s fostering stocktake to recommend that fees are made available to both the main and back-up carers when the main carers are away or seriously ill, which in our experience is not a regular occurrence.
Other demands for the nascent Foster Carers Union for sick pay and access to employment tribunals are more problematic. Parents do not receive sick pay when they are ill and still have to look after their children. However, foster carers, like other self-employed people, do suffer when they are too ill to work – and we would welcome some attention on how this might be addressed. Employment tribunals are for employed staff. Foster carers have access to complaints procedures and an independent panel that oversees and considers disputes between carers and their agency.
Family life is not built around contracts and codified processes; it is built around care, stability, consistency and love. Employment contracts would pose a significant threat to this.
Foster parents have a choice in which children they offer a home; this vital principle and safeguard must not be eroded. Those who pressure and cajole foster parents to accept placements are not acting in the best interests of children. We need to treasure the unique resource our wonderful foster carers provide and celebrate and respect those who open their homes, hearts and families to others.
It is vital that this respect is demonstrated through how the professional networks around children in care interact and take their lead from the foster family. Full and consistent delegated authority needs to be given to foster carers so that decisions about the child’s life are made in the family home. Far too often, local authorities do not give full delegated authority to foster parents, so children are in the unnatural position where their social worker, not their parent, have to give permission for school trips, sleepovers and the like.
Fees and allowances need to be fair and reflect the cost of bringing up children. No one ever gets rich, or even mildly affluent, through fostering. However, we must meet the costs of bringing up children, especially as their needs mean many foster parents must be at home full-time.
Regular training and 24/7 support are vital as our foster carers can find themselves dealing with some challenging situations. These generally arise outside office hours, as they do in all families. In too many local authorities, training is not sufficiently robust – and out-of-hours support is delegated to generic emergency duty teams, who have neither the time nor expertise to support foster parents properly.
Above all, foster parents are the experts on their child. They know more about them than anyone else in the professional network: more than the social worker, GP, teacher or Cafcass guardian; more than anyone outside the birth family. Yet they are seldom heard from directly in court proceedings and often excluded from key meetings. This must stop; the state cares for children through foster parents, it is they – not politicians or social workers – who bring up the children. The system must work through foster parents, not around them.
Andy Elvin is chief executive of Tact and chairs the Fairer Fostering Partnership.
Fostering through Social Enterprise (FtSE), a consortium of 12 charitable and not-for-profit independent fostering providers, has changed its name to The Fairer Fostering Partnership (also known as Fairer Fostering).
The group, which covers the whole of the UK, and includes Action for Children, Barnardos and TACT, provides foster care for over 2000 children. Working in partnership with children’s services and dedicated foster carers, Fairer Fostering members put children before profit by re-investing back into the care of children and young people.
Andy Elvin, the Fairer Fostering chair, said: “All our members’ resources are invested in meeting the needs of vulnerable children and young people and not in making a profit from them. This transparency and accountability is welcomed by local authorities and foster carers alike. We wanted our name to reflect this.”
As a representative voice of not-for-profit providers, Fairer Fostering campaigns to increase awareness of the scale of profits distributed to shareholders and investors. Many commercial fostering agencies are owned by private and venture capital companies and significant profits are made by these companies. Fairer Fostering asks commissioners to understand who they award contracts to and where taxpayers’ money goes. It could be the difference between investing in children or adding to shareholder profit.
Each Fairer Fostering member has its own unique and distinctive approach to fostering. All offer a variety of able, experienced and trained carers, and staff, plus a service package tailored to the best possible outcomes for each individual child or young person. Members’ services augment those of hard-pressed health and local authority provision.
The Fairer Fostering Partnership believes that where a surplus is made, it should be re-invested into children’s services; and that excessive shareholder profit has no place in the care of vulnerable children.
A group of child welfare professionals writes to demand that the children’s minister, Robert Goodwill, extends the offer of extra free childcare to foster carers
Children aged three and four across England are now entitled to an extra 15 hours of free childcare each week, with the exception of fostered children who have been explicitly and inexplicably excluded. We are calling on the children’s minister, Robert Goodwill, to urge him to reverse this discriminatory decision with immediate effect.
Fostered children must have access to the same opportunities as other children. Moreover, foster carers are, as a group, unpaid or underpaid and often cannot rely on their fostering income. They may therefore benefit from this extra childcare, especially those who foster members of their family and those providing long-term care.
Carol Iddon Manager director, children’s services, Action for Children
Natasha Finlayson Chief executive, Become
Maris Stratulis England manager, British Association of Social Workers
David Graham National director, The Care Leavers’ Association
Kathy Evans Chief executive, Children England
John Simmonds Director, Policy, Research and Development, Coram BAAF
Brigid Robinson Managing director, Coram Voice
Kevin Williams Chief executive, The Fostering Network
Jon Fayle and Paul Smart Co-chairs, National Association of Independent Reviewing Officers
Rita Waters CEO, National Youth Advocacy Service
Andy Elvin CEO, Tact
Jill Sheldrake Service director, The Together Trust
Ron Giddens CEO, St Christopher’s
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