Fostering News: Bristol student says care leavers with no family need more support during coronavirus
A student who lived in 40 different foster homes before starting her degree at the University of Bristol says more needs to be done to support student care leavers.
Nadia Sajir went into care at 13 years old. She says too often foster children are forgotten about when they move to university which can be one of the most challenging times for care leavers.
In 2018-2019, only 6% of care leavers were known to be in higher education.
Nadia says, "Care leavers aren't encouraged to pursue higher education, nearly half drop out, and it's such a shame because they could be lawyers, doctors, if they were just encouraged to pursue higher education which they're not."
She now says she wants to raise awareness about the lack of support for care leavers at university.
She's launching a new network to offer support and advice to care leavers and is calling on local authorities and universities to offer more consistent support.
There's a video Nadia created with her team to help spread the word in this article
Nadia says it is now more important than ever during the coronavirus pandemic to provide the right support for care leavers.
She says, "Bristol's empty right now because all the students have returned home and everyone's being encouraged to return home and be with their loved ones but that's really really tough for any care leaver to hear. I can't return home because I don't have a home."
Maria Tottle is a Mature Students' & Peer Support Adviser at the University of Bristol.
She says there needs to be consistent support for care leavers and estranged students at university and says it's the years after that can often be the hardest.
The director of The Fostering Network in Wales said that transforming the lives of young people through foster care has "never been more important".
Colin Turner, who is also a foster carer, said the network is appealing for more people to foster at this difficult time.
Every day around 3,700 foster families across Wales are looking after 4,800 fostered children and young people.
Foster carers provide support and stability to those who can’t live with their birth families, and this commitment is ongoing during the coronavirus outbreak.
The Fostering Network said carers have also been helping to maintain the children’s relationships with the people who are important to them but who they cannot currently see in person.
It said: "Every year hundreds more foster families are needed across Wales to make sure fostered children can live with the right foster carer for them."
Colin Turner added: "Foster carers help children and young people flourish and fulfil their potential, as well as provide a vital service to our society. Because this happens mainly in the privacy of their own homes – especially at the moment – their contributions too often go unnoticed."
Terry, from Llanelli, has fostered for 15 years with his partner, and they are currently looking after two siblings and a baby.
"What motivates me to foster is knowing that I had a loving, solid upbringing and I simply want to return what I received to the children in my care."
– TERRY, FOSTER CARER
Terry said: "Fostering will always have challenges but the rewards far outweigh these. Being a foster carer you have to be a strong, sometimes assertive, to get what's best for your child. You need to have patience, be tolerant and show empathy. Stability is key too – my first foster child was with me for 12 years.
"Seeing a child achieve, however little it may be, is a step in the right direction."
Fostering News: Vital contribution of tens of thousands of foster families across the UK highlighted during coronavirus
Every day 55,000 foster families across the UK are offering 65,000 fostered children and young people a loving, secure and stable home, and this commitment from foster families is ongoing during the coronavirus outbreak.
The UK’s leading fostering charity, The Fostering Network, is using this year’s Foster Care FortnightTM to raise awareness of the extraordinary dedication and work of foster carers at this time, while calling for more people to come forward to foster.
The charity’s annual campaign to raise the profile of foster carers and the vital role they play in society is the largest of its kind in the UK and runs from 11-24 May.
Foster carers accomplish incredible things every day, even in the face of a global crisis that has affected every one of us and impacted all aspects of our society. Despite the practical and emotional challenges that the coronavirus is bringing, foster carers continue to provide day-to-day support, love and stability to children and young people who can’t live with their birth families. They support children and young people’s education, health, and social wellbeing, and also help to maintain the children’s relationships with the people who are important to them but who they cannot currently see in person.
Every year thousands more foster families are needed across the UK to make sure fostered children can live with the right foster carer for them. So, anyone who thinks they might have the skills and experience to become a foster carer is urged to contact their local fostering services.
Kevin Williams, chief executive of The Fostering Network, said: ‘Foster care transforms the lives of children and young people as well as those of foster carers and their families. This has never been more important. Foster carers help children and young people flourish and fulfil their potential, as well as provide a vital service to our society. Because this happens mainly in the privacy of their own homes – especially at the moment – their contributions too often go unnoticed.
‘Foster Care Fortnight is a fantastic opportunity to celebrate the work of foster families as well as recognising how transformational foster care can be for the children and young people who need it.’
Walt started fostering four years ago. Fostering had been on his mind for a long time but he was worried he wouldn’t be approved as a single male carer who doesn’t own his own home and is part of the LGBTQ community: ‘Only when I did more research I found out that none of this matters as long as you can offer a safe and loving home to children.’ Walt is now looking after teenagers and wouldn’t change it for the world: ‘To witness a teenager in your care connect with you, open up and put your trust in you is the most rewarding feeling and biggest compliment you can get.’
Home Office accused of still ignoring offers to house children from camps in the UK
Pressure is building on the Home Office to fulfil its promise to give sanctuary to child refugees as it emerged that foster agencies across the UK have offered dozens of places that remain unused.
Estimates suggest there are hundreds of places available for vulnerable unaccompanied minors in addition to the 1,400 offers from local councils that the Home Office is accused of ignoring.
Britain’s largest fostering and adoption charity, Tact Care, said that fostering agencies had told the Home Office they had significant capacity to house child refugees. Tact Care alone had 25 spaces that could be used immediately.
Andy Elvin, chief executive of Tact Care, said: “The Home Office could easily accommodate its obligations to offer sanctuary to vulnerable minors. Its response has nothing to do with capacity, it’s essentially an ideological decision they are making. It’s not one based on child welfare or our ability to do it as a country, it’s that they don’t want to do it. We’ve told the Home Office but they are not interested.”
Pressure is also mounting on cabinet ministers who backed a scheme to welcome unaccompanied minors to take a “moral stance” after some protections for children were dropped from the Brexit bill.
Geoffrey Cox, the attorney general, was one of the Tories to rebel in support of a plan drawn up by the Labour peer Lord Dubs in 2016, which committed the UK to accept almost 500 unaccompanied child refugees. Lord Dubs was one of 10,000 children rescued from the Nazis by the Kindertransport in 1939.
A separate commitment to allow child refugees stranded in Europe to reunite with families in Britain after Brexit was dropped by Boris Johnson.
Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary, called on ministers and Tory MPs to reverse the “moral disgrace” of removing the protection for children.
“At the election, Johnson promised to maintain the UK’s reputation as a ‘beacon of freedom and human rights’.” he said. “However, at the first hurdle, he showed his true colours: tearing up protection for some of the world’s most vulnerable people.”
Charities are stepping in after growing frustrated with the Home Office’s slowness in transferring child refugees to the UK. The Dubs amendment of May 2016 followed a public outcry about the plight of children stranded in Europe. Campaigners had hoped that as many as 3,000 children would benefit, but ministers set a limit of 480. The Home Office refuses to specify how many of these children have since been transferred to Britain.
Now a project, funded by a Jewish philanthropist, will find family-based placements for children who arrive under the Dubs scheme and ensure that councils have money upfront to provide a home.
The project, launched in Bristol, Wiltshire and the London borough of Lewisham, and run by a Christian charity called Home for Good, is seeking an initial 20 homes.
The charity said the situation was so poor that it had identified children processed by the UN refugee agency in European camps who were still waiting for places to become available. Emily Christou, head of advocacy at Home for Good, said: “We heard that the 480 still seems to be way off. We knew there was public goodwill out there and we knew that local authorities are saying they’ll take more.”
The scheme’s first meeting between a family and a social worker took place last week. The next step will be winning approval from a local authority panel and receiving an allowance to cover the costs of opening their home.
Jennifer Nadel, co-director of the campaign group Compassion in Politics, said: “It is scandalous and heartbreaking that the UK isn’t honouring its moral and legal obligation to these refugee children. We are the fifth largest economy in the world; we have families and local authorities willing to welcome these children with open arms. The problem is the lack of political will.”
The Home Office says it is committed to the Dubs scheme and that safeguarding vulnerable children will remain a priority after Brexit.
Fostered children are being prevented from staying in touch with some of the most important people in their lives, according to a new report from the UK’s leading fostering charity.
Not Forgotten: The importance of keeping in touch with former foster carers, published today by The Fostering Network, reveals that despite the recognition of the importance of relationships in the lives of children in foster care, more than half of foster carers feel they have no support in maintaining relationships with the children and young people who have moved on from their care; and one in four have been actively prevented from keeping in touch, most frequently by the local authority/trust, fostering service or adoptive parents.
Among the report’s recommendations is a call for local authorities and trusts to support and encourage contact between children and their former foster carers and other significant people in their lives.
Chief executive of The Fostering Network, Kevin Williams, said: ‘It’s especially important to prioritise relationships in foster care because it is common for fostered children to move homes, for example to other foster carers, adoptive families or wider family members, or to return home. But our report shows that all too often their contact with the former foster family – who they may have lived with for many years – is cut off immediately.
‘Relationships are the golden threads that run through children’s lives. A support network of people who know a child well helps them to feel loved, develop a strong sense of self and maintain healthy relationships in the future.
'An approach that too often, without reason, ends children’s important relationships is one that is not fit for purpose.’
The report highlights that the outdated theory – stating that bonds between children and their carers can only be formed one at a time, and that children should therefore break ties with their former foster family in order to bond with others – is still being used to make decisions about ongoing relationships. Research now suggests that such an approach is damaging and that having a close bond with an adult makes it easier for a child to form future bonds which aids their development and improves their wellbeing.
The report also emphasises that stable ongoing relationships are particularly crucial for children in care who may have faced instability. Tommy’s foster carer, featured in the report, was prevented from seeing him when he moved to another foster family which she says has ‘irreparably damaged’ their relationship. She says: ‘It breaks my heart that I’m being stopped from giving this little boy experiences and showing him that he is still loved.’
Williams said: ‘Having these relationships severed can leave children and young people with a sense of loss and compound previous instances of perceived rejection.
‘Ending these relationships also affects the fostering family, who may have lived with the children for many months or years. As well as feeling loss, foster carers and their families may also experience profound guilt that the child feels abandoned or forgotten by them.
‘This is why we are calling for it to become the expectation that the relationship between children and their former foster families, as well as other significant people in the lives of children, will be supported and encouraged.’
The Not Forgotten report is part of The Fostering Network’s Keep Connected campaign.
Fostering News: Understand or undermine? In the evolution of foster ‘parent’ vs foster ‘carer’...where are we right now?
And what does it matter?
Some don’t care.
I really do. I think it matters a lot.
The debate rages on, yet seems to me to be underpinned by everyone wanting the same thing - the argument, both for and against ‘parent’ or ‘carer’ rests, for everyone, on which is most respectful of the skilled, sophisticated work that people who foster do, uniquely in their own homes.
That latter point is significant; of all the people who engage with the challenges that our children face - teachers, social workers, police officers, therapists etc - only the people who foster, do that work in their own homes.
I was recently struck almost speechless by a very nice chap who came to enquire about fostering. He was heading towards early retirement, having been a Clinical Nurse in a CAMHS team for many years. He was thinking of fostering, once retired, and was hoping to have ‘the easy ones’ placed.
Moment, of jaw on chest.
Did he think that all those kids in care he’d seen over the years were living somewhere other than foster homes? Or perhaps that, once back in those foster homes, their life traumas and challenges were put to one side?
Every practitioner, other than fostering folk, sees our kids intermittently, for perhaps an hour or so at a time, and consider that they are doing important work with challenging young people.
How, then, does it happen that the practitioners who spend hour after hour, evening after evening, weekend after weekend alongside those same young people, are perceived to be doing work that is less skilled, less sophisticated and less important?
Which brings me back to the question of parent vs carer....time to declare our position, and to mark a spot in the evolutionary timeline...we’re for foster parent, not because we’re harking back to an old identity, but because the task - the unique task - is one of professional parenting, which is therefore a unique identity - a type of professional practitioner like no other.
To be a foster parent decades ago, pre-1970s - or a ‘house parent’ in residential settings - was to be a low paid, low skilled someone who made beds and cooked meals and washed clothes...you know...the sort of thing women did, that never mattered to anyone (eyebrow raised, polemically) so wasn’t paid well, if at all. Kids, eh, not a proper job, obvs.
Then there was a bit of a revolution, and folk who fostered began to get paid better, and began to gain some traction to be taken seriously.
Part of that campaign, was a distancing, away from that identity of low paid, low skilled ‘just a parent’, with the introduction of ‘carer’, to reflect a greater, more professional status.
But here’s the thing - ‘carer’, these days, is used for someone who pops into the homes of old or disabled folk, in a uniform or tabard, to help with essential tasks that have become difficult, then they leave, after sometimes only a few minutes. Or it describes other family members who care for relatives out of love and duty, helping with those same essential tasks, often informally.
As noble and marvellous as those positions are, neither are parenting, and children who cannot live with their own families, or whose parents cannot perform the parenting task adequately, need new families, and people who can parent them.
And yet, of course, foster parents work within a highly regulated, highly scrutinised environment - they’re not just parents - they are professional parents.
Their challenge, is for the child to feel that they are a new, loving parent - in an ordinary family home - whilst their colleagues feel confident in them as a fellow professional, with all the required vigilance and safeguarding, and thinking on their feet...in their own, ordinary, family homes.
Good ol’ Nadhim got it, passing through as Children’s Minister:
“I like to call them parents because I think what they are actually doing is parenting.... I think what foster parents do is incredible; the ones that I have spoken to see themselves as parents.”
There is a retort that children themselves do not want just another professional in their life. That’s right - they want, they crave, a good parent.
And to be that person - stepping in to do the parenting - means working within a professional framework, meeting professional expectations, and having additional skills and qualities that most parents do not need.
The concept of professional parenting ain’t complicated, if you truly understand and value the work, and we posit, strongly, that proper recognition for foster parents needs to be embedded in proper understanding of what they do. Inadequate understanding leads to unacceptable diminishing and undermining - eroding of confidence and potency - and why would we do that to our children.
'Fosteringmum’ does a lovely job of describing her experience, worth a read beyond these couple of excerpts, and I’m leaving her with the final word:
“No one questions whether my husband as a management consultant and a father can be both professional and parent – nor my father (a civil engineer and a parent and grandparent), nor my brother (a doctor and a father), nor my cousin (a teacher and a mother). Why should it be any different for me as a foster carer? I am both professional and parent – that is who I am, who I choose to be. Who has the right to tell me I am not?
I can tell you that I give just as much attention to my professional development and how I conduct myself in my foster carer role as I did in my previous job – there are standards I must achieve, communications and reports I need to draft clearly and concisely, training I must complete and processes and procedures with which I should comply....
...AND THEN, as a foster mum, I do all those things that I did as a birth parent with my own children – I take my little one to Baby Ballet class and Baby swimming, I hold her close when she has her vaccinations, I potty-train, I teach her to use a knife and fork, recognise colours, count to ten. I sing with her, I take her to the zoo, I stack wooden blocks over and over again so she can delight in pushing them over, I lie on my stomach on the floor and push cars around. I braid her hair and I kiss her tummy when I change her nappy. And yes, I love her.
And I do all these things knowing that one day (possibly soon) I will let her go to her forever family. I do them in the knowledge that I do not have parental responsibility for her. I do them whilst facilitating her contact with her birth family and protecting myself against the possibility of a complaint or allegation....I am me and I am her mum – her FOSTER mum.
I am a professional foster parent.”
Practical and emotional support from communities of foster carers to boost their resilience
Foster families will benefit from projects offering short breaks, mentoring, emergency sleepovers and social activities with other families to help create stability as they adjust to their new lives together.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has today (Thursday 3 October) launched fostering projects in 10 new locations, helping hundreds more foster families with practical and emotional support and advice, helping them tackle the day-to-day challenges of taking in a vulnerable young person from care and create a stable environment for them to live in.
The ‘Mockingbird Family Model’, delivered by The Fostering Network, brings foster families together in groups, centred around one experienced foster carer who lives nearby to act as a mentor. This builds a network on which they can rely in difficult moments, in the same way that families who are together from birth often rely on the support of extended family, friends or neighbours, and helping them cope with challenging behaviour or problems caused by trauma before they escalate.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said:
"Foster parents give stability to children who have often experienced nothing but trauma and chaos at home, giving them opportunities that most of us take for granted. The unique circumstances they face in becoming a new family means they need daily support from people who understand the challenges, offering them much-needed advice and respite when they feel isolated or alone.
Expanding the Mockingbird Family Model into new areas builds on a programme we know has real value to foster families, helping them to form vital communities so that parents can rely on one another through tough times and vulnerable children get the safe, supportive home life they deserve."
The expansion to 10 new areas, part of the Department for Education’s Supporting Families; Investing in Practice programme, acts to keep families together safely and provides a community environment that understands and shares their experiences. It comes as findings from the Mockingbird programme show that foster families assisted through the programme built stronger relationships and became more resilient.
Alongside this additional help for foster families, the Department for Education has also today launched new projects in 18 council areas to support vulnerable children coping with chaotic home lives as a result of their parents’ problems with mental health, domestic violence or addiction. Announced in April and backed by £84 million secured in last year’s Autumn Budget, these projects reaffirm the core principle of the Children Act 1989 that where possible, children are best brought up with their parents.
Kevin Williams, Chief Executive at The Fostering Network, said:
"We’re delighted that the government is showing confidence in the Mockingbird programme and the difference it is making in the lives of fostered children and young people, as well as the foster families caring for them. This extra funding will allow us to bring the benefits of Mockingbird’s extended family model to many more foster families across England and to get further insight into the impact of the programme."
The expansion of Mockingbird Family Model builds on investment worth nearly £500,000 in seven regions to explore new approaches to fostering, helping local authorities understand and meet the needs of children in their area. The funding will help with recruitment and support in the seven fostering partnerships, making sure they are enough foster families, in the right place and at the right time, to offer children the best possible home to meet their needs.
Michael Sanders, Executive Director of What Works for Children’s Social Care, said:
"I’m really excited to be part of this project, which will see a large expansion of the Mockingbird model to 10 new areas, while continuing to build on an already promising evidence base that will help local authorities and young people into the future."
Mockingbird will be expanded into Sheffield, East Cheshire, Wakefield, Warrington, South Tyneside, Barnsley, Staffordshire, Shropshire, Telford & Wrekin and Stoke-on-Trent.
More and more people in their 20s and early 30s are becoming foster carers. Here, younger Guardian readers explain why
Growing up in a fostering family, Natalie Wainwright always planned to become a foster parent. But she didn’t think she’d be doing it in her 20s.
Wainwright, who lives in Sussex, is at 23 one of the UK’s youngest foster carers – well below the average age of 45 to 54. After working full-time as a teacher for a year, she chose to go part-time, believing she could have more of an impact as a foster carer as she felt drawn towards looking after vulnerable children.
Wainwright says people are often surprised at her decision, thinking she should favour the relative freedom of her early 20s over looking after children. But she says she still enjoys meeting friends, listening to music and reading books on the beach – only now she’s doing this with her seven-year-old foster child.
“I sometimes wonder about what I would be doing if I wasn’t fostering, but missing out is not a worry for me,” she says. “There are so many experiences I’ve had because I’m fostering.”
Concern over her age has mainly come from older generations. “It’s been older people questioning my decision,” she says. “More people appreciated it of my generation. I think millennials are quite open in general; they’re not sticking to how things have always been done.”
Wainwright is one of a growing number of millennials choosing to foster or adopt children.
She was driven to do this as growing up in a household with looked-after children, she “came to understand very quickly that children in the care system have stories characterised by pain”.
She adds: “It was difficult to grapple with these things as a child, trying to understand the behaviour of the new sibling I had gained. But I realise now that those experiences cultivated a deeper sense of empathy and resilience in me.”
Connie Robertson-Gurie, 27, was driven by altruistic reasons to become a foster parent at the age of 24, after her eyes were opened to the challenges facing vulnerable children when volunteering abroad for a charity during her gap year. On returning, she and her partner realised “what a dire state we were already in at home”, with more than 70,000 children in care in England and Wales.
“The [care] system is broken,” Robertson-Gurie says. “People have now realised that we need to do something a little bit sooner and we need to be helping these children as children, rather than repair them as broken adults.”
For Robertson-Gurie, it’s up to young adults to do something. Foster care in the UK is facing a “looming crisis” because of a lack of government funding and support, the charity Fostering Network warned earlier this year. The sector is already facing a deficit of more than 8,000 carers, meaning children and young people can be put in “risky” and inappropriate accommodation.
A spokesperson for the charity called for increased recruitment of foster carers from all sections of society to reflect the children and young people coming into care in need of a foster family. Some 164 respondents to a Fostering Network survey in 2018 were between the ages of 18 and 34, compared with 106 in 2016.
Tact, the UK’s largest fostering and adoption charity, has seen a three-fold increase in millennials applying to foster this year, from 10 approved in the 23 to mid-30s age group in 2018, to 36 applicants undergoing assessment now.
“Our younger foster carers tell us that they see fostering as a tangible way of giving back to their community and making a positive difference. Tact has long recognised the skills and abilities that younger adults can bring to fostering,” says chief executive Andy Elvin.
“One couple who began fostering with Tact at just 22 had a teenager as their first placement, and they all agreed it worked really great because the smaller age gap meant they could relate well to each other, and that created a more trusting and open channel of communication.”
Age and perceived inexperience don’t have to hold people back. Legally, people over the age of 18 can become foster carers, and while the assessment process is understandably rigorous, people can consider fostering as long as they are in stable accommodation with a spare room, and enough financial security.
“I was honest with my social worker about how I felt inexperienced,” Wainwright adds, “but she said in some ways it’s better I hadn’t been a parent because a lot of the time people have to relearn a way of parenting, because it’s a different, more therapeutic approach.”
Krish Kandiah, a foster carer who runs the fostering and adoption charity Home for Good, has called for a “radically different approach” to recruitment. He wants people of all ages and demographics to consider it, in order to reflect the varying needs and culture of looked-after children.
When the Guardian asked readers if they had considered adoption or fostering as a millennial, Rebecca, 23, told us she was driven by ethical and environmental concerns to foster or adopt over having birth children. “I have always wanted to become an adoptive parent – [my family] fostered my sister when she was a few months old, and adopted her when she was two.
“Over the last few years I have begun to educate myself on the ecological climate crisis that we are facing, and have made a number of changes in my own life to reflect that – going vegan, package-free, giving up fast fashion.
“I’m not sure if I can reconcile that with the knowledge that I would be bringing an extra human into the world who would consume resources, and also that I would be bringing a child into the world who will have to deal with the consequences of our over-consumption.”
Robertson-Gurie adds: “The world is changing and we need more now in terms of the younger generation stepping up. Millennials think we’re eco-warriors and can change the world. We like to think we’re doing our bit to repair what the generation before us has left behind, and [fostering] gives you the perfect opportunity to do that. We have the future in our hands. We can make a change and I think that’s the most appealing part about fostering.”
Do you work with children and young people who want to change public services, or give voice to the experiences of other children and young people?
We're looking for young people aged 13 - 21 to lead the next phase of the ChildFair State Inquiry: research and development of a new vision for the welfare state by children and young people themselves, with support from a sounding board of policy experts.
This team of Young Leaders will be supported by the brilliant Leaders Unlocked to design and deliver the research project, engaging a total of around 2,500 children and young people from the communities they live in.
They'll be able to challenge issues in areas like education, housing and public spaces, and come up with creative proposals for putting children's needs at the heart of local and national policy and practice.
The team will:
No formal experience is required! We'd like to hear from children and young people from as wide a range of backgrounds and life experiences as possible, and Leaders Unlocked staff can discuss with you what each young person's needs are and how we can support them to participate.
All reasonable expenses relating to the project will be covered for young people. We will also cover the costs of chaperone travel for under-18s and participants with a need for additional support.
If you work in a setting where you feel it would be more appropriate to host a research session by the Young Leaders once they've designed their plan, or otherwise discuss a more tailored activity to enable children and young people you work with to contribute their views, we would also love to hear from you.
This will be a huge journey for everyone involved – for the young people who want to start shaping the state they live in; for the professionals who will hear what children want from their schools, hospitals, streets and housing developments; and for the welfare state, which is strangled by marketisation, managerialism and austerity and desperately needs a new direction.
- Read the full description of the work and the role here, and download materials you can circulate to practitioners and young people themselves.
The deadline for applications is Friday 27th September.
Contact Chloë with any questions about the overall project, or Anna with questions about the Young Leader role.
One woman shares what you need to know if you're considering fostering, too.
Foster carers can fall into a stereotype: middle-aged couples, perhaps retired, perhaps with kids of their own, who are looking to nurture another child.
And the stereotype isn’t untrue. Statistics show the average age of people willing to foster is 45-55. New applicants are, generally, those whose kids have left home – and who have made the decision to dedicate the next chapter of their lives to taking in some of society’s most vulnerable children.
But there’s a type of foster carer who rarely gets mentioned. She’s young, single and in the prime of her life and career. One such woman spoke candidly to HuffPost UK about taking on this role and how rewarding it has been for her.
Veronica, a mother of one from east London, decided to foster more than 10 years ago. Now 46, she has fostered four children long-term and many more for shorter periods. Here she tells her story.
Veronica says: I didn’t fit the stereotype of a ‘typical’ foster carer. I was a single parent who worked full-time – and still went out and socialised. My son and I had a great relationship when he was growing up, but when he left for university at 18, my house was suddenly very quiet. Gone was the hustle and bustle of family life, disputes about housework, music blaring and his friends coming over. In their place was a sense of tranquillity and calmness.
At first I loved it. I was 36, single and had the freedom to come and go as I pleased. But the novelty soon wore off and I felt like I needed to fill a void. It was only then that I really started to think about fostering.
I’d always been interested in it, but thought it was something I’d consider when I was older. The urge to take the plunge and go for it spiralled and, after few months, I decided to look into it properly.
The Process Took Around Five Months
I contacted my local authority to find out whether, as a single woman who worked full-time, I would even be eligible. Invited to interview, they questioned me about my interest in fostering, my skillset and my family history.
I didn’t know what to expect – but I was told soon after that they’d happily welcome me as a carer. I was over the moon. I was allocated a social worker to work closely with me and overall, the process took around five months.
From the onset, I always knew my preference would be to foster older children. I had recently gone through those years with my son, so my mindset was still in that phase of parenting. And I felt I could give more to a teenager. They’re often seen as the age group who are ‘difficult’ to place – problematic, or the ones that cannot be moulded. But I was ready for the challenge.
Even though my son had left home, he was involved from the start. He was interviewed as part of the recruitment process – and was happy to welcome a child into our family when he was visiting from uni.
I Worried I Wouldn’t Be Able To Handle It
My first placement was nerve-wracking. At the last minute, I found myself worrying I wouldn’t be able to handle challenging behaviour in my house – I’d heard horror stories about what happens when fostering goes wrong.
The first young person who came to live with me was 17. English was her second language, so a lot of our relationship was built around teaching her about different cultures. I got her into education to build on her language skills, and the placement went really well. She felt “safe and secure” with me, she said.
I learned very quickly that children of that age have complex needs – anything from serious trust issues to being wary of authority. I was told beforehand that many had witnessed the breakdown of their family, or had victims of serious mental, physical or sexual trauma. With each child, the situation has to be handled sensitively.
Some of the children – especially those from an eastern European background – had never met a black person before, let alone a black person who was born and raised in the UK (me). It was great to dispel the negative stereotypes a lot of these young people held about people of colour.
All the while, my birth son would play an active role. When he was home, he would take it upon himself to make time for the foster children, talk to them and this turned out to be very productive and beneficial to all of us.
I Can’t Deny There Were Struggles
One of the hardest things about fostering is getting too attached – and I learned this the hard way. One teenager was placed with me for 14 months, and it took a long time to build up a bond. She was young and had been through a lot, so found it very hard to trust people. But it just worked, and she stayed with me right up until she was 18.
For her birthday we threw her a small party and she was so happy. As an adult, we both knew she was on the next journey in her life and, a few months after her birthday, she was given her own place.
It was difficult to see her go, it really was, but I was so proud of how far she had come – and what she had achieved in such a short space of time. After she left, it dawned on me how close we got and forced me to make the decision, from then on, to only take on short-term placements. I still see her from time to time, and she always tells me that she has very good memories of her time with me.
Going forward, I knew I had to be wary of getting too attached. I started to tell each foster child I was there to prepare them for their future – it was my way of ensuring they didn’t get too attached, and it protected me emotionally as well.
You Remember The Laughs And Tears
It’s been a journey – and it still is. But I don’t regret a thing. Becoming a foster carer is one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. I’ve met and nurtured some amazing young people, preparing them for the next chapter in their lives. I’ve established great relationships with them, too.
In the past few years, I’ve started doing much shorter placements. The longest a teenager is placed with me now is about two weeks – and these are emergency placements only. I’ll get a phone call asking if I can take on a child and often the child will arrive with nothing – just the clothes on their back and a sheet of paper with their details.
There are always essentials in my house now: toothbrushes, underwear, and nightclothes. The next working day we will go shopping for a list of things they need. I make them feel safe and secure until we have the placement meeting and, once that has gone ahead, the teenager will be placed with a long-term foster family within a week.
It’s been 10 years since I made the decision to become a foster carer to teens: and I look back now and remember both the laughs and the tears. Changing perceptions and teaching young people about acceptance is a positive and powerful thing – and one of the things I am most proud of when it comes to fostering.
As told to Michelle Martin.
If you are interested in Foster Caring, contact your local council or a fostering agency in your area for more information.
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