Caring for foster children
It's Foster Care Fortnight, hosted by the Fostering Network, which aims to raise awareness of foster care and the shortage of foster parents, so we've asked three foster carers to explain the challenges and delights of fostering a child.
I first got interested in fostering when the youngest of my five children left home to go to university. My daughter said I should think about becoming a foster carer as "I was too good to retire as a mum”, and had a lot to offer a child.
I have now been fostering for six years. Each child comes with its own set of problems, which can be extremely diverse.
I have had a young asylum seeker who arrived four days before Christmas, who could not speak a word of English or read and write his own language. I was told he was a Muslim and had to follow Muslim traditions. Information on the internet and from social services allowed us to muddle through the holiday without too many problems. He is now independent and still rings me every week, and his English is very good.
I think every carer at some point has said they are going to give up fostering, but then you look back at the success you have achieved. You realise that if not for your patience and determination, maybe those children would not have had a stable home, even if it was only for a short time.
We became foster carers when our youngest son was about six years old and the rest of our family had started to go their own way.
After two months we had a phone call to ask if we had a place for a four-week-old baby, on a short placement. Eleven months later he went for adoption. That baby started our career in fostering just over 20 years ago, and is still in touch with us to this day.
I think that we have experienced nearly all the challenges that most foster carers face. There are the everyday things like behavioural problems of swearing, rudeness, table manners, general abuse and stealing from the house, including money and other small objects that are not missed until later.
Not everything is sweetness and light. There are bad times and times when you wonder why you are doing this to yourself, but there are rewarding times. Out of the blue you meet one of your young people and they are doing well, or they send you a card.
Over the years we have met some smashing kids and we like to think that we may have been able to help one or two of them. This in itself keeps us going.
Fostering is a roller-coaster ride if ever there was one. The highs and the excitement are amazing and the lows are gut-wrenching and stomach-churning.
Letting go is the worst: the babies in placement who go on to 'forever families' are a real heartbreaker. You pack up for them, wave goodbye with a smile on your face and then collapse in floods of tears behind your closed door. Then you have to make sure you’re back on happy mode in time for the others in placement to get in from school.
Expect the unexpected. Love isn't always enough, but it goes a long way. You have to cultivate your sense of humour and ability to function cheerfully despite broken nights. No two days are ever the same.
I love fostering, despite it being hard work both physically and emotionally. At the end of a year, or a month or a week, you can see the difference in the little person who has become a part of your family, which makes it all worthwhile.
Visit the Fostering Network for more information about fostering and the shortage of foster parents.