I am a single foster carer with two sons age 21 and 17. My mum lives with us in a self-contained annexe within our home and between us, we have 3 dogs. I work in a school term time only.
I have wanted to become a foster carer since I was a little girl. I was inspired by my mum who grew up in the care system from the age of 7.
I am a realist and went into my fostering journey with my eyes wide open. The Skills to Foster Course gave me a good overview of what is expected and involved but I wanted to hear more from other foster carers, so I read many books written by Casey Watson and Cathy Glass. I watched YouTube videos on child development, trauma, attachment, therapeutic parenting, as well as teenagers sharing their experiences of the care system.
I felt I had prepared myself and my family as much as I could, but I did not anticipate starting my fostering career during Covid19 and then my youngest son needing a major operation with a 3-week hospital stay that included 4 days in the high dependency unit.
When my first placement arrived, we were all excited and nervous. I remember thinking that my nerves were nothing compared to how the child in front of me would be feeling. Surprisingly, the child presented as extremely confident and immediately spoke factually about their past. The very next day we agreed our house rules.
The next few weeks came as a shock to all our systems. Not only had I been entrusted to look after a vulnerable child while in lockdown with homeschooling as a bonus, I immediately learnt the hard way about hypervigilance. As a family, we struggled to find any alone time to talk as the child quickly became anxious if I left their side or if my phone rang. The initial confident persona slipped away to reveal a vulnerable child affected by their traumas. My sons struggled to get used to a girl being in the house and my mum was frustrated with having every conversation interrupted. It was a big juggling act for myself, but I kept positive and focused and was thankful for the dogs at this time as it helped with daily exercise and quickly became part of our new routine. This also gave me an opportunity to get to know the child a little better. On the third week, a placement at school was arranged which brought some routine for us all.
I thought it would get easier but as the child was learning to trust me and feel safe the boundary testing started. I already knew a little about this and was able to separate the child from the behaviours. My SSW recommended reading ‘Nurturing Attachments by Kim Golding’ and ‘The A-Z of Therapeutic Parenting by Sarah Naish’. These books were my ‘quick go-to tools’ during these times. The behaviours all coincided with my son’s operation where my mum helped with the child’s care so that I could be with my son in the hospital. Unfortunately, my mum was not able to cope with the testing behaviours or visit her grandson in hospital due to Covid 19 restrictions. The child felt like I was abandoning them, so I had to arrange respite care for a weekend. This was for the daytime only as I did not want the child to feel I was totally abandoning them, I needed to know they were safe and give my mum a break in the process. This really pulled on my heartstrings and was the most emotionally draining time for me.
It took around 6 weeks for the child to start to relax and feel safe. Yes, there have been many challenging behaviours along the way, and I am sure others will surface but by using PACE and Therapeutic Parenting progress has been made. I had already explained to my family that my parenting style would be completely different with the children who come to live with us, my mum is from the older generation and struggles at times to understand this but now she has seen the difference in behaviours she is amazed, as am I.
So far I am loving the challenge of helping to make a difference. We have laughed so many times along this journey, I feel blessed to share those special moments with my foster child. I have learnt just as much from her as she has from me and a bond has been made. It is a wonderful feeling to see the positive improvements no matter how small and for the child to put their trust in you.
Before becoming approved as a foster carer, I worried about having the energy to do this. I was made fully aware of all the meetings and paperwork involved so that part came as no shock and fortunately it is something I am experienced in. Now that I am fostering I sometimes have to pinch myself; ‘I am doing it’, I feel I have a new lease of life; a new purpose and I appreciate time with my family that much more. Yes, there have been some big changes, a whole new routine for me to be precise but it is working, and I love it.
The biggest thing I am looking forward to is lockdown being lifted so that we can share new experiences with our foster child and give her more positive memories to look back on her time with us.
I am also looking forward to officially starting my fostering training. I feel fortunate to have a great SSW who has been a big support as well as the good working relationships with all the professional involved so far.
They say you never forget your first foster child, I most certainly won’t and I hope that she will look back on the many fond memories we have shared and know that she was safe, accepted and loved for who she is.