How Foster Caring Can Transform Lives
A mum from Yorkshire shares her experiences of foster caring with Living North
‘When I was eight years old, my mother died and my father hired an amazing woman called Christine to look after me and my two siblings,’ she says. 'She had a real impact on all our lives, loving us unconditionally. I honestly don’t know where we would have been without her.
‘From my experience with Christine, I always knew that I wanted to give a child the same stability and love. However, I repressed my desire to foster until my older children had grown up, but then fell pregnant again at the age of 45. At that point, I thought it unlikely that I would ever foster because I wasn’t sure of the impact on my new-born son, Arthur’s life. One night, I was reading a book to him about a child refugee. He thought it wonderful that a family took the child into their home and cared for him. A conversation about fostering ensued and I found that he was keen to give it a try.’
The application process with TACT was very thorough. ‘Celina, the lady who did the checks, was amazing,’ she says. ‘She steered me through the process with patience and prepared me for all the possible fostering challenges. I was nervous at the thought of the panel, but Celina made sure that I was prepared and calm. The panel members were all very kind, not intimidating at all. I cried when TACT agreed to let me foster – my dream was about to become a reality.
‘It took about a month and a half after being approved to foster, before I got my first foster child, a 12-year-old girl. I was excited, nervous and fearful. I had waited so long to foster, then suddenly, it was about to happen. What if the child didn’t like me? What if I didn’t know what to say or do to make them feel safe and wanted? I just had to put my best foot forward, trust in myself, and jump in.’
In those first few weeks she realised that not all children, regardless of attachment issues, want to bond and be part of a new family. ‘What she wanted was to be with her own siblings,’ she explains. ‘She moved back to her hometown and is now happy because she sees her family regularly. After she left, I looked after a teenage girl who also moved a considerable distance from her original hometown, and did not see her siblings often enough. Separation can have a significant impact on any siblings’ mental wellbeing and stability in care. She has also moved back to her local authority, has regular contact with her siblings and contacts me regularly for a catch up. I believe keeping siblings together is imperative. If we have willing carers, every possible solution should be found to keep children together.’
She now looks after two boys who are from a large sibling group. ‘Though I couldn’t look after all the children, I did have enough room to take the two boys. It just felt right,’ she says. ‘Staying together, they draw on each other for emotional support and comfort during a difficult time. It gives them the sense of familiarity and security needed to feel more at ease in their new living situation. I can’t imagine how it must feel to be removed from home and then separated from your siblings. The boys have experienced trauma and instability, which can manifest in different ways. They have individual needs and require different levels of support, so I need to be flexible and adaptable. I have had to work hard to build their trust and create a sense of safety and stability.’
That said, she has found fostering siblings to be deeply rewarding. ‘Both boys have not only settled in well, but now trust me and feel safe,’ she adds. ‘I feel like I am making a real difference to their lives at a time when they feel so vulnerable. The boys can advocate for each other and provide mutual support. They work together to communicate their needs and concerns to me and their social workers. Though they have each other, they do miss and worry about their other brothers and sisters. They have contact with them once a week and group chats on WhatsApp, but it’s far from perfect.’
The demand on her time and energy is huge but she manages by walking the dogs, writing daily logs and talking to her friend. ‘This helps me to reflect, and I can usually find a solution, or at least a positive plan, to try to resolve any ongoing issues,’ she says. ‘My son Arthur has been a huge support to me on my fostering journey. He is only eight but has shared his home and mum generously. The boys both trust him with their worries and miss him when he’s at his dad’s. Arthur feels he has gained two brothers and is very fond of them both. Arthur has learned so much through fostering, particularly to empathise. He has gained some wonderful tools to help him navigate through life. I was very worried that fostering could have a negative impact on him but, the opposite is true. He is kind, sensitive and patient; a great foster brother.’
After just three months, the two boys are thriving. ‘They have settled in, put on weight and their confidence has grown,’ she continues. ‘The house is noisy but it’s the best feeling to see them laugh and looking so relaxed. The boys learning to ride bikes will be a memory that stays with me forever. I will never forget their whoops of joy as they shouted, “I can ride a bike!”
‘It has been hard work, creating strict routines and boundaries, but it is all starting to pay off. My reward and enjoyment come from seeing the difference I am making, watching them heal and grow. It’s a pleasure and a privilege to be part of their lives.’
TACT is a charity that reinvests any surplus income to help meet the needs of the children. ‘The children come first, as they should, which is why I approached the organisation,’ she concludes. ‘The staff have all been hugely supportive. My TACT supervising social worker (SSW) is always there and ready to listen and help. Her guidance and support have been invaluable to me. When the boys arrived, they only had the clothes they were stood in. My SSW arrived with bags of clothes that had belonged to her children, which was fantastic and truly appreciated.
‘I feel valued and respected as part of the team and am more confident and capable as a result. I look forward to continuing to work with TACT to achieve our shared goal of creating better lives for children and young people.’