I recently caught up with Sandra*, a mum, who fosters children until a suitable solution for their care can be found. She explains what’s involved and tells us why she finds it rewarding. *name has been changed to protect identity.
Thank you for talking to me about fostering, I really appreciate it. Can you please tell me what exactly fostering is and what it involves?
Fostering involves caring for children who for one reason or another can’t be cared for by their own family. Social services and a judge will have made the decision that a child can’t be cared for by their family, following a long assessment process. During this time, the family will have been offered lots of support in order to try to keep the child in the family home. Fostering can be very short term (a few days while other family members are assessed to see if they can care for the child) to very long term (until the child is 18).
How did you become a foster carer? I’m assuming you would need to go through certain checks and possibly interviews, is that the case?
The process for becoming a foster carer is a very long one! First of all, you attend a session with social services. Then they do an initial visit. You have to fill in lots of forms, including a list of each place you’ve ever lived! The process takes six months or even longer. During this time, you are assigned a social worker who assesses you, checks references, does safety checks on your house, chats to your children etc.
For you personally, what would you say are the rewards of fostering?
The biggest reward is seeing how much you can change a child’s life. Some of the children who have arrived with us have been so traumatised it can seem like it will be an impossible task to make things better. But with patience and lots of love, anything really is possible.
How many times have you fostered? What ages were the kids?
We have fostered twelve children, some for only a few days, the longest for almost a year. We usually foster pre-school aged children. The youngest was a seven-week-old baby.
What do your family think of this? How do your children interact with the foster kids?
We have deliberately chosen to foster children much younger than our birth children, as this means there isn’t any sibling rivalry. Our birth children love the little ones and get excited whenever a new one arrives. Our daughter especially loves the babies and our son particularly loves the toddlers.
I know that you probably can’t talk about specifics, but have you had any particularly memorable instances? Any challenging behaviour? How do you deal with this?
We fostered one child who we describe as our soul mate. This little one came to us dirty, smelly, injured and crying the whole time. We wondered how on earth we’d cope! Yet very soon, we noticed the little one changing. They developed a massive love for life and were enthusiastic about everything. It was like they became a different person like they’d discovered what life was really meant to be like. It’s been a few years now and this little one has been adopted by the most amazing parents ever. They are the happiest family I have ever met and I could cry with joy every time I think about the change that has happened. We haven’t yet had to deal with any truly challenging behaviour, but our supervising social worker is always on hand to offer support. A child’s school or nursery is usually so happy to know a child is safe and in foster care that they too will offer support. Social services provide training and hold support groups every month. And we have made loads of friends who also foster and they are a great source of support.
On average, how long do you have foster children with you? What happens when it’s time for them to leave? Is there processes to follow?
Each child is different. Some children stay for a few days and move to suitable family members. Some children are able to return home, as their parents have made the necessary changes to keep the child safe. When neither of these outcomes are possible, a child can be put up for adoption. This is a lengthy process, and social services will make sure that the adopters are a great match for the child. We have been lucky enough to have had input, meeting the potential adopters before they meet the child. The transition is carefully planned and support is given to everyone involved.
Do you keep in touch with those you have fostered when they move on?
Every situation is different, but we have been able to keep in touch with most of the children we have fostered. In the words of the wonderful new mummy and daddy of one of our little ones, we are their ‘very special friends’.
If someone was interested in fostering, what advice would you give them? Where is the best place to find out more information?
Contact your local social services fostering department in the first place. They will be able to give you all the information. And finally, many people say ‘I could never foster, I’d get too attached to the children’. My reply would be ‘You are exactly the kind of person who should foster; these children need someone to care for them so much that they will struggle to say goodbye to them’. Fostering is amazing and wonderful and difficult and brilliant; if you’re thinking about it, find out more. You have nothing to lose and so much to gain.
Interview by Danni, Mummy Social Team.