As our Parent and Child campaign continues to attract positive interest from the public, we caught up with Sally, one of our Warrington Borough Council Foster Carers.
Sally and her family undertake all kinds of fostering, having welcomed many babies, toddlers, children and teenagers over the years. They’ve cared for children on a short term, long term and respite and emergency basis. They’ve also welcomed three young mums and their babies as part of the Parent and Child programme.
How did you get in to Parent and Child fostering Sally?
‘We previously fostered with an IFA which is where we undertook the training, so when we transferred to Warrington Borough Council, it was already something we were interested in.
Our initial interest stemmed from our own daughter, Sasha, when she was very young. She’d observed us caring for babies and asked us, “How do you know how to look after a baby?”.
It really struck a chord with my husband and I. How do you know how to look after a baby?? Especially if you’ve not had a parent or wider family to learn from. I think it’s something most of us take for granted- the fact that you just know. But in reality, you’ve learned what you know from observing others, without even realising it. For some young parents- they just haven’t had the chance to do that. We already knew that Parent and Child Fostering was a thing, but had never explored it. That conversation sparked our thought process. We knew that so many young parents didn’t have anyone to show them how to look after a child, and we felt that we could help.
We’ve had three young mums and their babies stay with us so far, one when we were with the agency and two since we’ve been with Warrington.
What have been the most memorable parts of the role?
When it’s successful and you see them move on and they are able stay together as their own little family. It’s witnessing that moment, without a doubt. Seeing a young family flourish is just so heart-warming and humbling. You are just thrilled for them.
The hardest parts are when its not successful. Sometimes the parent just can’t cope with the responsibility of a baby and leaves. Then you may start just fostering the baby on their own, until formal decisions are made about their long-term care. During this time, social workers will be looking at alternative arrangements, such as exploring the parent’s wider family, and if that’s not suitable, adoption. It can be a hard and uncertain time.
What advice would you give to either existing foster carers or members of the public who are considering it?
It’s a really complex role and you have to remember your training. It’s not like your general fostering, you sometimes have to remember to take that step back. For example if you have a mother and baby and the baby is crying, you can’t just pick them up as you would do a fostered child or your own children. You have to remember you’re there to support, encourage and observe, so encourage the mum to pick them up, or ask them first. Remember what your role is. If you’re doing everything for them, they won’t be successful in doing it on their own when you’re not there. At the same time, keeping the baby safe and well is of course paramount. It’s always lovely to have a baby in the house.
Don’t go into it for the wrong reasons, it’s not a way of being a parent yourself, in the way that long term fostering can be for example. If you have parenting skills you think you can share, and you want to help young families stay together, then absolutely go for it, you’ll never look back.
What skills do you think you need to be a successful parent and child carer?
Patience and understanding, and the ability to be forgiving if they ‘make a mistake’. They’re trying their hardest, but they’re going to make mistakes, we all do as parents. You’ve got to remember that as humans, we’re all equal. You’re not ‘better’ than the parent, it’s about everyone working together in the best way they know how, to bring about positive change.
Good communication and the ability to work with professionals is key. You all need to work as a team. You, the parent and social workers.
Of course each parent’s circumstances are different, but what are some of the needs parents have had?
Many of the young mums we have supported have had some form of learning needs. With one of our mums in particular, she struggled to remember little things, so we would leave prompts out for her. We spoke to her first and asked did she think she’d find it helpful if we left notes around the house. We agreed we’d leave notes on the fridge, which she could look at each morning as reminders for the day; a reminder to sterilize bottles, times of appointments etc. It worked well for her.
Can you give us a bit of a ‘day in the life of a parent and child carer’ scenario? What are the day-to day-tasks and how do you contribute to the work the social worker is undertaking (parenting assessments etc).
The day will generally start with making sure they are up on time, and throughout the day you’ll encourage them with all the day-to-day tasks being a parent brings. You’ll remind them about or take them to and from appointments; show them how to use the washing machine; encourage them to develop a consistent feeding routine; show them how to wind and change the baby for example. Often you’ll need to model things multiple times to ensure they’ve really got the hang of it.
In the evening you’ll help model a strong bedtime routine and once baby is asleep, allow time for mum to relax and show her how to prepare for the next day. With one mum I would also help with babysitting once a week or so, so that she and baby’s dad could have some quality time together, which was really important.
There’s also lots of recording to do with P&C, even more than for standard fostering and you have to be mindful that any of the recordings you do are likely to be used in court. The Judge relies on what feedback you have provided to the Social Workers to assist them in making make their final decisions, so you need to factor in time to complete your observational recordings.
Regular conversations with parents are important too, so I ensure I chat with the parents throughout the day, see what they are thinking and how they feel they are coping.
With one of ours, we had just completed an adoption on the Saturday, moving a little one who we had fostered onto their forever home. So it was an emotional time. And on the Monday a mum and baby moved in. It was quite a stark reminder that these things can go either way. Sometimes you do have to keep reminding the parents that this is their final opportunity for them to be able to successfully keep their child in their care and for them to stay together as a family, and that you’re really rooting for them.
How are you supported by the Fostering Team?
We have our own Supervising Social Worker and the Fostering Service, who provide us with regular guidance, and we also have the mum’s Social Worker, so we all work together as a team. I undertook my P&C training prior to Warrington, but there’s so much training available that helps with the role. From First Aid to healthy eating, even finances to support parents with claiming benefits etc. It’s all beneficial.
Thanks for chatting with us Sally, some really great insight!
If you’ve been inspired by Sally’s story and think you could become a Parent and Child Foster Carer, fill in our enquiry form and tell us a little about yourself http://foster4.co.uk/enquire