As part of our ‘Could you open your door?’ campaign, we sat down for a chat with some of our existing foster carers. They told us all about why they opened their doors and decided to foster.
How did you start fostering?
I, Charlie, started fostering long before I met Graham. I was a foster carer for Wigan for 4.5 years before we met, I lived in Leigh at the time. Initially, I was inspired through a British Sign Language course I was doing. There, I met a lady who fostered and I really liked the idea. I picked up the phone, and 10 months later I was a foster carer!
I took a break when our relationship was new, but really missed it. Graham and I discussed fostering together for a long time before we took it any further. Graham was always on board, but I did feel initially it was more to keep me happy. How wrong was I!
What were your main concerns initially?
As above, I was initially concerned Graham was doing it to make me happy, but things have changed so much since then. He’s absolutely an equal (if not bigger!) driver, he’s the one who researches everything, he’s so interested in developments in the sector that can make things better for children, such as the new Mockingbird programme Warrington are developing. Of course you also think things like ‘am I good enough?’ ‘Can I give them what they need?’ and some days you still think like that. But as long as you keep children at the fore of everything you do, every decision you make, you can’t go far wrong. We learn from our mistakes, try to constantly evaluate what we’ve done and change what we need to. We never stand still, evolve as the children do and learn new skills every day.
Tell us a bit about your household and the type of fostering you do.
We currently have two children with us, who we are caring for long-term. One has been with us for three years and the other for four. We also have another child who comes to stay with us every third weekend. They are all part of our family. We have fostered 31 children in all so far, from babies to teens. We’re on the out of hours list so do emergency care too- we really enjoy that. We find welcoming new children, being that friendly face, helping them to settle and make sense of their situation and giving them new experiences for the first time really rewarding. Now we’ve got the two children settled long-term, we tend to foster children younger than them, so they can keep their natural place in our family.
What’s the best thing about fostering?
Such a tough one! Too hard to narrow down to just one thing. There are so many, but for us, the best things are: Helping them to settle, seeing them grow, helping them to enjoy new experiences and seeing them progress. We reassure them that this is a different chapter in their lives, just a different way of doing things and we are going to be there to help them.
What about the hardest?
Helping the children and young people to understand their feelings and emotions is really hard. They are often so confused, they don’t even understand what their emotions are. We help them to use words to frame them, and help them to understand when they are confused, frightened, sad or excited, then we teach them the strategies to cope. Often the children have suffered so much neglect or abuse, that they really don’t know how to feel.
What was life like before fostering?
Much quieter! But definitely less rewarding. It was very different- we were both working full-time. Graham was a senior manager working all over the country, and I was an office manager. It certainly wasn’t my dream job, more just one of those jobs you fall into.
How did you find the assessment process?
Very in-depth (understandably). There was a bit of a concern as we’d been together less than three years when we applied to foster together for Warrington. The service just wanted to make sure our relationship would withstand the challenges fostering would bring, and we’re glad they challenged us as it really does make you think. The fact that Charlie had already been a foster carer previously definitely helped us. As a result, we were advised to just do respite care initially, which was a bit disappointing. But after just a couple of months we started to foster full-time and have never stopped since.
What’s been your proudest moment as a foster carer?
There are so many! This year, the children we foster long-term have really made us so proud. The eldest did a singing performance at school, whereas previously he was so shy. It was amazing to see. The younger one has recently very successfully transitioned to high school and is thriving. We honestly couldn’t be prouder of them. They’re really coming into their own.
Which training course have you enjoyed the most?
We really got an awful lot from the Solihull course. If you don’t know what it is, have a Google. It’s fantastic. We also really love getting involved with recruitment of new carers, helping out with Skills to Foster and Information Sessions. I’ve heard the Health and Safety course is great too (I, Graham, run that one haha!)
What about the support you get?
It’s paramount. It’s all about building trusting relationships with the important people in the child or young person’s life. From school staff, to health workers, to social workers, working together as a team is what it’s all about. It’s not always easy, but we find that having everyone in one place, contactable at the council, helps so much.
What’s being part of the Local Authority fostering community like?
It’s great! We’re physically all so close, it makes it easy to support one-another. We’re all part of the same team and know everybody, from fellow foster carers to support staff to managers. There’s also always so much going on, you couldn’t fail to be made feel welcome and part of this special service.
What would you say to anyone considering fostering?
If you’re already thinking about it, then you’ve taken the first step. Pick up the phone or make an enquiry online and take it from there. Believe in yourself and make it happen. It’s the best thing we’ve ever done and we couldn’t function without fostering. It’s our life. This is what our family is, albeit a bit different to some. It’s just what we feel we were meant to do. Other advice would be to lean on your fellow foster carers for support. Realise there will be tough days, but also many opportunities to celebrate your successes. Go for it!
Thanks Charlie and Graham! Feeling inspired to open your door like they were? Enquire today and become a foster carer in early 2020.