Advice from an experienced foster carer for people new to fostering
At Focus Foster Care we have an inspirational couple who have been fostering for over 40 years, R&J. They have fostered for local authorities as well as independent agencies and have been working for Focus Foster Care since our 1agency was first established in 2017. When it comes to sharing advice and giving an insight into what life as a foster carer is really like, R&J were the perfect people to ask to share their wisdom. Whilst all children are different and no placement will be the same as the last, there is a lot to be learnt from people who have been fostering for several years. R&J have cared for over 100 children, including two of their own biological children, and have supported children and young people from many different backgrounds and family circumstances. R has shared seven pieces of important advice for new foster carers and for people thinking about pursuing a career in fostering. We hope this insight into life as a foster carer helps people thinking about fostering to understand more what it is really like….
Advice for new foster carers (from a foster carer of 40 years).
1)Find a supportive agency – It is important to find a supportive agency. At Focus, the team know all the children and foster carers, this isn’t always the case. Sometimes, you can feel like a number and you may have to speak with social workers who don’t know you personally, or the children you are looking after. With Focus, I know that it doesn’t matter what time of day it is, if I need support someone will always answer the phone. Focus Foster Care is a tight knit, family orientated team and this is not always the way at other agencies and authorities.
2)Take part in regular training – Keeping up to date with foster carer training is really important. We have been fostering for 40 years and still undergo regular monthly training and learn new things. Training days also give you a chance to meet other foster carers.
3)Expect a challenge – Fostering is challenging and new carers need to be prepared for this. Children can come to live with you who are experiencing mental health difficulties, misusing substances, have challenging behaviours and sometimes, due to previous life experiences, are unwilling to accept your love and support. Sometimes a child leaves and I think I haven’t made a difference, even when we have tried our best. Not every child we have cared for has been a challenge but new carers should be aware fostering isn’t easy a lot of the time.
“As one person I cannot change the world. But I can change the world for one person.”Unknown
4)Prepare for the grief of saying goodbye – When it is time for a child to move on it can feel like a form of grief. It is sad when you have to say goodbye but it is important to remain positive in front of the child, show them it is a good thing that they either get to go back home or it is an adventure to move on to somewhere new. If you need to cry, wait until they are out the door and break down then if you need to. Over the years we have got used to saying goodbye when it has been time for the children to move on. We always say to the young people we care for that no matter how old you are you will always have a home here.
5)Include the whole family – Sometimes children can be reluctant to accept what we say as their foster carers and we have found our adult biological children have been able to relate to children differently in certain situations. Teenagers are often more accepting of a younger person talking to them and our own children have been really supportive to the children we look after. If you want a child to feel like a part of the family you need to include your own family; two girls we fostered were bridesmaids at our son’s wedding. We go on holidays with our children, grandchildren and foster children. Making these children feel welcome and making them feel at home with your family is a big family effort. Life as a foster family works best when everyone is included and involved.
6)You need a good sense of humour – As a foster carer you hear about some really upsetting things and see first-hand the impact neglect, abuse, addiction and so on can have on children and young people. Having a good sense of humour helps you to deal with all the challenges, difficult situations and the more upsetting aspects of fostering.
“The children who need the most love will always ask for it in the most unloving ways,”Russell Barkley
7)Love children unconditionally – All you can do is love children unconditionally. It is not always easy, sometimes their presentation can be really challenging. They may not always be accepting of your love but you need to love them anyway, show them you are there for them even when they try to push you away.
We hope you have found R’s advice useful and her knowledge has helped you understand life as a foster carer better. If you are interested in finding out more about fostering and joining our West Midlands based independent fostering agency, please contact us on 0800 524 4797.