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9 stages of fostering, as told by Alison.

Thursday 08 February 2024

Alison began fostering when the youngest of her birth children was 12. Her elder three children had begun leaving home, either to go to uni or to move into their own place, and as space became available in the house, Alison began to think seriously about becoming a foster carer.

1. I was inspired to foster

Fostering had always interested her. She recalls her parents talking fondly about fostering a child before Alison – the last of twelve children – was born. Alison’s sister worked in a secure unit and Alison was inspired by hearing about the work she did. On both an emotional and practical level, fostering made sense.

2. Finding the right agency

She asked around among her friends, some of whom fostered for the local authority and some of whom fostered for the National Fostering Group. There were pros and cons to both, but two factors helped her to decide, as Alison explained:

“The National Fostering Group South East had an ‘Outstanding’ Ofsted rating, which appealed to me as I’d worked in teaching and lecturing and sat on school council committees. Also, I was impressed by the quality of the training that NFG offered.”

3. Being Approved to foster

It took around 10 months to complete the application process. Alison was approved to foster in 2018 and her first foster child, a boy of seven, arrived in June of that year. It was his ninth placement and he had been separated from his two siblings due to his unpredictable behaviour.

4. Becoming an advocate

Alison admitted to being apprehensive when he arrived, but the Therapeutic Parenting training she underwent really helped. Five and a half years later, the same foster child is still with her – a reflection of Alison’s patience, persistence and determination to be his voice, the advocate for what he needs. This includes fortnightly therapy.

There have been many challenges along the way, not the least of which was the breakdown of Alison’s marriage in 2020. This was entirely unconnected with the decision to foster, and Alison and her ex-husband have remained friends. In fact, the foster child still visits him at weekends, as Alison explained:

“It’s really good for him to have a positive male role model and my ex-husband and I were both good at parenting so, although I’m mostly a solo foster carer now, we’ve maintained those links as our foster child really benefits from the interactions with him.”

5. Implementing self-care is crucial

Alison believes that it’s even more important, as a single foster carer, to have a good self-care routine and she does two weekly yoga classes and two Pilates classes, as well as working out at the gym.

“This was something they stressed to us on the Therapeutic Parenting course – you have to take good care of yourself, it’s part of your professional duty. I turned 60 this year and I have to stay fit for my own mental health, but also to be able to take good care of my foster son. He struggles sometimes to be with his own peers, so I need to be able to participate in child-orientated adventures.”

6. My birth children became great role models

Alison’s birth children have all been very supportive of her fostering journey, especially her daughter who was just 12 when the foster child came to live with them.

“It’s not always been easy for her because he wanted my sole attention at first. The fostering agency was really good, though. They recognised how challenging it was for her and sent her gifts to say thank you and made sure she was OK. Actually, all of my birth children have been great role models for him.”

7. We became a fostering family

Alison recalls an especially challenging moment at Christmas time. Her foster child had been attending a weekly art group and they had been decorating a large glass bauble, both inside and out. At the end of the course, he brought it home proudly but, as Alison went to hang it in pride of place above the door, she dropped it and it smashed.

“I just felt sick. I didn’t know what to do. He ran behind the sofa and hid. One of my daughters, who was there at the time, quietly cleaned up the broken glass. Then she said to me ‘we have a plain bauble in the attic. I think, if we get it down, I might be able to decorate it with these broken bits’. I said to our foster child I was so, so sorry and told him that was what we were going to do. My daughter sat with him really quietly. He pointed to the broken bits, but couldn’t touch them because they were sharp, and she attached them to the other bauble. We still have it to this day and it comes out every year. I can’t put into words how amazing my birth children have been since I’ve been fostering. They make a fantastic contribution, I’m so proud of them.”

8. Seeing the rewards of fostering 

There have been many highs alongside the challenges. Alison recalls taking her foster child on a 9km bike ride when he first came. He became angry and frustrated and threw the bike down the hill several times, saying that he couldn’t do it. It took a long, long time for Alison to complete the ride with him, but they did it. And in the last couple of years he’s done it several times and “absolutely smashed it”. Alison said this has been one of the highlights of his time with her – seeing how far he has come.

9. Letting them come to you

Allison has this advice for would-be foster carers:

“If you want to squish your brain around understanding the human condition, then fostering is for you. If you want easy money, then don’t be bothering. Therapeutic parenting training is helpful, but you have to be able to apply it to the child. Let them come to you and be who they are. You won’t fix things, but you can support them and make a huge difference.”

If you’re unsure whether you’re eligible, try our Can I Foster? tool, which answers common questions about suitability to foster, based on a personalised Q and A style format. The outcome might surprise you! If you’re ready to chat with one of our fostering advisors, contact your local team.

Find out if you could be a foster carer
Find out if you could be a foster carer
In a few simple questions, you’ll know if you’re suitable to apply to become a foster carer.