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Learning to Parent Differently – Tracy and Ricky’s Story

Tuesday 04 June 2024

Tracy and Ricky began fostering with their Local Authority 11 years ago. During lockdown – like many people – Tracy began to feel increasingly isolated and decided that she needed to be part of a community, working alongside other foster carers who thought the same way she did.

“We started looking around at independent fostering agencies and Heath Farm jumped out. They operate something called the Mockingbird model, which is where a group of fostering families come together around a central hub, supporting each other and meeting up regularly. It is more of a therapeutic approach to fostering which was, essentially, putting a name to something we were already doing. When you look after children who’ve had a difficult start in life, you have to change the way you parent. We moved to Heath Farm three years ago and we’re very happy we switched.”

A natural choice

Fostering had always felt like a natural choice for Tracy and Ricky, who have three sons of their own, and were used to a busy home with lots of children coming and going. Their youngest was nine when they first applied to foster and his two elder siblings had grown up and left home. All three were fully supportive of the decision.

The family’s first foster child was a boy of four and a half. Tracy said:

“We had to adjust to the fact that this child was not ours, we were not his parents, and that was quite hard at first. We were new to fostering and it came as a shock to realise that we had to ask permission for things that seemed quite insignificant to us, like taking him for a haircut. Also, we were in our 40s at the time and having a little one again was quite tiring. He was with us for two years, at the end of which he was united with his dad, which was lovely. We still get updates from his birth family.”

Respite fostering

After their first foster child left, Tracy and Ricky spent some time as respite foster carers. Tracy said:

“The children could be with us for a weekend or for six months, we never quite knew. One young person had only managed to stay in a foster home for a few days before she came to us; she was with us for six weeks. I was particularly keen to work with children with mental health issues or eating disorders and did all of the training going so I could learn how to support them better.”


When the family moved to Heath Farm three years ago, they’d resumed long-term fostering and transferred with their foster child – a boy of 9 – who had been with them for a year at that time. He’s now 12 and is thriving within the Mockingbird extended family model.

“He absolutely loves it,” explained Tracy. “We go out together every month as a group and spend time at each other’s houses. The children have sleepovers and I get to meet other foster carers and share experiences and advice with them. The support is phenomenal and if we need it there’s wraparound care from the supervising social workers and agency managers as well.

“Our foster son is with us until he’s 18. He’s a joy. He was so shy when he came and often tearful but now he’s confident and funny and he’s doing really well at school. We love him and he loves us. He’s part of our family and also spends time with his birth family.”

Good relations

Tracy has always been very keen to foster good relations with birth families, for the sake of the children. She said:

“Even if, historically, things may have been difficult within the birth family, I want the children to feel it’s OK to still love their parents and to know that their parents love them, despite the fact things aren’t perfect. So, I like to say positive things about their birth parents and we do whatever we can to end placements well and to offer support to the child and their birth parents, if this is appropriate.”

Tracy is a keen advocate of training and has completed a broad spectrum of different courses since joining Heath Farm, from Therapeutic Parenting to Understanding Autism. Some of the training is mandatory and there are many other courses to choose from.

Rewards and challenges

She finds that the biggest reward of fostering is seeing how well their foster child is doing and observing the changes in him since he came to them four and a half years ago. There are also many challenges and the greatest of these is when the outcomes are not what everyone hopes. She said:

“All you want to do is help but sometimes you have to accept that you can’t help as you would like to and that can be really hard.”

Empathy, patience and humour

She believes would-be foster carers need a strong mix of empathy and patience, plus a sense of humour. She said:

“Fostering is a vocation, it’s 24/7. You need the right support and backing behind you. Nothing can quite prepare you for having an unknown child in your home. You are not their birth parent so you have to learn to parent differently. But the rewards are amazing so I’d say ‘Don’t be scared, give it a go’.”

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.