The importance of family through the good times and the bad
Being in a close-knit family often involves sharing in the positive aspects of life, whether that’s celebrating birthdays and important achievements or simply enjoying family days out together.
However, it could be said that the true value of having a caring and supportive family around you shines through when you need them the most.
We spoke to foster carer Julie from Cardiff, who explained how caring for a foster child was made all the more difficult after a tragic family death as her husband sadly passed away.
It was only through sheer resilience and by helping each other get past the grieving process that both Julie and foster child Jake were able to rebuild their lives and heal in a way that only a loving family can.
The start of an inspiring fostering journey
Having already worked at a local school as a counsellor for eight years, Julie was well placed to offer therapeutic support to any child or young person that came into her home, while her husband also worked as a therapist.
Despite this significant and relevant experience, they were all too aware that they needed to make sure that the long-term care of any child was going to benefit all involved.
“I had worked with children and young people for a long time, and I had often wondered if I had the opportunity to spend more time with a child, what difference could I make?’ said Julie.
‘I slowed my life down a little bit and I took voluntary redundancy from my job, but it coincided with me freeing up some time to realise that we wanted to look into fostering’.
‘We applied to a fostering provider based in Cardiff at the time, which is now known as NFA Wales‘.
‘Sometimes you want to do these things, but it has to be a best fit for everybody, and I understand that the scrutiny has to be around not just making sure you will be a good foster placement for a child, but also whether or not you are capable enough to do it – and during this process my husband and I realised that we were’.
‘The Skills to Foster course was quite eye opening and they make you aware of the worst-case scenario. But I think it did give us food for thought about the potential issues we could come up against’.
‘We really did take our time when we were offered children, and we though a lot about what would work for our family dynamic. Because we were new foster carers, the last thing I wanted to do was find out that I’d bitten off more than I could chew”.
Chocolate brownie shaped icebreaker
“We ended up choosing to foster Jake as it sounded like it would be a really good fit for everybody. He came to the house with his foster carer at the time, as well as his siblings. We had a chat and it felt really good. He was 11 at the time, but I just saw this lovely boy who was very unsure, very uncertain – and my heart just went out to him’.
‘I talked afterwards with my husband and we just knew it was going to work. He landed with us in the April and I think although there were some bumps in the road, we kind of gelled immediately’.
‘He loved my chocolate brownies and I think that was a deal sealer! When we discussed taking on a child or young person with the agency, we always viewed it as a long-term placement. We wanted to take a child into our family and make a difference“.
Taking on an advocate role as a foster carer
Many parents would say that they are the biggest champions of their children, particularly when they are younger, but speaking on behalf of a foster child can be especially important.
This is because foster children and young people going into foster family homes across the UK will often struggle with emotional and behavioural difficulties that can sometimes prevent them from communicating with others in the way that they want.
Julie went on to describe how helping people understand that Jake had difficulty regulating his behaviour, through no fault of his own, was one of her most important tasks as a foster carer.
“Jake’s not been without his problems, but the strange thing was, and it may go to show how settled he had been at home, is that the issues with his behaviour would happen mostly at school as opposed to in the home’.
‘You can tell if he’s happy and you can see if he’s sad, but I don’t think he understands the spectrum in between, so sometimes it’s very difficult to understand how he feels about certain things’.
‘In situations like this I felt as though I had to very much be an advocate for Jake. I ultimately don’t think his needs were always met by the education system, so I had to do the best I could in helping people realise that Jake needed more support at school’.
‘I pride myself on being able to read people. Jake has always been very difficult to read and part of the impact his earlier life may have had on him is that he finds it hard to regulate his emotions’.
‘He may not realise the impact of how he communicates with others. Sometimes I have to say to him ‘Jake, what you have just said may come across as rude’. He’s quite surprised when you tell him that, so we’ve had to do a lot of work around that”.
Benefits of independent fostering agency support
The above example highlights the importance of having a reliable fostering support network that have the best interests of not only the child or young person in care, but also the foster carers themselves.
This is why our independent agencies part of the National Fostering Group pride themselves on localised support whenever you need it, with Julie emphasising just how vital it can be when caring for a child with specialist requirements in order to empower them to become as independent as possible.
“I think that going with an independent fostering agency for us gave us the support we needed – and gave us the consistency that we as a fostering family needed to be able to help Jake’.
‘It was partly about the training opportunities that we could access as well, but it was definitely mostly about the fact that we had dedicated support and have a supervising social worker that could push things through for us and really be on board to help us navigate the fostering system’.
‘Jake is now 17, so we’ve been with NFA Wales for around six years in total. He did attend mainstream school, although most of the courses he took were vocational. He was borderline additional needs, but they were not recognised as he was below the educational authorities’ threshold’.
‘He started college in September and is currently doing a vocational access course, which are kind of taster courses to see what he would like to do. He’s chosen catering and performing arts, so it means he can move through the qualification levels each year as he progresses’.
‘He will spend several years in college I think. He struggles really with being in the outside world, so I think it’s perfect for him as it gives him a gentle transition into adulthood’.
‘Where he goes to college is a smaller campus. They do have a massive city centre campus, but it was perceived that the less overwhelming area to study would be more beneficial for Jake, and I think that was the right decision”.
‘We’ve also done lots of bus trips over the summer as beforehand he had been driven everywhere by me – but it was that next step of him feeling as though he was more independent. We caught a bus during the summer from Cardiff to Barry, so that he was familiar with the bus service’.
‘He’s really now embraced bus travel and has this new found fondness for independence, and it’s lovely to see that develop’.
Grieving as a foster family
“About 18 months ago, my husband was taken ill very suddenly with cancer and died. This was a massive blow for the family, including Jake’.
‘For me as a foster parent, what I’ve struggled with is the fact that Jake had already gone through so much early on with his birth family, and then suddenly he has landed with my family, where we had wanted to do so much for him. It felt like we’d imposed yet another blow on him’.
‘What has comforted me throughout all of this is that Jake has been in the bosom of a close and loving family; we’ve all grieved and mourned together’.
‘Losing somebody that you care about is inevitably a natural part of life, so it’s a learning curve for all of us. I was also adamant that no matter what, Jake would not be put through any more turmoil or change at that point in his life – and that no matter what has happened to our family, he was still part of that if he wanted to be – and of course he did”.
‘Massive responsibility’ with many rewards
“It’s always worth remembering that taking a child into your home is a massive responsibility and I’ve taken that responsibility seriously, because I don’t want to damage him any further than he has been’.
‘The social workers at the NFA often tell me that I don’t give myself enough credit for what I have done for Jake, and that’s nice because what they are doing there is looking after my wellbeing as well as Jake. It’s great to get that reminder that I am doing a good job”.
Do you want to make a similar difference to the lives of vulnerable children and young people in your local community? Enquire to become a foster carer with us today and start your highly rewarding fostering adventure!