Sometimes people who’ve had a difficult childhood themselves might struggle when they become parents. After all, the way we are parented has an impact on the way we parent later in life.
Lucie and Bruce are parent and child foster carers with Next Step fostering agency in Surrey, part of National Fostering Group. In the five years that they’ve been fostering, they’ve seen how difficult it can be for parents – particularly young vulnerable mums – to look after babies and children if their own upbringing has been challenging. Lucie describes some of the mums they’ve supported as “needing mothering” themselves.
She said: “We had one young mum here and she’d run out of hair ties. The next time I went into town I bought her some and put them in her room for her. She was just so grateful. It’s the sort of thing you’d do naturally as a parent but she’d never had that. It’s just a small example but it illustrates how tough it can be for some parents who lack a good role model to follow.”
Lucie and Bruce didn’t immediately know they wanted to become parent and child foster carers when they applied to foster. However, their children were still quite young when they were approved – the youngest was five – and this type of fostering appealed to them as they knew there would be no conflict of ages with their birth children. They knew, too, that they’d receive a high level of support from Next Step.
Lucie said: “That is 100% how it’s been – we’ve been so well supported. We’ve had the same supervising social worker since we started and she’s been fantastic. She visits weekly and we do daily and weekly reports. The latter are shared with the mum and also the judge who will decide at the court case. Our supervising social worker supports us with whatever we need, from talking to mothers about what’s in the report through to taking the children out so we get a break.”
Lucie described how rewarding it is to watch a parent starting to care more effectively for their child, especially if they’ve had a shaky start. She said:
“It is great when a mum makes healthier choices about what to give their children for snacks, or when they read to their child for the first time or play with them or take them out for a walk. You know you’ve made a difference and that makes all the sleepless nights worthwhile.
“Our role is to teach them whatever they need to know to care for their child, from having a good routine through to weaning and safe sleeping. Sometimes parents might be struggling with addictions and we might support them alongside their GP. Every parent is different.”
Parent and child fostering is a 24/7 commitment and it can be very demanding. Lucie said: “It can be stressful trying to stand back and let a young parent make their own choices or when they walk away from their child. It is hard to understand at times.
“We have seen two babies through to adoption when their parents have left them in the placement. It can be very emotional as you can’t help getting attached to the children when they’re with you from a very young age.”
Lucie and Bruce’s birth children have also found this hard at times, however Lucie believes the experience of being part of a fostering family has helped them to grow and develop as people. She said:
“They say it takes a village to raise a child and that’s very true in our case. Our wider family and support network all play a part in supporting what we do. We also have great support from the fostering agency and access to regular training and supervision.”
Qualities such as patience, being non-judgmental, a sense of humour, resilience, kindness and “a good poker face” are all helpful for parent and child fostering, according to Lucie.
She advised: “If you’re thinking about this or any kind of fostering, I’d suggest doing your research – reading as much as you can, going to training, attending support groups. Take your time. It took us about a year before we were ready to apply. You need a strong support network around you.
“One of the hardest times for us was when the two babies we’d looked after were adopted. One had been with us for 20 months, he thought we were his family. It is hard but it’s also wonderful because you know they are going to have a great life and you do recover and get over it and you then support someone else who really needs your help.”
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