So here we go with my first ever blog!
I had worked in the retail trade for over 30 years, initially with household names such as BHS and M&S but the Garden Centre trade is where I spent nearly all my years in Management. Work had taken me to rural Shropshire and the Midlands, though my last post had brought me back in 2007 to an area of fond student memories – the Sheffield area. Our two children were approaching teenage years, a challenge in itself – but I was ready for another challenge. I had always had ambitions of working with children, particularly in the sports arena, but my retail commitments prevented this, so a change of career seemed the only solution.
In 2007, my wife and myself started to explore the possibilities of fostering, contacted the NFA, and the rest as they say is history.
Due to being in rented accommodation initially, with the landlord only offering a short-term lease, causing potential difficulties if we had to move at short notice, our desire to complete the necessary Form F documentation didn’t start till Summer 2009. In March 2010, after half a dozen visits by a social worker and a 3 day Skills to Foster course, we were approved as foster carers.
Anyone who initially qualifies will remember those times when you are waiting to receive a call from the agency, will the child(ren) be a good fit with your family situation, how will they fare, how will they get on with our own children etc. The reality was we only got 5 calls in the first 5 months of being approved foster carers – I’m not sure that would happen now, as foster carers are in greater demand – but it was with delight and relief that an 11 year old boy, with just 4 hours notice, arrived at our house on a Friday evening. He stayed for 5 months before returning to a family member. We have kept in touch with him ever since, going out for a meal with him on his 21st Birthday. He has embarked on a career in Hairdressing which has allowed him a large social media following and allowed him to help us with a future placements, but more about that hopefully, on a future blog.
We then went a further 7 months without a placement until eventually in the following Summer 2 siblings aged 3 & 6 arrived. They were 2 of 4 children under the age of 6, all taken into care, the other 2 children placed with 2 other foster carers. For a period of time these 2 children would have contact with their mother twice a week and their grandma and great grandma once a month. Initially until the Summer term finished, we would travel twice daily to and from schools and nursery, two and a half hours daily in a car, plus the additional contact time. They moved to local schools for the Autumn term. Over a period of time, contact with family became less as adoptive parents had been found for the children in our care and after 15 months of being with us the children moved to Buckinghamshire. Every year we have seen them, either their new parents visiting us in the Christmas period or our family travelling south in the spring/summer holidays.
After the emotions of saying goodbye to children who had been part of our lives for over a year, my wife and I took a holiday abroad, a rare event in the 10 years of fostering. Batteries recharged, and back home we let the placement team know we were available to foster again. Within a month we had our names put forward for a number of children, with 3 siblings arriving on the evening of Halloween, aged 15, 12 & 9. Like all the children we had cared for they had been brought forward to the local authority attention, through neglect and or issues with drugs and alcohol. At this time, due to having an address in Nottinghamshire (even though we attended Sheffield support meetings as closer) all our children (apart from respite) came from that County, so this time for 8 months we travelled 35 miles twice daily to take the children to school. They had contact initially with just dad but soon afterwards with their mum, who had previously lost a legal battle to have custody of the children. Although the plan was for the children to be with us for just 3 months whilst their dad underwent some health treatment, it soon became apparent that neither their father or mother would be able to care permanently for them, so we became their long term foster carers. All 3 children started new local schools in September, the eldest going into 6th form with our own daughter. The youngest of the 3, now with us over 8 years, will move into independent living in Summer 2021, hopefully joining his sisters in having achieved academic qualifications and paid employment after a difficult start in life. His eldest sister passed GCSE and A levels, being one of a few care leavers to attend University obtaining a degree in Nursing, now working at Doncaster Hospital and about to move into her first home with her boyfriend this month. The middle sibling, having achieved 5 GCSE’s went to college and did a catering apprenticeship as a cook and moved into her own flat, just before her 18th Birthday – now works as a care assistant, visiting the elderly and vulnerable in their own homes. Whilst in his final year with us, our only present foster child is completing his final year at College, studying a computer course remotely (due to Covid), combining studies with working at McDonalds 2/3 times a week.
With having spare bedrooms, with the two eldest siblings moved on and our own daughters at University, 3 children at very short notice were taken into care on a Friday in June 2018. We heard on Monday morning that a court hearing that day would likely mean 3 children aged 15, 6 & 4 would arrive at our house that evening. Whilst police and local authority investigations took place over 6-9 months, the children remained at their respective schools in the Rotherham area, meaning once again return journeys accounting for two and a half hours daily of our fostering schedule. In addition, the eldest was a talented footballer, who had signed schoolboy terms with a Championship club. This meant additional journeys on 3 days a week for training and matches, so having 4 children in our care really did become a full-time career. It was also the only time for us in 10 years when a foster child, after a couple of honeymoon months, made it clear he did not appreciate being in foster care. A reluctance to accept being picked up with his siblings after school finished, having to take public transport which took an hour, to see friends and his reluctance to accept boundaries, started to create a difficult home environment. Although he could see that his younger siblings were well cared for, he wanted to have the freedom he had enjoyed whilst living with his mum. Within 7 months of arriving and after 10 incidents of not returning to our house at an agreed time and not knowing his whereabouts which resulted every night at 10pm, contacting the agency, local authority and the police an agreement was made, for him to move to new carers near his school and closer to his football needs. Six months later after a court case the father of the two younger children, who had come to live in England from Belgium, won custody rights and they went to live with him. Initially living in South Yorkshire, he was happy for us to continue to see the children but since their move to London and Covid implications we have been unable to see the children in the last 18 months.
At the start of our fostering journey both my wife and I worked part-time, but for 6 of the last 8 years I was the main carer – still fairly unusual in the fostering sector. My wife then retired early from her school admin role, both of us sharing the fostering duties over the last two and a half years.
Although not enjoying good health for some of the 11 year fostering period we would like to think that we have given a loving home to 9 children, the majority of which we are still in contact with now. In fact, some feel so much part of the family, they just say “Hi” as they open and walk in through the front door. With the 3 children who have moved on from school/college days, all are working and living in their own rented/owned accommodation. We all look back at times with decisions we have made in our lives. The one back in 2007, when returning to the Sheffield area, of changing careers from retail to fostering will rank as one of the best decisions ever made.
Read our Becoming a Foster Carer page to see how you can start your fostering adventure and make a difference today!