It take commitment and determination to foster. If you are also living with a health condition or disability, the challenges are intensified but they are not impossible to navigate, as Sandra shows.
With the support of her family, and by her National Fostering Group supervising social worker and wider local team, Sandra is able to fulfil her role as a foster carer to the best of her ability, providing a nurturing home to foster children in her care.
Sandra, now a foster carer in Birmingham, was forced to give up her career as a nurse due to a rare health condition called Arnold-Chiari syndrome. This means her brain is tilted and trapped within her spinal cord. It causes a range of symptoms including pain and headaches, brain fog, occasional speech problems and issues with balance.
Having worked with looked after children and young carers during her nursing training, Sandra was determined to continue helping children. In in 2012, with the support of her husband Jeremy and teenage daughters Faith and Ellie, she applied to become a foster carer with our local foster agency NFA Midlands.
Their first foster child was a three-month old baby. Sandra said: “He didn’t move or cry, it was heart-breaking, he just lay and stared, he was like a doll. It took about three weeks before he made any sound. The first time he cried, we cried, it was such a breakthrough.”
The baby was with them for seven months, during which time his four-year old sister joined him. In that time, the boy began to verbalise and move.
He returned to his mother and his sister went to live with their grandparents. Sadly, though, things did not work out, as his mother had just had another baby. He was taken back into care, along with his brother. They have since been adopted.
It was a traumatic time for the foster family when the baby left. “We had real reservations about him going back to his mother and unfortunately we were proved right. We’d have loved to take him back but we already had another placement,” Sandra said.
“It was such a difficult time but we got through it and now he’s happily adopted with his brother. His parents contacted me recently to say he’s doing well – he’s about nine now.”
After caring for a teenage foster child for a short while, the family fostered siblings – two boys under six and a girl of two. All three children exhibited very challenging behaviour as a result of trauma and neglect.
Following an assessment by a psychologist, the middle child was sent to another foster carer as a solo placement to try and stabilise him. The older brother also moved on to another foster carer, leaving his younger sister as the sole foster child with Sandra and her family.
Now 10, Sandra describes her as “like a bud opening and slowly beginning to flower.” The girl is doing well at school and is one of the best in her class, with a reading age far above her chronological age.
She has had sessions with a psychologist to help her manage her anger better and also had play therapy. Sandra is working with her to help her overcome some of her attachment issues.
Sandra said: “She still has some challenging behaviour. It was particularly difficult last year as I was struggling myself physically and mentally.
“But we’ve come so far and I know that the behaviour is because of everything she’s been through and I refuse to give up on her even when things are tough.”
Sandra and Jeremy have a supervising social worker who supports them through the difficult times. “She phones us every week and if we need support she’s like a dog with a bone,” said Sandra.
“You need someone you can offload to who doesn’t take offence and that’s her. I’ve also got a committed friend who helps out whenever we need it.
“She’s done a lot of voluntary work with young people and she can step in and take our foster daughter for a walk if we need a bit of a break. It’s essential to have a good support network when you are a foster carer.
“We also do a lot of training. You may learn something new or it can reinforce that you’re doing a good job. Both are helpful.”
Although Sandra’s condition prevents her from participating in some of the sporting activities she used to love, other members of the family are able to join in with their foster daughter, who loves swimming and running.
Sandra said: “We have had some real lows on our fostering journey but the high points are what keep you going – like the first time the baby cried and moved or the fact that our foster daughter is now settled and doing well at school.
“She comes to me for a cuddle now and she calls me Mum and that’s lovely. Her older brother thanked me for teaching him to read and write.
“Those are the things that make it worthwhile and help see you through the bad times.”
As an independent foster agency, National Fostering Group encourages diversity in our foster carer family. This is because our foster children are diverse too.
When it comes to health, we will assess you as an individual on your suitability. Foster carers like Sandra show that, with the robust support network we provide, becoming a foster carer with a health issue or disability is more than possible – it’s a reality.