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Essex foster carer, Karen Harrison celebrates Fostering Excellence Award

Wednesday 12 January 2022

“Karen is there for you through thick and thin and you are part of her family forever,” says foster child Jack

Essex foster carer and social worker, Karen Harrison – a foster carer with our Essex based foster agency Brighter Futures is celebrating receiving the Fostering Excellence Award for ‘Outstanding Contribution by a Foster Carer’, after being nominated by Jack*, a foster child Karen cared for from age 7 to adulthood. Commenting on the nomination, Jack said, “Everyone deserves a Karen in their lives, she’s my rock!”

The Fostering Excellence Awards are the UK’s most prestigious foster care awards. They celebrate outstanding achievement in fostering and recognise those who make exceptional contributions to foster care every day. The awards organiser, The Fostering Network, is the UK’s leading fostering charity and membership organisation, bringing together everyone who is involved in the lives of fostered children to make foster care the very best it can be.

When Jack and his brother arrived at Karen’s they had spent time in several foster homes during their first two years as looked after children. They were Karen’s first foster children and she was determined to provide the loving, nurturing home they so desperately needed.

“When the boys came to me I was determined to make it work. It was my first experience of fostering and it wasn’t all plain sailing, both boys had complex needs and we had many challenges over the years, but we have got through them. It’s an essential life lesson for children to understand that no matter what cards life has dealt you, it’s about using them to build resilience and make you strong so you can cope with life’s events,” explained Karen.

“When we welcomed Jack and his brother into our home in 2004, the youngest of my three sons was still at home, he was fifteen. It was a steep learning curve. My son learned a lot about being open and caring and also the impact of trauma on children.

“The boys received support from lots of different professionals, and I was interested in how the whole system worked, I also wanted to be a better advocate for the boys so I enrolled in a part time degree in social work. Four years later I qualified.

“I now understand the situation from a foster carers point of view and from the professional side. When I’m working with other foster carers and supporting the children in their care – they appreciate that as well as being a social worker, I also walk in their shoes. I try to make sure that I have a good working relationship with the birth family – it’s so important for the children to see you working with their family for what’s best for them.

“I have been a foster carer for nearly 18 years, and fostered six children, five of them long term – I also provide respite care so I keep my spare room ready. For me it’s about watching children grow from being scared, angry and hurt into happy confident young people who feel part of your family but also part of their own birth family where possible. I like to see the development and growth of children into young adults able to survive and thrive in their communities.

“I have a homely home – that’s a gentle way of saying that it’s not always orderly – but it is always welcoming. When children arrive there’s a little gift waiting on the bed for them – even if I only have 10 minutes to rush to the shops – it just shows you are thinking about them and their arrival. There are clear house rules but also lots of love, enough for everyone.

“At the moment I have two foster children that have been with me for the past 5 years, they are getting to be teenagers and will stay with me until they are ready to move on. We have a ‘teenage’ house – with regular gaming nights – their friends come over, all the TVs are moved into the lounge and they all camp in there.

“The most important thing is building trusting relationships, accepting children for who they are, and treating each day as a new start no matter what happened the day before – never carry over a disagreement and always start on a positive. The children know that nothing shocks me, so they can talk to me about anything, I have time for them, I always have their corner and I’ll be there for them.

“Becoming a foster carer was the best decision I ever made. The job is life changing for the children in your care, but also for yourself, it’s so emotionally rewarding. I’m so proud to see the children I cared for as young adults settled into their own family life, and giving me the privilege of being part of their new families. For me, my job doesn’t stop when the child reaches 18, fostering is for life, if the children wish it.

“Receiving this award made me feel very proud and reminded me of all the other carers also doing great jobs – I was one of 350 nominees, there are over 60,000 foster carers in the UK and thousands more are needed. Every child needs someone on their side, someone to give unconditional love and support – if you’re thinking about becoming a foster carer, I say – go for it!”

*Jack is not his real name – it has been changed for safeguarding reasons.

If you think you can give a vulnerable child or young person the great start in life they deserve – get in touch with us today.

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