Jenny was fostered from the age of five as her father had died and her mother wasn’t able to look after her. She moved home 10 times and had six different schools.
Her life began to turn around, however, when she moved to a long-term foster home alongside her brother. She was then eight and he was five. From that point, Jenny began to develop “a healthy, normal life”. She said:
“Once I found the home I was going to stay in, my life started to build. I could have friends and take an interest in clubs and become the person I really am. I was in regular contact with my birth mum and she built a great relationship with my foster mum. My birth mum even paid for my foster family and me to go on holiday to Florida. It was lovely to be reunited with my brother, too.”
As Jenny grew into adulthood and started a family of her own with husband, Jonny, her foster parents continued to foster children. It was while Jenny was holidaying with them in 2019 that her foster parents received a call asking if they could take a child under emergency circumstances. Jenny said:
“They already had two foster children, but there is such a need that the fostering agency called to ask if they could take another boy whose father had died suddenly. That was my driver. I thought ‘we are in a position to foster now, we could help meet this need’. When we got back from holiday, I made the call.”
Jenny and Jonny did the Skills to Foster training with their local Trust but then heard nothing. Unfortunately, a lack of available social workers meant that there was no-one with the capacity to take them on and they would have to wait. Jenny said:
“It was disappointing. Time went on and my sister told me about her neighbours who foster with an independent fostering agency in Belfast called KinderCare, part of National Fostering Group. We contacted them. Because their caseloads are different to the Local Authority, they were able to send a Supervising Social Worker out to us straight away. We had to do Skills to Foster again, but that was fine, and we were approved in January 2020.”
Jenny’s experience of being fostered as a child gives her a great deal of empathy and insight into the challenges faced by foster children. She said:
“I have a sense of what it must feel like for them, although of course, everyone is different. I recall that sinking feeling when you come away from contact with your birth mum, as much as you love your foster family. So, when the little guy in our house comes home from seeing his dad on a Saturday, I make sure we go to the park for a while or have McDonalds or a movie night to help ease that transition.”
Their first foster child was a boy from Kenya. His previous foster carer had spoken of his challenging behaviour but Jenny said:
“Actually, we just got to know him as the person he was in our home and he was very different to the boy I’d read about. He was very energetic but we are an active family and, so, a lot of the behaviours that were described in the letter didn’t happen. He was a joy to have. He was with us for five weeks.”
Their next child was five when he came. He was angry when he arrived and didn’t want to communicate but an invitation from Jenny’s son – then seven – to go and play with his toys helped to ease the situation. The family also has a daughter of four and both children play an important role in helping the foster children to settle. Jenny said:
“After his initial reluctance, our foster child is now very affectionate and is always hugging me. Our children don’t react to it and they don’t feel threatened by it. Birth children are a fantastic asset when you are bringing foster children into your home.”
Jenny describes fostering as “fulfilling in a way that not many other things are”. She said:
“Home is the most important place in the world and that’s what you are providing for these children. You are providing a source of comfort and stability for a child. If you have space, love and time and are open to challenging your own thoughts and learning new and better ways of parenting, I would say yes, definitely foster.”
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