“If you are interested in becoming a foster carer, find out about it, do the Skills to Foster course” said Karen. “They cover everything you need to know, they don’t leave anything out, and it’s OK to decide it’s not for you. On my course we had several people who left before the end. The rewards of fostering are immense – when you see the difference in a child you’ve cared for – but the children come with many issues and can find it hard to trust. You can help to change some of this but it takes time and persistence”
Karen began fostering in 2005 with Alpha Plus, part of National Fostering Group. At the time she was working with children of all different ages as a Community Support Worker for Warrington Borough Council so it felt like a natural step. Now in her mid 60s, Karen fosters alone and admits that this can sometimes be hard. However, she has the full support of her fostering agency and her family. As so often happens, the desire to foster children has rippled outwards. One of Karen’s sons and his partner are now her Karen’s respite carers. Her granddaughter began fostering last year and has begun the adoption process for three siblings in her care.
One of the children Karen fostered is now 27 and working as a labourer for her eldest son. When he came to her at the age of 13 he was experiencing some very challenging behaviours and used to smash things, steal and act aggressively towards others. Karen said:
“He had very low self-esteem and no confidence. With the help of the agency we got him into therapy and I used to go to his appointments with him. Whenever he was angry or upset I’d wait for him to calm down and then we’d talk things through. We treated him as part of our family and included him in everything. He needed to know he was safe and secure and we were there for him. He was with us until he was 18. Now he lives in his own flat, he has a girlfriend and he works with my son. You have to persevere, you can’t give up because otherwise the behaviour will just continue somewhere else.”
Karen has five birth children but only one of them was still at home when she began fostering. He was 16 at the time and many of the foster children felt comfortable to open up to him. Karen said:
“He’s a nice lad, really easy going and they used to trust him. Building trust is key with foster children.”
Karen is currently fostering sibling girls aged 12 and 13. They come from a background of drugs and neglect but Karen describes them as “very resilient”. Their birth mum died a couple of years ago and Karen encouraged them to create a memorial garden to her in the back garden of their foster home. On Mother’s Day they plant a new plant there. Karen said:
“They are doing well at school and have become involved with the local church. They’d never been christened and wanted to do that so we were able to organise it before lockdown. They’ve recently had excellent school reports and we are seeing a real improvement from when they first arrived. The youngest one had no confidence at first but now she is putting her hand up in class and asking questions, which is great.”
The support of her Supervising Social Work and the training provided by the agency has been invaluable to Karen over the years. She has completed therapeutic parenting training and de-escalation and is about to embark on a counselling qualification. She acts as a mentor to other foster carers, particularly those who are single foster carers like her.
“Fostering is rewarding and it is challenging but you get through with the support of the fostering agency and your supervising social worker and your family. I say to people if the children’s behaviour is challenging don’t take it personally. They are just venting their frustration. You are never on your own, it’s important to remember that. There is always someone on the end of the phone who can help.”
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