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Fostering a child with special needs

Tuesday 18 May 2021

Mum-of-seven Karen is a foster carer in Hertfordshire. She looks after a foster child with autism, dyspraxia and detachment disorder on a long-term placement and also does short-term fostering.

‘Fostering was in me’

Karen has always loved children. She has seven of her own and, prior to becoming a foster carer, worked with disabled children, in a Speech and Language Unit at a local school and in a residential children’s home.

As someone who was adopted herself as a child, Karen believes that it was ‘in her’ from the very start to work with children.

“I used to want to take them all home and look after them. When I was working in the residential home, I started thinking about fostering,” she said.

“Four of my children, including my grown up son, were still living at home. He was a shift worker, like me, and we thought we could work our shifts around each other so that we could foster children.

“I applied and was approved. Our first child – a little boy of three with autism, dyspraxia and detachment disorder – came for us for two weeks respite.

“That was seven and a half years ago and now he’s with us for good, which is fantastic.”

Fostering in Hertfordshire

Karen fosters in Hertfordshire, which she describes as a “brilliant place for children with disabilities”.

She fosters with Brighter Futures, our local foster agency in that area, and says they have been “brilliant”. She is happy with the way the training opportunities have expanded since the agency become part of National Fostering Group, although admits that Covid has been a challenge.

After more than seven years with the agency, Karen works as a peer mentor, supporting less experienced foster carers and sharing her experience and expertise.

Her foster child is involved with an organisation called Space, which puts on lots of activities for autistic children, and they find additional support on forums run by the local authority.

Now 11, Karen’s long-term foster child has been in a mainstream school with one-to-one support throughout his schooling. As he enters secondary education, he will go into a specialist school for autistic children.

“He’s done so well but I’m pleased he’s going to a specialist school as he is a highly intelligent boy who struggles with social skills and needs a lot of input.”

The hardest part

Alongside her long-term foster son, Karen has cared for other foster children, aged from 10 to 15, over the years.

“The hardest part of fostering is letting them go. All of them felt settled here and wanted to stay and it is hard but when you have a child with autism, it’s important to have routine and structure.

“One of our other foster children – a girl of 10 with foetal alcohol syndrome – couldn’t cope well if you told her what was going to happen. It was exhausting to manage the two of them together.

“She moved on to another foster family. I still see her and she phones me regularly. I imagine she will move back to this area when she turns 18 and I will be here to keep an eye on her and support her.”

Sometimes the highs and the lows of fostering run side by side. One of the foster children – a 15-year-old boy – really wanted to stay with Karen.

Although it was hard to let him go, Karen explained: “He went to a lovely foster carer – another single lady – and we did a really good transition. It was hard at the time but it was the best move for him. He still keeps in touch and he’s just done his A levels and is doing really well.”

Developing and thriving

With her long-term foster child, the rewards have been watching him developing and thriving far beyond what was anticipated.

In the early days he didn’t speak and could be violent and break things. Over time he has started to communicate and settle down.

“They said at first that he wouldn’t communicate so he’s done amazingly well,” Karen said. “He’s so clever and Covid has really suited him as he loves the routine of being at home.

“Right now, he is obsessed by Rubik’s Cubes and can complete one in under 20 seconds. He is a joy to have in my life, he fits in so well.”

Karen highly recommends fostering but says it’s important that the whole family is on board and can be there for you to provide support.

“Fostering is the most amazing job and the biggest reward is watching children thrive and grow. If you go into it for the joy of loving and caring for children, you’ll really enjoy it.

“What more could you want than to give someone a loving home and support them on their journey of life?”

Has Karen’s story inspired you?

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