Already with experience of different types of care, fostering ‘lots of’ children had long been an ambition for Hayley and Lee. Once their own little boy, Jack, was walking and talking, the couple, who are in their 20s, decided to go for it and apply to become foster carers.
Soon after they’d been approved to foster, they were asked if they could provide emergency fostering for a boy with multiple needs. Almost 2 years later, four-year-old Jason is still with them and the family dearly hopes he’ll get to stay forever.
“It’s crazy that it’s our first foster child that we’ll get to have for a long time,” said Hayley. “We thought we’d maybe help a lot of kids but we might get to keep our first foster child permanently. Nothing else mattered once we met him – that smile! He gives us so much love. We’re very lucky.”
Hayley (26) and Lee (29) are foster carers in Fife, supported by our agency NFA Scotland. They’ve been together for 7 years and got married earlier this year. Hayley is a Senior Early Years Practitioner, in charge of the baby room at a local nursery. Lee works for a charity that supports young carers; he previously worked for a charity supporting people who have learning disabilities. One of his close relatives has additional needs and medical conditions.
“He had experience of disabilities, additional needs, medical conditions and feeding tubes, and I had experience of caring for children,” said Hayley. This experience was to become significant.
All foster carers are asked about the types of foster care they want to do, including whether they are open to fostering a child with a disability. Hayley and Lee had said they were open to discussing it if the opportunity arose.
This little boy was about to be discharged from hospital and needed emergency foster care to start the next day… She asked if we could take him – could we manage?
Hayley’s memory of the life-changing phone call is crystal clear. “It happened very quickly. We’d not been approved for long and I got a phone call just before 5 o’clock on a Tuesday. This little boy was about to be discharged from hospital and needed emergency foster care to start the next day.
“The social worker read out a very long list. His health issues. What medication he was taking. The equipment he needed. What his basic needs were. It was very descriptive. She asked if we could take him – could we manage?
“All the time, I was taking notes. I called Lee and asked him the same question: could we manage? He was a little unsure but I said to him, ‘I think I’ve said yes’!”
Jason has cerebral palsy, global development delay and epilepsy, which means he needs 24-hour care.
“He had a nasogastric tube in his nose for feeding,” Hayley explained. “He’s non-verbal, non-ambulatory, and relies on an adult for all his needs. He has 8 syringes of medication with his breakfast.
“Even when he’s extremely poorly, he smiles through it and takes everything in his stride. He’s such a charmer! In hospital, nurses from all over the building were coming to see the little boy with ‘The Smile’.
“That day, when we got the call, there was so much information they had to cover. It was a long, long list. What we heard was completely different to the reality. Nothing else mattered once we met him – that smile!
“Me and Lee looked at each other for a full minute in the car and then said, ‘let’s take him home’.”
Nothing else mattered once we met him – that smile! Me and Lee looked at each other for a full minute in the car and then said, ‘let’s take him home’.
As new foster carers, Hayley and Lee had already started their basic foster carer training. Before they could take Jason home, they needed special training in his medications, his tube and other requirements.
“I was supposed to be working! But everyone at work was so excited for us, they were jumping up and down,” Hayley said. “We travelled from Fife to Dundee on the Wednesday evening to meet him and have training – we had to be signed off on his training over 2 days.
“Jason arrived at our home on Friday lunchtime with 3 social workers and three carloads of equipment.
“We do have a very busy life – it has to be timed very well! At the beginning, Lee had some flexibility at work and I’m only contracted for 2 days a week. As a couple, we tried to make it as fair as possible for each other.
“Jason was going to nursery in Dundee and it was a 2-hour round trip, twice a day. Now they are both at nursery 5 days a week. Jason has a taxi to take him and I can do Jack’s nursery run and be back in time to welcome him home. It’s easier.”
As well as supportive relationships with their social worker and other fostering professionals, the support Hayley and Lee have around them really helps. “Our mums are a godsend,” Hayley said. “We couldn’t manage without them. We’re a fostering family, not a fostering couple. And with all the additional needs that Jason has, everyone makes him feel included.”
The support of her own mum has special meaning for Hayley. For a time during her childhood, she and her sister were looked after by an emergency foster carer when their mum was admitted to hospital. They went into the care of their aunt while she recovered.
“Mum is our main support, she’s trained to care for all Jason’s needs – like Lee’s mum, she’s epilepsy-aware and can handle the feeding tube. It’s lovely to see everything she’s overcome and the bond she has with all her grandchildren.”
Her childhood experience of being looked after by a foster carer has stayed with her, too. “When I look back on it now, our foster carer wanted to do everything she could to help us – even though she only knew us for a day and a night.”
Our mums are a godsend. We couldn’t manage without them. We’re a fostering family, not a fostering couple.
Often, fostering a child means working with their birth parents too. “Jason’s dad maintains contact and sees him every weekend. We have a good relationship with him and involve him in decisions.
“He has a great bond with Jason and it’s the nicest thing to see such a strong attachment. Jason has an older brother who he has sibling contact with. His brother is in his teens and it’s lovely seeing them play together. There’s a good bond there too.”
Hayley also highlighted the need for compassion in the role of foster carer. “I’ve had experience of being removed from my mum and having to go to a family member a handful of times, or into an emergency placement as the last resort. So, I know and understand the struggles that parents can face. It’s easy to judge and label someone as a bad parent, but maybe they didn’t have that support themselves.”
I know and understand the struggles that parents can face. It’s easy to judge and label someone as a bad parent, but maybe they didn’t have that support themselves.
Hayley and Lee will be going back to Fostering Panel and the family court this summer to apply for a permanence order, which will secure Jason’s future with them. “We’re still technically on a short term emergency placement. This was the best type of fostering placement at the time because he needed a foster home at very short notice.
“He’s got lots of equipment that helps him take part in family life. He’s got a standing frame and stands there laughing at me dancing and singing and being silly. He’s got a chair with a tray, which is great because he has some food by mouth, so he’s able to join in with a family meal at the table. He just loves it.”
The family recently moved house to accommodate Jason’s changing needs. “He’s getting bigger and there’ll come a time when we can’t carry him upstairs. Now he’s got a downstairs bedroom and bathroom. A family member is building a ramp so he can enjoy the back garden with Jack. We’re trying to get a hoist and tracking to make lifting easier. We’re planning ahead.
“I know him better than anyone, I’ve got to know his needs very well. We’ve got so much love to give and Jason doesn’t like to let me out of his sight. He’s not the lucky one, we are lucky to have him. He gives us so much love! We’re very lucky.”
He started calling Jason his brother quite quickly. It was his decision.
She also paid tribute to her son Jack, now 3, and his generosity. “From day 1 they have been so close. Jack is very protective of him. He shared his toys with him because he realised that Jason needed them more than him.
“He started calling Jason his brother quite quickly. It was his decision – he was sharing at school and he’d told them ‘I have a little brother’, even though he’s older!
“It feels like he’s been here forever. Last Christmas, it was only his second Christmas with us, and it felt as if it had always been like this, that he’s always been here. I’m grateful that Jack will never remember life without him.
“We looked further than the list of conditions and medications. We met him, talked to him, and nothing else mattered once we met him. It’s not easy, it’s hard work. It’s been a big thing for me. As well as having Jack, it’s the most rewarding thing I’ve done in my life. Try it.”
As well as having Jack, it’s the most rewarding thing I’ve done in my life.
The UK as a whole has a chronic shortage of foster carers, including for children who have a disability. All our agencies are currently recruiting foster carers. Can you help?
If you’re unsure whether you’re eligible to become a foster carer, try our Can I Foster? tool, which answers common questions about suitability to foster, based on a personalised Q and A style format. The outcome might surprise you!
Alternatively, if you’re ready to chat with one of our fostering advisors, contact your local team.
Names have been changed