If you’re thinking about becoming a foster carer, you might be wondering how to start the process off, as well as the practical day-to-day activities the role will ask of you. Julia, who has been with us as a foster carer for 10 years, shares how she signed up with National Fostering Group, and some of the fundamentals when it comes to fostering children.
Julia has been fostering for nearly 10 years with our agency Fostering Solutions, which supports fostering in many areas of England and Wales.
It was her son’s decision to leave home at 15 to join the Royal Marines that prompted her to begin thinking seriously about becoming a foster carer. She explains:
“He was a straight ‘A’ student and we expected him to go on to university but at 15 he said he wanted to join the Royal Marines. He was so young that I had to formally agree to him going. It came as a shock, I hadn’t expected him to leave home so soon and I wasn’t ready.
“My daughter was 11 at the time. I’d had a long-term dream about becoming a foster carer and when she was 14 she said ‘why don’t you do it, mum, you’ve been thinking about it for so long?’ And that’s when I started looking into it.”
Initially Julia approached her local authority but they were slow to respond to her enquiry and, in the meantime, she had contacted her local National Fostering Group agency.
“Fostering Solutions were great. They were on the ball, they explained all about fostering but they didn’t sugar-coat it. I could tell that they wanted to make sure you were definitely interested and understood what it takes to foster a child. They came out to see me and we spoke some more and that’s what made my mind up.”
Julia and husband, Steve, were approved to foster all ages. Their first placement was to foster three siblings from Slovakia. When those children moved on, the agency asked if they would take a sibling group of four foster children, then aged between seven and 12. The children had been split up when they went into care and were desperate to be together again. Despite having a few misgivings about caring for such a large sibling group, Julia and Steve said yes and the children moved in.
That was seven years ago. The eldest child is now 19 and has recently left to buy her own home. The four children were very happy at being reunited and have come on in leaps and bounds, as Julia explains:
“When they first came to us they wouldn’t say boo to a goose or look you in eye. They just said ‘yes’ or ‘no’; they were so frightened, it was horrible to see. By giving them a home that is safe and warm and loving, they’ve learned to relax.
“We wanted them to develop their own personalities and gain more confidence. We’ve brought them up to be unafraid to be themselves, in fact, you could say we taught them how to be naughty! They are their own people now and it’s so nice to see, although the backchat isn’t so great sometimes.”
There have been many high points, such as seeing them achieving their grades and move on with their lives. One hopes to go to university in September and another has just bought a house. Julia says:
“We have given them a platform to enable them to do what they want to do and to fly.”
Naturally, there have been many low points too, such as disclosures about what had happened to the children in the past and Julia admits that fostering is not easy. But, their birth children have served as great role models and National Fostering Group has provided “amazing” support whenever they’ve needed it, as well as providing extensive training opportunities.
Julia says: “Not only does the training equip you with knowledge and skills but it also helps you to build a great support network with other foster carers. We swap ideas and build friendships and rely on each other.
“Years ago, my husband was in the RAF. That was a great community and this feels similar. It’s great to know there is always someone there who knows exactly what you are going through and can act as a sounding board or offer words of support.”
“Every week is different and that’s one of the things I love about it,” says Julia. “I don’t think any family ever really has a ‘typical week’ and, to be honest, life would be pretty boring if we did, wouldn’t it? It’s nice to have a ‘typical day’ every now and again, though.”
“But yes, there are some things that form part of our regular routine and there are some situations I encounter again and again that you could say were part of a ‘typical’ week.
“When I ask one of the children ‘what did you do today?’ and they reply ‘nothing’, I think ‘that’s good because it means nothing bad happened today’. But, of course, with four children in the house, there is nearly always someone who is going through something.
“Teenage crises are different to ours – a breakup with a boyfriend can feel like the end of the world – and foster children are like any other children, they have their ups and downs. If more than one of them is going through a crisis at the same time, we have to step things up a gear to handle it but most of the time things go fairly smoothly.”
In many ways, a typical day for Julia is like that of any other mum – making sure the children are washed and dressed, have eaten breakfast and cleaned their teeth and are ready to begin online lessons.
Being a foster carer brings other daily and weekly responsibilities too, including writing diaries for each child so they have a record of their childhoods, and liaising with the supervising social worker and local authority. There is also paperwork and mandatory training, alongside the many optional training courses that are offered.
Julia believes it is very important for all children – but for foster children in particular – to have good routines and structures.
“Many foster children have lacked this in their early lives and it can be quite challenging to install a proper structure because they’ve just never known it. Our birth children grew up knowing what the boundaries were.
“When our foster children first came to us, it was very helpful to give them these boundaries as they were so quiet and withdrawn and just wanted to know what they could and couldn’t do. I believe it is crucial that all children have boundaries and rules for their own benefit, so they know where they are.
“I grew up in a stern household – there were no cuddles unfortunately – but I am completely the opposite and my children get lots of cuddles and they understand that it’s nice to say you love someone.”
An important routine within a child’s day is mealtimes and the whole family sits down together to eat dinner.
“This is one of best routines you can have as foster carers. The children learn from watching you – practical things like using a knife and fork through to social things like chatting and making each other laugh.
“We tend to all sit together in the evenings, too, and there is a rule that there are no mobiles or computers in the children’s bedrooms. Because our oldest foster child is now 18 and has chosen to remain with us under Staying Put, this rule doesn’t apply to him any more so he normally goes up to his room in the evening.
“We are glad he’s chosen to stay. It can be very hard to say goodbye to an 18-year old and lots of young adults aren’t ready to leave at that age. His sister stayed on for year as he is doing now. He’s learning to cook and clean for himself so it’s easier to make the transition into being fully independent.
“We want our foster children to do well for themselves and to live good lives. Once they are out in the big, wide world there is not much we can do, so we want to give them the best springboard we can while they are here with us.
“We treat every one of them as part of our family. I don’t think it would work if we didn’t. We’ve not needed to reach out too often for help from our fostering agency, but whenever we have, they have been amazing.
Until the pandemic, the structure of going to school, coming home and doing homework was another important part of the children’s weekly routine. Like everyone, they have had to adapt to Zoom and FaceTime and seeing friends virtually rather than face-to-face.
“Covid has been challenging, as it has been for everyone, but for our youngest foster son it has been something of a blessing in disguise,” Julia says.
“Having him at home means there is someone there constantly to support and guide him. He can’t disappear under the radar and he is thriving as a result. He’s getting lots of virtual pats on the back from his teachers and feeling good about himself. We’re finally helping him to get to where we wanted him to be.”