The journey to become a foster carer is different for everyone. For Keira, it was after years of long commutes on the career treadmill when her epiphany moment arrived. Turning on the TV one evening, she watched a news report on a family tragedy where the only survivor, a baby, was brought to safety and handed to a bystander.
“I thought, what if I was that person who was handed the baby? I would have said ‘yes’ instantly. I would have wanted to look after it,” she said. “Then I thought, OK what’s this all about? I’ve got no children of my own, I’ve got a lovely marriage. It surprised me. I didn’t think I would ever see myself as a mother.”
Keira, 41, was already feeling disenchanted by a long series of corporate roles where her dyslexia had not been supported. However, a career move into fostering felt unexpected, to say the least. With a diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes, she’d long since decided not to have children. Type 1 diabetes doesn’t prevent motherhood but, to Keira, it was a complication she didn’t want to tackle. And she’d thought that was that.
Yet, 6 years on from her epiphany, she’s now “mum to a whole load of children from everywhere”, a fostering mentor, and has never felt more confident or fulfilled.
OK what’s this all about? I’ve got no children of my own, I’ve got a lovely marriage. It surprised me. I didn’t think I would ever see myself as a mother.
Keira is a foster carer in Bolton, Lancashire, supported by one of our agencies, Fostering Solutions North West. Her previous career was in law where she worked in pensions and property law for large corporations and law practices.
“That Manchester train commute,” she laughed. “The World’s Worst Commutes was on TV and they’d filmed me, sitting in the background on this train. Ironically, it was the first time I’d ever got a seat.
“I was working in the city centre and I wasn’t happy. Workplaces don’t understand dyslexia. I have 2 law degrees but I felt inferior. Having dyslexia makes you slower at some tasks. In an 8 hour day I would need 12 hours to complete the work. I’ve got a great memory and there was no problem with my work, but I couldn’t produce a letter in 10 minutes. My boss wasn’t very understanding.”
Keira started looking into fostering. She’d built a happy life with husband Adam, who works for Royal Mail, and this meant big changes. The couple spent time discussing the idea.
“I look after other people, I’m that kind of person. I can step into looking after people. I notice what people need, I always have. But I never wanted kids. Being diabetic was a factor. If you get pregnant, your diabetes has to be on point, and that can be difficult to maintain. So I never considered having children.”
However, as Keira discovered, you don’t need to have children of your own to become a foster carer.
I look after other people, I’m that kind of person. I can step into looking after people. I notice what people need, I always have.
Like all potential foster carers, Keira had a medical check-up as part of her fostering application. “My GP cleared me. He said diabetes wouldn’t hold me back.”
She had started feeling poorly when she was 6 years old. Her mum suspected what was wrong, and the GP confirmed that it was Type 1 diabetes. It’s a lifelong condition that develops when cells producing insulin are destroyed and the body can’t produce its own insulin.
People with Type 1 diabetes treat their diabetes by injecting insulin or using an insulin pump. Around half a million people in the UK have it and it usually comes on in childhood. It can be considered a disability under the law but not everyone with diabetes considers themselves disabled.
“Diabetes isn’t a problem for me,” Keira said. “By the 3rd day after my diagnosis, I was giving myself the injections. We ate well, mum provided proper food and good habits. It’s not narrowing, not negative. I have to look after myself and watch stress, and when I’m poorly there’s a reaction. But diabetes doesn’t define me.”
My GP cleared me. He said diabetes wouldn’t hold me back.
Dyslexia is a learning difficulty that commonly affects reading and spelling, though they might have particular strengths in design, problem solving, creative skills, interactive skills and oral skills. Many of our foster carers have dyslexia – as do some of our foster children.
“Dyslexia helps me think outside the box,” Keira said. “I’m quick thinking, I can pivot. People come to me because I can visualise solutions and ideas. This blows my mind. They see the real you.
“There is shame around dyslexia – of not being good enough. I don’t feel inferior now, though I did when my bosses didn’t get it. I’m good at fostering, I’m confident in my abilities. I’m a mentor and I help other foster carers who aren’t quite as experienced!”
Her experience of dyslexia and of the diagnosis itself has held her in good stead – she knows what it’s like to be misunderstood and how to advocate for those in her care. “My foster child got an autism diagnosis and is now entitled to additional support. I fought for this diagnosis. People say ‘I don’t like labels’ but knowing what it is, that’s powerful. And it means everyone understands what needs to be in place.
There is shame around dyslexia – of not being good enough. I don’t feel inferior now, though I did when my bosses didn’t get it. I’m good at fostering, I’m confident in my abilities. I’m a mentor and I help other foster carers who aren’t quite as experienced!
“My mum fought for me. The school’s attitude was that I was ‘thick’. She’s not thick, she said – have you spoken to her? So, I was diagnosed dyslexic at 7 and got the additional support I needed at a new school.
“Mum’s proud of me for fostering. She’s seen me struggle, having a brain but the world just didn’t understand me.”
One element of being a foster carer is the paperwork, including filling in diaries and reports, and occasionally contributing to meetings with the other professionals responsible for the foster child’s care.
“Paperwork can be a problem with dyslexia,” Keira said. “Fostering Solutions are supportive. I might have 2 law degrees but I don’t like reading! And I struggle with filing and technology. I have to work a lot harder. But I am good at building rapport – this is a dyslexic superpower.”
Keira has been fostering for 6 years. “When I was first approved, I did respite for 6 months to give me a gist of what works. It was monthly or weekend respite care to give another foster carer a break. I think I did respite for about 6 or 7 children.
“I got to speak to other foster carers and went to local carer meetings. I was approved to look after 2 foster children at first. I had 2 long term siblings, one of them is still here. I’ve also got a short term lad who’s leaving us soon.”
I’m so privileged to do this job. I’m mum to a whole load of children from everywhere.
Keira and Adam have moved house to one with 3 spare bedrooms and has just been approved for 3 foster children.
“They might be siblings, it depends on the needs of the children,” she said. “I need to know I’m doing a good job and not spreading myself too thin.
“Adam speaks Arabic and we’re interested in fostering asylum seeking children. He can say ‘turn the gas off’ and ‘use the shower curtain’! I know the immigration process and the legal side from my previous career.
“I’m so privileged to do this job. I’m mum to a whole load of children from everywhere. We’ll see who comes in next.”
Can you foster? Well, foster carers come from many walks of life – you are as diverse as the foster children you care for.
To be a foster carer, you need bags of patience and compassion. Genuine love for working with children. The ability to practise therapeutic fostering (training given) and work with other professionals. The gift of being able to create a safe space.
Experience is good but not essential. If you’ve worked in sectors like education, the emergency services, care or healthcare, you’ll be especially suited to a foster carer role.
You might like to try our Can I Foster? tool, which answers common questions about suitability to foster, based on a personalised Q and A style format. If you’re ready to chat with a real person, contact your local team.