You don’t need a partner or family to become a foster carer with the National Fostering Group. If you’re thinking about fostering but you are not sure whether being single would affect your ability to provide a vulnerable child or young person, then Belinda’s story should go some way to showing you that it is far from an impossibility.
Belinda Sparks has been fostering with the National Fostering Agency since August 2018, and describes her experience as a foster carer so far as ‘The best thing that I’ve ever done’, thanks at least in part to her previous work environment and having a supportive family network who are on hand to help during the more challenging times.
“I’ve got two foster children at home, one nine-year-old boy with challenging behavioural needs and a fifteen-year-old girl’, Belinda explained.
“Fostering with the NFA has given me a purpose after having empty-nest syndrome after my three birth children had left home. I’ve got a very good support network, I’ve got my family – three of my own grown up children and an elderly mother who is my rock. We have hard days but we get through it, and we’re generally having a lovely time!”
Ready-made therapeutic support in place
When first embarking on fostering, it is entirely possible that the child or children you will be looking after will have gone through much upheaval in their early lives.
This can include experience of abuse or neglect, as well as witnessing the breakdown of a parental relationship, which can lead to children in your care having to go through periods of adjustment to their situation, and they may have to work through emotional or behavioural difficulties.
The support network we can offer in this case would include talking to your social worker, who would point you in the right direction of appropriate medical or theureupetic services in order to help the child further understand their feelings, and if necessary, teach them coping mechanisms so that they are able to regulate their emotions and behavior more easily.
Belinda explained how she has managed such a situation along her fostering journey to date:
“One of my birth children is a nominated carer and lives in the extension next to my house, while my other daughter is an occupational therapist that often visits.’
“My son is a psychologist, while I also used to work in a psychiatric hospital myself, so I’m acutely aware of the types of issues that can occur on a day-to-day basis. I am very good at asking for advice from my Supervising Social Worker when I need it however!’
“Both children go to mainstream school but I am trying to get extra help for the nine-year-old boy in terms of attending therapy sessions, which the NFA is currently trying to arrange.’
“I think he just needs somebody to sit down and explain exactly why he is in care and why he can’t be with his mum, as he has been through four different foster placements now.’
“My Supervising Social Worker is lovely and is really helpful. I do tend to phone up quite a lot for assistance and was quite panicky to start with, so the support network from NFA’s side is definitely there.’
“Even when you have such a distressed child, there are still lots of wonderful moments. While the boy I’m caring for has many complex behavioural issues, when he turns around and says he loves me – it all feels worth it.”
Looking after children with a wide age gap
Depending on your preferences during your foster carer application and the type of placement you will go on to be approved for once you have completed your assessment with us, it is perfectly possible that the foster children you will care for will have an age gap of a few years or more.
Belinda went into more detail about the specific challenges associated with caring for two children with a six-year age difference when it comes to arranging things to do which appeases both their interests.
“In terms of arranging activities, my 15-year old wants to be with me all the time. She doesn’t want to do her own thing just yet.’
“We’ve got two dogs so we walk them a lot, and we often go somewhere where she can sit down and have a coffee with me while the younger boy plays in the park.’
“We’re still trying to establish what things we can do that they would both enjoy at the same time. It’s just like a juggling act that would do with your own children, where you do something that she wants to do on one day, and something more appropriate for him the next time.’
The benefits of being a single carer
While Belinda mentioned that she occasionally thinks it would be good to have someone else to share her fostering adventure with, and that she is aware that many foster families clearly work well when caring for children as a pair, she went on to describe the unique benefits to being a single foster carer from her perspective.
“One of the many benefits to being a single carer is that I can care for the children the way I see fit, without anyone else coming between that or having disagreements on what should and shouldn’t be done.’
“I think it very much depends on the child. Both of the children I care for have had issues in the past with their father, so it suits them in a way that it is just myself looking after them. If I was to meet somebody else now, then it would be a huge shift in dynamic in terms of what the children are used to.’
“Also, they get my total attention. If I had a partner here then I’m sure we would be more than capable of meeting their needs, but there my attention on the children wouldn’t be as undivided as it is now as it would have to be shared with somebody else.”
Misconceptions of fostering
When summing up how she is feeling about her carer adventure so far, Belinda said: “I’m absolutely loving it, and I’m always telling people that I’m lucky and that they are wonderful children.’
“There is this misconception out there that in fostering there is something inherently wrong with the child, but I’ve also looked after some respite children and the children themselves are perfect. It’s just that their family situation and the things that they’ve unfortunately been through means that it’s up to us to help them build towards an improved future.”
If you are thinking of becoming a single carer and have been inspired by Belinda’s story, don’t hesitate in getting in touch with our friendly team on 0800 044 3030 or request a call back using our contact form to find out more!