Louise and Mark have been foster carers in Southport since 2015. They started off looking after short term placements, and changed the life of 2 children before moving on to fostering parents and their children one year later. They have had 4 parent and child placements in the last 3 years, with two of these placements having gone on for longer than the initial 12 weeks.
Before fostering, Louise was a teacher in Liverpool. “I was looking to do something different. I used to work closely with teenage girls who had no one looking out for them, and I often felt concerned during the school holidays that they may get into some kind of trouble. I always used to rush back in at the end of holidays to make sure they were all ok and they hadn’t been led astray by parents or other adults who didn’t have their best interests at heart.” Louise always noticed that teenage pregnancies within the school differed between those who had parental support, and those who were left to cope alone. “I wanted to find a way to support new parents and stop them from having their babies removed, and parent and child fostering seemed like the perfect way to do this.”
Having had a background in teaching, Louise didn’t see any barriers to becoming a foster carer. With the support of Mark, who is a HGV Driver, and her children, she enquired into fostering and the rest is history. Louise told us “you have to make sure that the whole family is supportive. The foster children we support are part of the family, and our children are like their siblings so they have to be prepared to treat them as such. Our children always get the final say on the next child who comes to stay. For example, after our last placement, our son told us he wanted to take a break from Parent and Child placements so we have done, and we now have a young boy with complex needs placed with us.” By involving the whole family in decision making around fostering, it ensures harmony between birth children and foster children.
Louise told us more about parent and child placements. “They are very intense placements as often you have to be with them 24/7 in order to assess their parenting abilities from the very start. There is lots of report writing that needs to be done, and often it’s better to include as much information as possible as then information isn’t changed as it moves along the chain. You also have to remember that the notes you make during a parenting assessment will be used as part of the court process so they have to be very accurate. If you do it as you go along, then it’s easier as you aren’t mixing up dates when trying to remember back at the end of the placement.”
With parent and child placements, you have to be committed to ensuring the baby or toddler in your care is the highest priority. “I get up with the parents for every night feed. It all goes towards the assessment, and so I make sure I’m involved with every step of the parenting process. I also make sure that I get attached to the babies in our care, as you have to give the baby that experience of attachment to help them later in life. Sometimes you can reduce the support as time goes on and Mum or Dad improve throughout the assessment, whereas with other placements you cannot leave them alone due to the high level of support they need. With them being so intense, they are shorted placements and we get an enhanced payment to help fund time for us after the parent and child have moved into independent living. We find it helps to relax and spend time as a family for a short while after they leave.”
Louise and Mark have also looked after children who were moving on to be adopted. “It’s heart-breaking, sad, and so wonderful all at the same time. With our last adoption it was a slow transition from one family to another. We were able to watch the attachment he made transition from us to them as we spent more time together as one big family. It involved them staying with us, us going to London to spend time with them, but it was wonderful to see the family they were going to become. We asked the adoptive family to make sure they included our children in everything as well, as they were saying goodbye to someone they had come to see as a little brother. In every adoption we make sure they are prepared for saying goodbye to the child as well. We had a huge empty nest feeling when we left him in London for the final time, and we took time for us all to be sad afterwards and recover before we took another child in. We still get updates and it’s lovely to see the progress he’s making.” Fostering has to consider the whole family, and so it’s important to ensure that your birth children are on board and their opinions considered right from the start. Louise told us “You have to respect the fact it’s your child’s house and family first, and where they are in life. It works so much better when the whole family is making the decisions together.”
Louise told us more about the Parent and Child placements she had taken in. “Our first was a young Mum. She had been in care herself and was not comfortable living with others. She was a very anxious Mum who doubted her parenting skills. For example she thought if she put the baby down, or handed him to someone else, he wouldn’t love her anymore. She really grew into being a Mum, and ended up being here for 10 months whilst we support her to have her own tenancy on a flat. During that 10 months she became part of the family, and got to understand what a functional family was as this is something she hadn’t seen growing up in care. When she left we helped her to budget her leaving care money in order to ensure she had enough for all the household items she needed. We cut up catalogues and created rooms of what she would like to try and fit as much into the budget as possible. She’s now doing so well.”
Sometimes the parents that come into care with their children have difficulties themselves. Louise and Mark’s second Mum had a brain injury as a child. “We had to create visual aids to support her with both parenting and independent living. She wouldn’t bath or feed him when she first came to us as she was scared, so we had to model every parenting skill, support her with the skill, and then create visual aids for her to parent independently. By easing her into the role, she was much more confident in her abilities and it soon became second nature. We also had issues when she met with professionals as they didn’t consider that everything needed to be made simpler for her. I’d often re-write the minutes of meetings so that they were simple to understand and she could take part in making the decisions about her baby’s future.” Parent and child placements are about supporting the Mum or Dad who comes to you. “It’s about being there as you would be with your own children and grandchildren, and being there as an extended family for those who have never had a supportive family around them. Even just giving them the chance to have some time alone to have a bath whilst you look after their child is a great help for the wellbeing of the parent you are supporting.”
With children with complex needs, Louise and Mark have really improved the life of their current child. When they arrived, they were unable to walk and didn’t know what feet were for. Because they have Cerebral Palsy, it was almost as if they hadn’t been encouraged to walk from a young age. Louise beamed as she told us “he can now walk upstairs on his own with a bannister each side and someone stood behind him in case he loses balance. He’s just blossomed with us and the physio’s cannot believe the progress he has made in such a short space of time. He is now going to be able to walk, which prior to him coming to stay with us wasn’t even in his opportunities. He’s come out of his shell so much already, and we’re looking forward to seeing what other progress he can make whilst he stays with us.”
Outside of fostering, Louise is developing her skills to support the young Mum’s and Dad’s she supports on Parent and Child placements, and any other children who come to stay with her. “I’m training as a counsellor, and I’m just about to qualify. Parents come to us with so many issues, and it often comes down to how they were parenting themselves. One young lady we looked after had only just arrived when her Dad passed away, and her Mum had always suffered with substance abuse so she didn’t have any support network to talk to about her feelings either. I was better able to support the Mum in the placement as I knew more about how to listen and support through my studies. I just felt so much more comfortable having that knowledge behind me. Our supervising social worker has been great too. She’s supported me to complete my studies alongside fostering and the experience she has from social work has been really useful when supporting cases still going through the courts.”
We asked Louise and Mark what they would say to someone thinking of fostering. “It’s about being able to help a child, to be a safety net for them and give them some normality back in their lives. It’s about providing that childhood, and we’d do it all over again. Make sure you consider if it is the right time for the whole family, and consider what each person can offer to a child coming into care. With Parent and Child, it’s that extra opportunity to be an extended family who can offer support and guidance. Parent and Child fostering is not for the faint-hearted as it’s a huge investment of time and energy, but it is so rewarding to see a child bond with their parent and to see them go home at the end as a family.” Mark summed the whole experience up for us. “The first placement was the most difficult but we have learned so much since by embracing the challenges faced in every placement. It’s hard work, but it’s so rewarding to see the difference you are making to the lives of all the children we’ve worked with.”
If you’ve been inspired by Louise and Mark’s story, and would like to find out more about fostering children with complex needs, or Parent and Child foster placements, then get in touch