How Fostering Has Enriched Our Lives: We Chat to Foster Carers James Wilkinson and Darren Sharpe
We believe it is important that would-be foster carers have as much information about the process of applying to be a foster carer, and what it entails, as possible. This is why we like to talk to our foster carers about their experiences, providing real-life information about life as a foster carer.
Here, we talk to James Wilkinson, who fosters with his partner Darren, about how Heath Farm Fostering supported him during the process of becoming a foster carer, and how subsequent placements have enriched their lives. Here is what James had to say.
Why did you decide to become a foster carer?
Darren and I had reached a stage in our lives together, where we wanted a family. We decided to attend an alternative family conference in London to gain a greater insight into surrogacy. However, upon attending the conference and spending time with representatives from a London-based fostering agency, we mutually agreed that there were already a considerable number of children in need of a stable family and that we were in a position to provide it.
Our jobs at this time (Darren, at YMCA training and myself, being a teacher) also influenced our desire to foster. We each could think of times when we wanted to personally help others in need, and believed being foster carers would allow us to do this. We hoped to help and nurture children in need, as well as experience a family and child centred lifestyle.
Tell us about your initial contact with your fostering agency. What did the process involve and how did you feel after the initial visit?
Our initial enquiry about becoming foster carers was received very favourably. Our sexual orientation was simply noted in the same tone as our general contact information – there was no indication of this being a problem or a barrier in becoming a foster carer. This was reiterated further, during our initial visit. We were assured that families consisted of many forms and ours wouldn’t be any different.
In hindsight, it was Darren and I that made greater references to our sexuality and the possible perceptions of others, as opposed to the agency. The initial visit also enabled us to talk about ourselves, our lifestyle and the suitability of our home. It also enabled us to ask specific questions about what being a foster carer entails and the age, gender and backgrounds of the average looked after child, the agency usually represent.
Having decided that our agency represented our values and beliefs, we were extremely excited and eager to progress to the next stage of becoming foster carers.
What advice would you give to someone who is considering making that first step into becoming a foster carer?
Do your research and consider carefully the local authority or private fostering agency, you would like to work in partnership with. Spend time reading literature, considering carefully the on-going support and training that is provided. Try to be mindful of the fact that they will be representing you, as much as you will be representing them.
Do not be put off or concerned about any preconceived notions that your sexuality will be a barrier. From our experience, being gay and having experienced forms of discrimination or simply feeling that you don’t ‘fit in’, has been invaluable in relating to many looked after children. We have found that some looked after children are often mindful of being in care and the differences this can make them feel when making comparisons with their peers. Being gay has enabled us to relate to these feelings and offer guidance and support.
What is involved in the assessment process, and what kind of information did the independent assessor want to find out?
When the assessment process starts, you are assigned an independent assessing social worker. This person meets with you regularly to gain an insight into you, your family and social network. As well as providing a realistic viewpoint of being a foster carer, posing scenarios of caring for a looked after child and how you would manage them, it also encourages you to share your ideologies on caring for young people and personal childhood experiences. It is an intrusive process, conducted sympathetically and with respect.
How long did it take to be approved as a foster carer, and how did you find the assessment process?
From our initial enquiry, to be being approved as foster carers, it took five months. We sought comfort from the assessment process because it is very thorough. It provides you many opportunities to reflect on your life and consider carefully, the ways you plan to nurture and care for a looked after child. We found that the on-going discussions equip you with strategies and insight into how it must feel to be a looked after child, being cared for by people outside of your family.
It also allows you to imagine caring for a looked after child and consider the personality traits, backgrounds, age and behaviours that would be a good match and therefore support a sustained placement.
How did you feel when you were notified of your first foster care placement?
We felt many different emotions when notified of our first foster care placement; excitement, anxiety, nervousness but overall, pride. We were proud to have been approved to be placed in a privileged position, entrusted with the responsibility to care for, nurture and support a child that hadn’t had the most positive life experiences. We were also aware that we had the support and guidance of our agency and the knowledge provided by initial training to ensure a smooth transition, in becoming foster carers.
What ongoing training and support is available to you?
Throughout our fostering career, we have never felt alone. The on-going support and guidance provided by our agency social workers, the social workers of the young people and fellow foster carers has been invaluable. Together, we are able to work as a team and strive for the best outcomes for the looked after children in our care. We have regular meetings with our supporting social worker and the social worker of our looked after children, both in person and over the telephone. We also attend foster carer support groups and training sessions. We are extremely fortunate to have many training opportunities, covering a broad spectrum of subjects and have gained so much knowledge and expertise, since becoming foster carers.
We have been foster carers for six years. We’re thankful that we decided to enquire about being foster carers when considering how we would like to have a family. It has been and continues to be challenging but ultimately extremely rewarding, for both ourselves and the children in our care. We have two young people, both in long-term, permanent placements and we are very proud of our foster family. The young people continue to flourish in in care and we very much look forward to our future, together.
We’d like to thank James for talking to us about his experiences as a foster carer, and of course for the continued support, alongside Darren, he offers to looked after children.
If you are interested in becoming a foster carer like James and Darren, please visit our homepage for more information, or give us a call on 01233 712030.