Eileen worked for the local authority with children for many years in a different role before she became a foster carer in Birmingham.
Like many professionals who work with children in one role, she discovered her skills made her ideal for fostering. Her experience stood her in good stead when she decided to become a foster carer to plug the gap when children’s residential homes began closing down in her area.
In fact, she’s known among her colleagues – the team at the local foster agency – as ‘Nanny McPhee’ – testament to her approach.
Reasons for fostering
Eileen began fostering 12 years ago with her husband, Charles. They chose an independent fostering agency, Fostering Solutions in Staffordshire. This is one of our local teams and is based close to their home in Birmingham.
Eileen had worked for many years as a Childcare Officer for Birmingham City Council, so fostering seemed like a natural step.
In fact, she and her colleagues were encouraged by managers in their department to consider becoming foster carers when children’s residential homes began closing down.
She said: “Many of my colleagues didn’t want to but I’d spent my whole working life working to support young people and families. Charles and I discussed it at length and we thought ‘why not?’
“My friend, who is a social worker, recommended Fostering Solutions because she’d worked with them and thought they’d be ideal.”
“I’m really happy we chose them, they’ve been great. We’ve done lots of training with them to equip us for the job we do – everything from safeguarding to cyber protection.
“And they support us with whatever we need. We have regular supervisions, appraisals, meetings and support groups. I’m in contact with other foster carers and we can discuss whatever we’re going through, share ideas and support each other. It’s a really useful coping mechanism.
“Because of my background in the local authority, I’m regarded as one of the senior foster carers and I’ve been able to share what I’ve learned from working with children and young people over many years.
“Throughout lockdown we’ve held virtual meetings, coffee mornings and family support groups with the children where we’ve done activities, games, and quizzes, as well as sharing experiences. It’s been a lifeline.”
It might be her professional background or her natural demeanour, but Eileen has a reputation for remaining calm and patient, whatever happens.
“The psychologist calls me Nanny McPhee!” she jokes. “I was having a problem with one of the foster children and he said ‘how can you deal with this and stay so composed?’ It made me feel good about myself.”
Eileen and Charles are approved to care for children aged from three to 18. They’ve fostered 13 children so far including two unaccompanied asylum seekers from Afghanistan and Somalia, two lots of siblings and a teenage boy with autism. They currently care for siblings under the age of 10, who will remain with them until they are 18.
While there have been many challenges there have also been some extraordinary highs, such as their foster child from Somalia receiving an invitation to go to Buckingham Palace to present an award to Lord Dobbs for his work with asylum seekers.
The teenage boy they cared for stayed with them for four years until he moved on to independent living at the age of 16. He won the Pupil of the Year award at his school and still comes to visit as he lives nearby.
Eileen describes fostering as “a rollercoaster”. She said: “It is great when you see the children happy or they return to say thank you for caring for me. We know we’ve helped to get them to where they need to be and that feels good.
“The lows are hearing about the traumas and the conflicts and the disclosures and seeing the distress this has caused.”
Eileen’s tips on routine and structure
While there’s no such thing as a typical week in fostering, Eileen believes that routine and structure are vital for foster children.
“They like to have a plan and to know what they are doing and when. It helps them feel secure and to know you care.
“Our days are structured around school and homework but with time for going to the park and going out for walks.
“Once lockdown is over, we’ll be going back to our normal after-school activities which we’re all looking forward to.”
An important part of our lives
Eileen and Charles have three grown-up children and six grandchildren. All were supportive of their decision to become foster carers and one of their daughters, who still lives at home, is a support worker for them.
Eileen said: “We’re coming to the end of our fostering journey now. These two girls will be our last foster children due to our age.
“I’ve really enjoyed it and I’d love to have a big party at the end and get everyone together who has been such an important part of our lives and see how they are getting on.
“Fostering has made me more aware of the things some people deal with on a day to day basis. It makes me so sad to hear what they’ve been though. Our job is to create a safe and secure environment so these children can start to thrive.”
She added: “If you are considering fostering I would say go for it but be strong minded. Be prepared to hear anything, be welcoming to any child, treat them with respect, dignity. Be ready to care.”
Fostering in Birmingham
Eileen says Birmingham is a great city to foster with plenty of amenities for families and good support from their fostering agency. Favourite activities include swimming, cinema, trampolining, football, Taekwondo and dancing.
The couple have also taken foster children on holiday with them to Spain, Bulgaria and The Algarve – for some of them, it was their first holiday.