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A Reason to Foster – Making a Difference to Young Men in Care – Keith and Debbie’s Story

Keith’s experience of growing up as a mixed race child in the 1950s, raised by a working father, is one of the things that inspired him to want to foster.

He said: “It was tough for my father raising two boys on his own as well as holding down a full-time job as a mechanic. He struggled all his life. I wasn’t the best behaved kid in the school but at least I was given a chance.

“My dad did his best for us and when I grew up I wanted to be able to help other young lads like me who’ve had a difficult start in life. I see them roaming the streets and I relate to them. I thought I could make a difference and be a positive influence in their lives’.”

The right time

Keith and his wife, Debbie, are foster carers in Cardiff. But before this, they ran pubs for more than 30 years. Although Keith always wanted to foster, their lifestyle meant it wasn’t possible in the early days. They also wanted to wait until their son was settled and had completed his apprenticeship.

Ten years ago, when their son was 21, the timing was right for Keith and Debbie to begin their fostering journey. They began researching fostering agencies in and around Cardiff where they live. Keith explained:

“We chose the National Fostering Agency (NFA), part of National Fostering Group. They offered good training and their response was the best of any of the agencies I phoned. They immediately made me feel comfortable.

“Over the years I’ve done more than 50 different training courses and seminars, including a Level 3 in Health and Social Care of Young People and Children and the Welsh equivalent qualification. If there are courses that I want to do that the NFA doesn’t provide, they have always been willing to fund them.”

‘More durable than most’

Keith and Debbie have chosen to foster young men approaching the end of their time in care. Keith said: “A lot of young people have multiple placements and as they get older it can be harder for them to find foster homes. I particularly wanted to look after boys because of my experiences growing up and the knowledge and empathy that gave me. We are happy to take young men with different problems and temperaments and provide a supportive, understanding environment.”

Asylum seekers

Many of the young men Keith and Debbie have cared for have been asylum seekers who have come to this country from a range of places including Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iraq, Iran, Bangladesh, South Vietnam and Syria.

“Most of these lads lack self-worth. Some of them have been in as many as 15-20 foster homes,” said Keith.

“When they arrive, they can find it difficult to accept that you care about them. Sometimes they might be verbally abusive or have violent outbursts. Often they find it hard to make decisions, preferring just to go with the flow. We give them encouragement and make ourselves available to them if they want to talk but we never push this on them, they have to want to come to us.”

A successful approach

The success of this approach is reflected in many different ways – from the young men who choose to call Keith and Debbie ‘dad’ and ‘mum’ through to the fact that many of their former foster children still visit regularly.

One young man who has been with them for the last three years barely spoke when he first arrived. Now he is at college doing A levels and working part-time to save money. He starts learning to drive next month – something that Keith and Debbie encourage all their 17-year-olds to do. They have even negotiated with the local authority to contribute towards the cost of lessons.

Buckingham Palace

Several of their former foster children are now at university, including one at Cardiff doing Aeronautical Engineering, one at Bath doing Civil Engineering and one at Bristol doing Computer Programming. In May 2019, Keith and Debbie were invited to a garden party at Buckingham Palace in recognition of their outstanding contribution to fostering.

Challenges and successes

There have been challenges as well as successes along the way, as Keith explained: “The toughest thing is those young men who you can’t reach because they’ve suffered too much and won’t let us in. Calling time on a placement is the hardest thing of all, even when you know it’s the right thing to do. It’s not just the child who goes through trauma when a placement breaks down, we never forget about them just because we weren’t able to make the difference we wanted to make.

“It made our Christmas Day to receive so many messages from our former foster children. When they come and visit and you see them standing there looking well-dressed and smiling, that’s the best thing. You see that they’ve become young men and are making their way in the world.”

A good foster carer

What does it take to be a good foster carer? Keith said: “Honesty. A lot of inner strength. And integrity. I couldn’t do this without Debbie. When we first started I didn’t have the knowledge and experience I have now but I wish I’d trusted my instincts more because they were good.

“At first we were frightened of making mistakes but that’s inevitable and it’s why you have a Supervising Social Worker. My advice would be ‘talk to someone if you’re unsure’ and trust your instincts.”

If Keith and Debbie’s story has given you a #reasontofoster – get in touch today.

 

 

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