Sometimes, the desire to become a foster carer can take root in childhood or early adulthood. This is how it was for Candice, now 66, who has been a foster carer for more than 20 years.
During her teenage years, Candice spent a period of time homeless and dreamed of one day having a home of her own and being able to share it with a foster child. She was in her mid 40s before she was in a position to realise her dream.
Applying to foster
By that point, Candice had spent many years working as a social worker and raising her own children, the youngest of which were then aged 11 and 8. It was a friend who was a foster carer that reminded Candice of her childhood dream to foster. She began the applications process when she was 46, intending to continue working in social care while fostering.
However, one of her early placements altered her plans, as Candice explained:
“I took on a newborn baby who was addicted to Crack Cocaine. He came straight from hospital, along with his one-year old sister. It was meant to be a short-term placement but they ended up staying with me for three years until they were adopted. I wasn’t able to continue working and gave up my job to care for them.”
Highs and lows
Candice admits that the reality of fostering was not how she envisaged it in the beginning and she has experienced some real highs and lows.
She recalls how the drug addicted baby used to shake continually. She said:
“The only way to help him through it was with love and hugs. It was wonderful to watch him come out the other side and start to grow and learn to talk and walk. Sometimes it was as if I’d imagine his addiction as he seemed so healthy and well.”
However, there was a tragic setback in the baby’s development after he had his childhood vaccinations. He started to lose balance and stopped speaking and he was admitted to hospital. Candice said:
“They couldn’t find out what was wrong with him. They thought it was encephalitis. He went back to shaking as he had done when he was born. He was in hospital for months and months. I was pushing for him to come home but they were reluctant to allow him out. I kept pushing and gradually he was allowed out for a few hours at a time and then overnight and then for the weekend. He gradually started to recover a little but it was a devastating experience. He is around 16 now and has been adopted. It was a very difficult thing to go through but I played a part in helping him to overcome his early addiction to drugs and did what I could to help him thrive in spite of everything that had happened to him.”
Another child that Candice fostered also faced major challenges. She first came to Candice aged 11 and Candice continued to support her via Staying Put until the age of 20. After developing what she thought was severe period pains, the young woman was persuaded by Candice to see a doctor. Sadly, she was diagnosed with Leukaemia and has subsequently undergone chemotherapy for her illness. Candice said:
“I am no longer her legal guardian and I told her when she was admitted to hospital that she needed to get in touch with her mum, which she did. It was her mum who contacted me to say she has leukaemia. I thought we might lose her but, happily, she’s now out of hospital and two months ago she came over for the weekend. Her hair is growing back and she seems bubbly and upbeat.”
To date, Candice has fostered 12 children. She describes her time as a foster carer as “a real rollercoaster ride” and admits it is not what she expected. Despite this, it has been a hugely rewarding experience. She said:
“The young woman who developed leukaemia, when she first came to me I thought I wouldn’t be able to manage as her behaviour was so challenging. But, you know, she’d been through the wringer and I just persisted with her. Before I knew it, she’d been with me for eight years. She’s still a really important part of my life and still calls me mum. I regard myself as really fortunate to know her. We are so in synch and we share a great sense of humour.”
Candice, who is of Black-African origin, goes out of her way to ensure that the children she cares for retain their cultural identity. She said:
“I recently had a young black boy staying with me. Although he had come from a loving foster home, it was with a white family and he was pining for things from his homeland such as food. I’m not Ghanaian but I made some Ghanaian food for him. He ate and ate and ate until in the end I started to get a bit worried! I also asked him how he wanted his hair. He was really pleased to be asked and said he wanted it in braids. It wasn’t something his previous foster family had thought of. The colour of a person’s skin is not important but it’s important to try and embrace their culture and who they are – or to give it a try at least. Another time I was caring for a Turkish boy and I contacted a friend of mine and asked her to share some Turkish recipes. This sort of thing is so important to help children to settle and feel at home.”
Love first and foremost
Although Candice welcomes the fact that there is now more diversity in foster families than when she began fostering, she believes that, first and foremost, foster children need loving homes. She said:
“Children thrive in a loving environment. I have fostered black children and Caucasian children. Retaining a child’s cultural identity is important but above all your home must be a place of love and acceptance.”
In 2017, Candice moved to Heath Farm Fostering Agency, part of the Outcomes First Group. She appreciates the support that is provided, the extensive training opportunities and the fact that there is always someone to talk to. Twenty years after the start of her fostering journey she is still learning every day. She said:
“No matter how many times I repeat the same training, I always learn something new. Even when you think you have it all in your head, doing it again taps into your knowledge and experience and reinforces it.
“Training is important but what a foster carer needs above everything else is patience, acceptance, listening skills. No matter how busy I am, or how distracted, when the young lady I am looking after comes into the room I always make sure I look up and smile. I want her to know that I am happy to see her. That is so important.”