“I feel that everything in my life so far – all of my career experience – has led me to this point,” says Donna, who was approved as a foster carer in July 2019 with husband Keith. The couple began fostering a 22-month-old boy with complex medical needs in February 2020.
Donna – who previously worked as an adult nurse and later in a school for children with special needs – is using many of the skills she learned throughout her career, as well as developing many new ones.
She’s become an enhanced foster carer, which means supporting children who need a higher level of care due to the challenges they face. Despite these challenges, Donna describes becoming a foster carer as “an amazing experience” and “overwhelmingly positive”.
A conscious decision to foster
Donna and Keith are in their 40s and 50s. By the time they came together as a couple their boys – from previous marriages – were both 18. They discussed starting a new family but instead made a conscious decision to foster.
“We recognised that there are so many children out there needing a safe, loving home and we decided that this was something we could offer,” Donna explained.
They googled fostering agencies in their area; near the top of the list was National Fostering Group.
“We recognised that there are so many children out there needing a safe, loving home and we decided that this was something we could offer.”
“We chose National Fostering Group because they were close to where we live but, also, we liked the fact that they are a national agency. We thought that if we ever move, we could stay with the same agency.
“Subsequently, we’ve discovered how well they perform in terms of ratings and what a good support structure and training they offer to their foster carers but we didn’t know any of that then.”
Although the approvals process was lengthy and “quite intrusive” at times, the couple formed a good relationship with their assessing social worker and felt they were treated with dignity and respect throughout.
They were approved in July 2019 but, apart from a short respite placement in December of that year, they did not have their first foster child until the end of February 2020.
Fostering a child with complex medical needs
They were offered a little boy of 22 months with complex medical needs. At the time, Donna was still working full-time in a school for children with special needs at the time but felt that the placement was absolutely right for them and was keen to say yes.
She was able to negotiate a shorter resignation period. When the placement began, Keith took two weeks off work and their supervising social worker found an interim foster carer who could provide short-term support at the start of the placement.
Although he wasn’t expected to ever walk due to his medical conditions, he began walking after six months under Donna and Keith’s care.
Donna describes the first few weeks as “a shock to the system”, despite having the experience of raising and working with children with special needs. It was very different providing complete, round-the-clock care to a young child they’d never met before.
Also, three weeks after their foster child arrived, lockdown happened. This created significant challenges, particularly in relation to attending his many routine hospital appointments.
It was difficult, too, not to be able to interact with other foster carers and for all parent contact sessions to take place over Zoom. The support of their supervising social worker, plus a good network of friends and family, really helped.
Around 18 months on, their foster child is thriving. Although he wasn’t expected to ever walk due to his medical conditions, he began walking after six months under Donna and Keith’s care, using special splints to support him.
“He’s a happy, lively, fun little boy who’s full of character and who wants to move around and climb. It is wonderful to see this and compare it to the child who came to us who didn’t know how to play and who couldn’t walk and could barely communicate,” Donna said.
“He has brought so much to our lives. A court order was recently granted and we are hoping we might be able to adopt him.”
During lockdown, all National Fostering Group’s foster carer training sessions were also carried out online. Since the easing of restrictions, there’s a now a mix of online and face-to-face training, including mandatory training such as Skills to Foster and optional courses such as An Introduction to Signing, which has been invaluable.
During one of the annual face-to-face events organised by the agency, Donna and Keith were introduced to some fellow foster carers looking after a child with complex needs. They’ve since become friends and they find it very helpful to be able to share experiences and support each other.
“I’ve always wanted to foster but now the timing is right for us as a family, as our birth children are grown up. Our journey has been really positive, we are so fortunate, but of course there have also been many challenges.
“If you’re considering fostering, I’d say it’s important to have supportive people around you and to manage your expectations. Fostering has taught us so much about ourselves. It makes you very thankful for the life you’ve had and to be able to offer some of this to a vulnerable child is a great thing.”
Have Donna and Keith inspired you?
National Fostering Group is the largest independent fostering agency in the UK, with more than 3,000 foster carers across the country.
This means we can offer better support and training than any other provider in the country, helping you be at your best in this important role.
Visit your local independent fostering agency page for more information or get in touch using our form.