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Elaine’s story – whatever it takes

25.10.21

How Elaine’s childhood experience in care helps her be a great foster mum

Elaine was 10 when she came home from school one day to find her mum carrying black bin bags down the stairs. Inside the bags were her clothes and those of her sister. A social worker came in and spoke to the sisters to tell them they were being taken into care.

“I was petrified. I’d been watching a TV programme about a children’s home and it wasn’t a very nice place. I remember being driven up to the children’s home, which was in Ponteland, and seeing a little girl sitting in a window having her hair brushed. I thought ‘that doesn’t look too bad’. We were shown to the girl’s dormitories – there were four beds in each room”

Relief

It was a mixed home for girls and boys (eight of each) and the children referred to the staff as “Auntie” and “Uncle”. Thankfully, it was nothing like the care home depicted on TV and Elaine very quickly settled in. She recalls feeling a sense of relief that nothing bad could happen to her anymore. Elaine continued visiting her birth family up until the age of 13 when she made the decision that she no longer wanted to have any contact.

Foster mum

Overall, Elaine’s experience of being in care was largely a positive one. She and her sister remained in the Ponteland home until it closed, before moving to another children’s home in Morpeth. It was not until just before Elaine’s 16th birthday that she moved into foster care. Her sister, who was two years older, had left care and gone to live in board and lodgings run by a woman called Marie. Marie offered to care for Elaine.

“I went to live with them on a care and support package and called her my foster mum. I stayed until I was 18 and I’ve kept in touch with her for most of my life”

A career in care

From an early age, Elaine knew that she wanted to become a foster carer herself, but it wasn’t until her early 30s that she seriously considered starting the application process.

“I had always worked in the care sector – in nursing homes, as a children’s nanny and for 17 years as part of the ambulance service, first in patient transport and then as an emergency care support worker on frontline vehicles. I mentioned to my partner at the time that I wanted to try fostering, but he was adamant that he didn’t want to do it. He worked in a police control room and told me he regularly took calls from foster carers. He said ‘you don’t know what kids you’re going to get’. I was taken aback so I put the idea on the backburner for many years”

Long held dream

It was 2011 when she began the application process. By that time Elaine had been living on her own for four years and was ready to begin working towards her long-held dream of fostering. She chose to apply to Fostering Solutions, part of the National Fostering Agency, which was highly rated by Ofsted.

Initially, she lacked confidence in her abilities but with the agency’s support and that of her close friends, her confidence has grown along with her patience. Elaine has fostered one child, a boy, for the last seven and a half years. He was seven when he first came and Elaine admits her journey as a foster mum has been “a really mixed bag”. She said

“I’ve had some very unsettling moments with him and it’s been a struggle at times but I wouldn’t give up on him. I can see the good in him and I want him to see the good in himself. Most kids in care think they are in care because they are bad. It’s the situations they’ve come from that are bad, not them. I’ve poured everything I can into him to give him a better life and I’ve learned so much about myself along the way. I am a lot more capable than I thought. At first I didn’t think I could be a single mum but I’m doing it and he’s a teenager now”

Training and support

Elaine appreciates the training that she has received via the National Fostering Agency (“It’s great – we cover a lot of different stuff, it’s very varied.”), as well as the support groups and access to Foster Care training workshops with an educational psychologist. She has also completed a number of online courses including Safeguarding Level I and Challenging Behaviour, as well as training to become a Duke of Edinburgh award leader.

The hardest job… with big rewards

So, what are the rewards for her in being a foster carer, and does the fact that she was a looked after child herself help when things get tough?

“It is the hardest job in the world looking after someone else’s child. There is so much responsibility, you need really good people skills. I’ve had friends who said they couldn’t do it. Looked after children experience a lot of negativity – at school I was always The Kid in Care and it’s still a bit like that. There’s a kind of mentality that you must have done something bad to end up in care. It’s wrong. All these kids want is a chance.

The biggest reward for me is that I’m giving him a better life than he had before and I love watching him make progress. Three years ago he asked if he could call me “mum” so he wouldn’t have to keep explaining to other children why he called me Elaine. It made me cry at first and he thought he’d upset me! I had to explain to him that I just felt so proud. I’ve never had children of my own and I wasn’t used to hearing that. It’s moments like this. The first time he gave me a Mother’s Day card he was about eight or nine. I still have it framed on my wall”

Empathy

Having been in care herself, Elaine has a great deal of empathy for how it feels.

“I’ve been through it, I know what these kids go through. I spent six years in a children’s home and although I loved my time there, there was very little one-to-one attention. A foster carer is someone who is there to provide stability, love and attention and to fight their corner when things go wrong. Just like a regular parent. I treat him like he is my child. He sometimes says there are too many rules and regulation – like no mobile phone in the bedroom or X-box controllers – but that’s what I’d say if he were my birth child otherwise he’d be on them all night! Trust is crucial. It can be hard to build it and, of course, it’s a two-way street. If I say I’m going to do something I have to do it. If we let them down, they feel like we don’t care”

A better life

Elaine feels like the fact that she was in care herself helps him know he’s not alone.

“I hope I am a positive role model for him and he can see that a person can come out of the others side of the care system and still have a good life. Someone who was a looked after child has invaluable experience that they can pass on to foster children and they can help them feel less alone. Above all, though, you’ve got to want to do it and be prepared to do whatever it takes to give these children the chance of a better life”

Has Elaine 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 today.

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