“It felt the right thing to do – to give something back.” Rob shares his experience of fostering
Rob’s first foster child – a boy of eight – arrived one week before the start of the first lockdown in 2020. It was a challenge but three months of being locked down together meant they got to know each other really well.
“We learned about each other and we helped each other through it. We created a school together and we had the support of the fostering agency and the supervising social worker and a therapeutic support worker. My birth son was living with us half the week as well. We worked as a team and found a way forward.”
Rob had been doing youth work for around 30 years when he experienced a major life change four years ago. After separating from his wife and changing course with his business, he began to consider becoming a foster carer. He said:
“It felt like the right thing to do, to give something back.”
He had worked as a detached youth worker on the streets of Suffolk for many years, hearing about the challenges faced by 11-21 year-olds. He’d also run youth clubs in Suffolk and Cornwall, where he lives now. Rob saw an ad for the National Fostering Agency, part of National Fostering Group seeking to recruit foster carers. He said:
“I went into fostering thinking ‘I’ve had my own children and I’ve worked with young people for many years’, but none of that really prepares you for living with a foster child. Whatever your experience, it’s vital to get some kind of training. The National Fostering Agency is very good with that, there are lots of training opportunities. Skills to Foster takes you through a variety of different scenarios. Your supervising social worker and the child’s social worker also play a key role.”
Rob has three birth children – a son, 25, a daughter, 24 and another son, 14. His youngest son was just 12 when Rob began to consider fostering and was living with Rob for half of the time. His oldest son also did the Skills to Foster training with Rob and became a key part of his support network as has his daughter. Rob said:
“We talked a lot about it. He knew it wouldn’t affect our relationship but, even so, it takes a bit of getting used to. Sometimes it’s just practical things like I can’t pick him up after our foster child’s bedtime. Overall though, it’s worked really well, my son loves sharing things and teaching our foster child Minecraft.”
Rob hopes his foster son will remain with him long-term. They have already discussed the possibility of looking after other foster children and his foster son is keen not to be the youngest in the house any more. Rob said:
“When he first came, our foster son was defiant and didn’t trust adults. He had very little confidence. But by sticking to routines and having firm boundaries and making sure we do lots of things that he enjoys and we have fun, he has developed surprisingly quickly. Foster caring is about providing nurture and support and helping the child to understand the challenges they face. You draw on your own life experiences to help that child and you both grow. He can now accept praise and he is starting to feel loved. He’s willing to try new things – body boarding, skateboarding, being around other children – and I love to see him smile. This is the reward.”
“My advice to new foster carers is have an open approach, listen to professional advice and adapt it in ways that suit you and your child. Also, I found that being prepared, taking time for myself and not reacting have been really helpful things to bear in mind. You need to try and understand things from the child’s perspective. Sometimes, what they say is the opposite of what they really mean. They have missed out on so much and the connections are reforming. Every time you encounter a hiccup, look on it as a positive sign that change is happening.”
To anyone considering fostering he advises:
“Have a conversation, read the book they send out, read about the experiences of other foster carers. You can dip your toe as a respite or short-term foster carer, you don’t have to make a massive life commitment. I did and I’m pleased I did but not everyone is in that position but you can do something and you may be able to adapt and evolve over time.”
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