People are sometimes interested in fostering a child but are uncertain whether it can fit around their existing commitments.
Two of our fostering families share how flexible they find it and how it allows them to do something they love.
Barbara is a single foster parent. She began fostering six years ago with Jay Fostering in Leicestershire, following almost two decades teaching English to foreign students.
Some of her students – as young as five – stayed with her and her birth children who lived with her for months at a time. It was Barbara’s aim to provide a home from home and help the children to settle while they with her.
In many ways, the experience was similar to fostering and she began to feel that she would like to support more vulnerable children and young people.
Because she lives alone, Barbara didn’t feel that becoming a full-time foster carer would be suitable for her.
“I really wanted to offer a home to vulnerable children, but I don’t have the support to be able to do it full-time,” she said.
“I don’t have a partner and most of my friends are retired. I also have elderly relatives who I care for and, alongside that, it’s important to me to be able to have some time for myself as I enjoy riding horses and playing golf.
“I chose to become a respite foster carer because I need the flexibility of being able to have some downtime when I’m not fostering.”
Barbara was particularly busy during the pandemic, providing respite for foster carers who were finding lockdown challenging.
Many of the children she cares for having learning disabilities and one experiences some behavioural challenges.
She understands its important for a respite foster carer to work on building rapport with each new child that comes.
“I give them things to look forward to and like to offer them a choice of things to do or foods that they might like.
“However, routines are important, too, and some things – like bedtime – are non-negotiable.”
“I really wanted to offer a home to vulnerable children, but I don’t have the support to be able to do it full-time.”
Barbara is full of praise for the training she receives from Jay Fostering, particularly Therapeutic Parenting training. She believes that fostering has helped her to grow and develop as a person and advises would-be foster carers:
“It’s important to realise that foster children are different from your own children, their needs are greater and you have to see things through if you say you’re going to.
“I have much stronger boundaries than I did with my own children but I really enjoy it, it’s a great thing to do.”
Lucy and Derek
Lucy and Derek have fostered with National Fostering Group since 2016. Derek was semi-retired from his career as a chartered accountant and Lucy had given up her voluntary work with children when they first considered becoming foster carers.
Experience working with child professionals
The couple has two birth children. Their youngest son, now aged 35, has learning difficulties and some medical problems.
As he grew up, Lucy and Derek worked with many different educational and medical professionals and they thought this experience would be invaluable in fostering children.
Like Barbara, they decided that respite fostering would offer them the flexibility they needed.
“Our youngest son will always need our help and support so we needed to be able to dip in and out,” Lucy said. “It wouldn’t work for us to have a foster child full-time.
“Respite fostering suits us really well because we are in control of when we have children and can give them our full attention when they are here.”
Putting the children at ease
Lucy and Derek live by the sea and go out of their way to make the experience of coming for respite feel like coming on holiday for the children.
They always ask to meet up with the children before they come – either face to face or via Zoom – and have developed a list of questions to help them to prepare for the child’s visit.
“We like the child to meet us and see our home before they come to put them at their ease,” Derek said. “It wasn’t like that with our first respite foster child and it wasn’t a good experience at first.”
“We want them to feel safe and secure and to feel they are coming to us for a holiday.”
“Now we insist on meeting the children beforehand and we ask them questions like ‘What are your favourite foods? What are you allowed to watch on TV? What do you like to be called? Are there any animals you’re frightened of?’ Things like that.
“The agency has actually asked if they can use our list of questions as they are a really helpful way of preparing for a child’s visit.”
Making great memories
As far as Lucy and Derek are concerned the children are coming to them for a holiday and they strive to make it as fun as they can. Most are extremely positive and some children come back again and again.
“You know you’ve done a good job when they want to come back,” Lucy said.
“We want them to feel safe and secure and to feel they are coming to us for a holiday. It is much better for their foster carers, too, if the child feels happy and doesn’t feel like they’ve been abandoned.
“We like to think we’ve given the child some great memories to take home with them.”
If you like the idea of fostering, but you’re unsure how it fits with your lifestyle, it’s probably a good idea to get more information.
Also, have a chat with your local foster agency team and ask some questions – they’re always happy to help.