In January 2019, Katie and John became foster carers with Fostering Solutions Merseyside. In just over a year, they have cared for 5 children aged between 0 and 3 years old. Katie and John started looking into fostering as they loved children, and had spent some time working with KIND, a local charity, collecting presents and clothes for 25 local children who would otherwise be going without over Christmas. It was something, however, that Katie had always wanted to do. “I remember reading some books by Cathy Glass when I was in my early 20’s. Ever since then, I’ve always wanted to foster. We were at a good stage in our lives as I’d just chosen not to go back after maternity leave, our youngest was coming up for 2 and we just decided to go for it.”
Before fostering Katie and John did a lot research. “We wanted to make sure it was the right decision. We knew that children went into care, and this opened our eyes to what happens in care as well. The only barrier we thought we might have was my anxiety.” With no stigma around mental health in fostering, we encourage anyone who may be interested in fostering to give us a call and talk to us about how we can support you within the role if needed. “I don’t know why I didn’t do it years ago. It was only after talking to John we started to really think about it, and I’ve absolutely loved the last year”. Both Katie and John are in their early 30’s and are some of our youngest foster carers. “It doesn’t make much of a difference no matter what age you are. We’ve found we are already used to having young children to run after and so have the energy needed to keep up with them. We’re also in the mind frame of having children around the house so it doesn’t make any difference having an extra one or two to care for.”
Life before fostering
Before fostering, Katie had worked with vulnerable adults through a doctor’s surgery, and also through support work. John works on the oil rigs, and has done for over 11 years. With a shift pattern that leaves him away from the family home for 3 weeks at a time, Katie has to manage the family home alone for half the time. “It took a bit of getting used to when John wasn’t around. We’ve had our hard days, but it’s the same as looking after your own children – you just need to get a bit of structure and a routine. I have to organise to make sure I can attend all the meetings when John is away. Having younger children live with us means more meetings, and daily contact, which can often be tiring but having a good support network around you makes it easier both, emotionally and practically. We try to do as much as possible when John is home, as I struggle to find the time to do all the little bits when he’s away.”
Spending time with the whole family is so important when fostering. “Our girls both love fostering, they’ve taken to it like a duck to water. Our youngest struggled with having children very close in age to her, so we’re thinking of taking children who are slightly older when our current baby moves on.” Older children sometimes find it the most difficult to accept new children into the household when it’s been the same way for most of their lives, however Katie and John’s daughter copes very well. “Our oldest is 11, and she loves being hands on and helping, but she also knows she can take a break from the family when she needs some time to herself. I also make sure I spend 1:1 time with my daughters when the children we care for are asleep. Our oldest loves having a pamper night and catch up in her room once the younger two are in bed.” Making use of your support network to have some time with the children or even with your partner can be vital to making sure everyone in the family feels supported and loved.
With supporting younger children, many of them go back to their parents or for adoption. “We’re currently supporting our first child to adoption so this is a new experience for us. Our other children have all returned to their birth parents. With our second child we built up a really good relationship with his Mum which was better for everyone. She was a first time Mum, and so we tried to support her and empathise with how she was feeling. By not overstepping the boundaries or judging her, but also not being too formal around her she was able to relax and that was so much better for the baby.” By working with the birth parents, foster carers are able to support children to go back to their parents which is always the best outcome. “By working with her there was no tension, and this made everything so much easier for everyone involved. Although I’m a professional, deep down I’m just a Mum helping other Mum’s when they need it the most.”
Fostering has its ups and downs. “It’s an emotional rollercoaster but I love it. We’ll always remember last summer when we had two children staying with us and the four of them were in the pool in the back garden. The little boy who was with us pooed and they all ended up covered. We had to clean them all up one by one, and then the pool itself. You have to laugh about these things or you’ll end up crying.” One of the most difficult parts of fostering is saying goodbye. “Our first child went to Auntie after three days, but we’d already built up such a strong attachment with him. We were heartbroken when he moved on, but we’ll always remember him. You have to form that attachment because that’s what the child needs. Fostering is so much more than just feeding and clothing them. When they leave, you have to keep in mind all the hard work you’ve put in, and how much they’ve changed in that time no matter how long they’ve been with you. Our current baby is so much calmer now because he has grown up in such a calm home. They are the way they are because of you, and that’s what you have to remember no matter what age they are. We’re happy he’s now finding his forever family but it’s going to be tough as we don’t want to see him go. We know the attachments we’ve formed with him now though, will help him to go on and make attachments with other people as he grows up.” During fostering it’s important to have the support network around you to help when times are tough, but Fostering Solutions will also be there to support you when needed.
Katie and John have their own supervising social worker based at our Fostering Solutions office in Liverpool. “She’s amazing, we cannot fault her or the support offered by the whole team at all. She’s only part time, but she is so on the ball. She always keeps in touch, and the rest of the team are there when she is off should we need them.” During their time as foster carers, Katie and John have also attended lots of training with us. “It was one of our concerns about training as we’re on a Facebook page with foster carers from lots of providers and we’d heard that training didn’t always meet the needs, but at Fostering Solutions it’s been amazing. It’s really in depth and isn’t one size fits all. We always come away having learned a lot. We also get support to attend training. With looking after younger children who aren’t in school, and having our own daughter at home in the day, we thought it might be difficult to attend training. We all support each other with day care though, and the agency support this by finding local carers who can help and setting it up for us. It’s really good to get the support so we don’t miss out.”
Think you’re ready to take the first step?
Katie and John would encourage anyone interested to foster to get in touch to find out more. “It’s been an eye opener, and very busy, but I love keeping busy and it’s so much fun. It is sad sometimes, so you’ve got to be strong and resilient but not too thick-skinned as you still need to be empathetic. It’s the best job in the world and I wouldn’t change it for anything. We get to spend so much more time at home with our own children, and see them grow up. I’ve developed a lot of patience in the last year, but if you are prepared to be flexible and change your plans last minute then you’ll be fine.” We asked Katie to give us any tips she has for new carers or those thinking of fostering. “Remember to breathe and count to ten. Expect the unexpected, and remember to put yourself in the child’s shoes. Their experience of life of different to what we will have had so whatever might be going on in the moment, those emotions and the behaviours they are showing as a result, run much deeper than what you can see on the surface. Deep down the most important thing is that you love working with children, and want to make a difference to their lives.”
If you are interested in finding out more about fostering. Get in touch with us today to find out more.