When you first start out on your fostering journey, it is important to come in with an open mind. That is the advice Julie and Eric would give to all those considering making the first step on their fostering journey. Julie and Eric have been fostering with Fostering Solutions Merseyside since 2010 and in that time have made a difference to the lives of 8 children, with 3 of these being with the family long term. Before fostering Julie worked in the jewellery industry for over 20 years. “I wasn’t getting anything from it anymore. Our own children were growing up fast, and our daughter had just moved into her own place. I was still young at heart and wasn’t ready to give up being a Mum as I wanted to help children grown and learn. Eric took some convincing as he wasn’t sure what to expect.” Eric joked “a week after our first child arrived, I really did question if we made the right decision, but after about a month everything settled, and we’ve never looked back since.” In their time as foster carers, Julie and Eric have had some ups and downs, but reflecting on the good times and seeing the difference in the children they have cared for makes everything worthwhile.
Julie and Eric went through a fostering assessment the same as any other foster carers. Julie explained “the process took 9 months in the end. It’s usually much shorter but my childhood was more complicated and it took more sessions than normal to go through. Reflecting on my childhood helped me to understand the backgrounds our foster children have come from and offer them empathy.” Eric added “it was very detailed and we particularly enjoyed Skills to Foster. We’ve even helped deliver it a couple of times since being approved. But nothing can prepare you for the arrival of your first child” with Julie adding “the reality of having a child arrive on your doorstep for the first time is something you can’t prepare for.” And for Julie and Eric, their first child arrived less than 3 weeks after being approved as foster carers.
Julie and Eric’s first child was Joseph, who was supposed to be with the couple short term. Julie told us “he was a whirlwind when he first arrived. It became a madhouse, so we went from a quiet home with lots of flexibility to needing a routine to calm him down. From the day he arrived we knew he was a character. After about 6 months of living with us he started to settle more, and have a structure and routine helped with this. He had a lovely sense of humour and a wicked personality; he was a really lovely kid.” Eric added “with Joseph being so young, he adopted some of our characteristics. The teachers didn’t have much time for him in school, but he loved nature and science so we encouraged him to build habitats for bugs in the back garden.” Although Joseph struggled with being labelled a foster child, Julie and Eric supported him to become a part of the family and when he was told he would be staying with the family long term they had a big “Welcome to the Family Party” to celebrate that he’d be staying with them until he was 18.
A couple of years after Joseph arrived, Louise and Peter arrived with the family to stay long term. “Louise and Peter had been through a few foster homes when they first arrived with us, so they were used to being in the care system. Peter in particular really struggles with new environments as a result of this, and so when he first arrived, he was quiet and shy.” Eric added “it’s been amazing to see him grow in confidence. He’s always had the ability but seeing his sister achieve is what really inspired him.” Louise worked hard when she lived with Julie and Eric. “She always achieved but she would push the boundaries. When she was 17 she moved in with other carers where she could have more independence but we always speak on a regular basis, and she comes over whenever she wants to. She recently told us she has a place at York University to study Social Work and we couldn’t be prouder of her.” It’s outcomes like these that make fostering such a rewarding role for Julie and Eric.
Fostering can have its ups and downs. “We’ve seen some really challenging times as foster carers” Eric explained. “It can be difficult at times, but you have to remember they’ve had a bad life before coming to you and that’s where the behaviour comes from. You have to give them confidence and ambition, help them to prove people wrong to build their self-esteem and always see the positives in life.” As well as challenges, Julie spoke about some of the most rewarding memories they’ve had. “You really get to know the children when you take them on holiday. You are with them 24/7 and this is where their personalities shine through. One year we asked the children where they wanted to go. Joseph wanted to go to Borneo, Louise the Far East, and Peter chose Vietnam because of his interest in the military. We were totally immersed in culture for the whole trip and it was absolutely wonderful. I remember Joseph would always be found with a stray dog in the street, feeding it. The kids absolutely loved the whole trip.” Holidays like this allow foster children to experience something they would never have at home.
Support and training are important for all foster carers to support the children they are caring for. Julie told us “we’ve needed the most support with Joseph as he has been the most challenging. We’ve had our current social worker for the last three years and her support has been phenomenal, along with that from her manager and the duty team in the office. We’ve also accessed the Therapeutic and Practical Support Services (TAPPS) and the team have been amazing, always at the end of the phone when you need them.” Knowing you have the support there during difficult times is vital for carers to be able to provide the best care, and with 24/7 support 365 days a year from our duty team, you will always have access to a social worker when you need one. Julie added “the training is very good, and was one of the things that first attracted us to the agency. I love education and learning so it’s great that the training is always ongoing and updated.” With both classroom and online training courses available, both Julie and Eric are able to access training that suits them best at a time they need to.
When asked to sum up fostering for someone who is interested in taking the first step, Julie explained “it presents you with some of the most challenging things you’d never expect but teaches you so much. Take the good with the bad, and just go with it, because at the end of the day you’re doing a good job and the little moments spent with the children can mean the most to them. Eric added “seeing the difference you make in those moments, their lives are better for what you do for them. Making mistakes is part of learning the best way to support the child at that time, because every child is an individual with their own challenges and what worked with our first child, doesn’t work with the second.” 10 years on, Julie and Eric both agreed that no matter what, if they had the chance they would do it all again.
If Julie and Eric’s story has inspired you to foster, give the team a call or enquire now.
*The names of the children throughout this story have been changed to protect their identity.