Francesca worked with vulnerable young people for many years on a Pupil Referral Unit for children who had been excluded from school. She found it heart-breaking that so many of the young people she was working with asked if they could come and live with her. It was this that prompted her to think about becoming a foster carer.
With her husband Aaron, she’s been caring for a foster child recovering from trauma since 2020.
“Every child deserves a safe home that is loving and stable and predictable and we could offer that,” she said.
“My husband comes from a big family with strong family values and we both wanted to be able to care for a child who’d had a difficult start in life.”
Becoming foster carers
Francesca and Aaron, who foster in Norfolk, applied to National Fostering Agency. They did a lot of research before making their choice, which was based on NFA’s great track record, and the fact it’s part of National Fostering Group, which means they’ll have access to extensive resources and support.
The couple was approved as foster carers in October 2020; Francesca as the primary carer and Aaron as the secondary carer. Their first foster child arrived in December that year and is still with them more than 12 months later. They hope the placement will become long-term.
The challenges of trauma
Their first year as foster carers has not been without its challenges, as Francesca explained.
“The hardest thing is supporting a child who is traumatised and helping him to work through it. It doesn’t always come out in the way you would like and it can be challenging and upsetting.
“Contact with birth parents can be particularly hard and sometimes it had led to an escalation in difficult behaviour followed by disclosures.
“As well as being there to love and support the child, sometimes it’s a bit like being a detective, trying to piece things together and understand what is going on in their mind. It’s not a job it’s a way of life and its 24/7. Carrying a child’s trauma with them can weigh heavily on you. It’s very hard to see their pain. You want to carry it for them and you can’t.”
Hard work pays off
Despite these challenges, there have been many amazing highs during their first year as foster carers and both Francesca and Aaron love it.
“There are so many wonderful things – seeing him grow in confidence and starting to relax and trust us and become himself. His sense of humour has started to come out and he’s learned to play.
“Before he came into care, he used to be unkind to some of the other children at school and he was not very popular. To see his face light up when he received his first ever party invite was fantastic.
“His behaviour has changed and the other children want to be friends now and that’s so great to see. There have been so many milestones over the last year – his first Christmas, first Easter, first Halloween, first holiday. It is great to be part of this with him.”
Support and training
Francesca is particularly interested in Therapeutic Parenting and hopes to broaden her knowledge over the coming years. She describes their supervising social worker as “incredible”.
“She has helped me to navigate difficult circumstances, offers great practical advice and is a listening ear if ever I need to vent,” said Francesca. “She also has difficult conversations on my behalf with other professionals and she’s connected me to other foster carers in my area which has been invaluable.
“No one understands fostering like people who foster. If I am struggling with anything, I text other foster carers or ask my supervising social worker. They get it, on a very practical level, and have great advice to offer.”
What foster carers need
Francesca believes that a good foster carer needs resilience, empathy and the ability to see beyond any challenging behaviours.
“You need to be 100% committed to being on the child’s side, being their advocate. You need to be predictable, loving and compassionate. You need to be able to be playful, fun and silly.
“It takes a huge amount of commitment to stick to the routines and structures you put in place but the rewards are amazing. If you are thinking about it I’d say ‘find out about it, ask questions. Even if you decide, ultimately, it’s not for you at least you’ve enquired’.
“I didn’t realise how resilient I was and how much capacity I have to keep going when things are tough. I’ve learned a lot about myself. You don’t know until you do it how much capacity you have to care.”
Children are everyone’s cause
She is particularly keen to encourage more young people to foster. “We’re something of an anomaly,” she said. “There tends to be a certain amount of stereotyping – that fostering is something lots of people do when they are older or after they’ve had their own families – but that’s not necessarily true.
“Vulnerable children are everyone’s cause and you can make a difference no matter how old you are. Fostering has exceeded my expectations, I wouldn’t want to do anything else.”
Has Francesca 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.