Different things inspire different people to want to become foster carers. For Carol it was the experience of having a childhood friend who was in foster care. Her friend, who came to the UK from Africa, told Carol: “I didn’t ask to be born into all of this.”
These words stuck with Carol through into adulthood.
Involving the whole family
She first began considering fostering, alongside husband, Paul when the youngest of their four birth children, Amy, was 11. Carol explained: “The oldest of our children, Hayley, has disabilities and, at that point, it wasn’t the right time for us to begin fostering. But we looked at it again four years later as a family.”
“It was important that the decision to foster was one that the whole family agreed on. Our children were fortunate, they’d had a good upbringing, but we wanted them to understand that we would be bringing children into our home that hadn’t been so lucky. And they needed to appreciate, too, that from time to time we might have to put the needs of these foster children ahead of their needs, but that this didn’t mean they were loved any less. We wanted everyone in the family to be fully on board before we went ahead – and they were.”
It is now eight years since Carol and Paul began fostering and their grown-up children – Hayley, 30, Emma, 28, Matthew, 25, and Amy, 23 – have become a vital support network. Hayley is hoping to adopt a child herself and Emma works for a foster care agency.
Rewards and challenges of teens
The family has fostered children of all different ages and has also adopted a little boy Ryan, now 8. Carol said: “When I first went into fostering I only wanted to foster children under five, but since then I have fostered babies right up to teenagers. Each age brings its own rewards and challenges. Teenagers can be hard but they can also be amazing.
“I love having teenagers. You can have banter with them, sometimes they open up and you can talk things through with them about their past and future. Sometimes it’s possible to use humour to diffuse a situation. I tried that with one of teenage girls we had who was a runaway. She sulked all night but she didn’t run away after that. Later she told people that this was the only place she’s been truly loved.”
Teenagers can sometimes be challenging for other children in the family. Carol recalls how upset her children were when one of the foster teens lashed out at her. “Obviously you can’t restrain them, but I just told my kids “you haven’t had the life that she has had” and she was very sorry afterwards. You do what you have to do with teenagers but there can be the potential to help them a lot.”
One of the most rewarding experiences for Carol was caring for a teenage boy of dual heritage. He was 6 foot 3, one of eight siblings and had never known his father. Carol said: “He was a very mixed-up young man. We took him on holiday with us and he wanted to drink alcohol. We wouldn’t allow him to and he demanded to know why. I said “because mama bear said no”. He like that I called myself mama bear, he said he it made him feel part of the family. Even though he looked different to the rest of the family he called my daughters his sisters. He’s 17 next Saturday and now living with his brother. I’m sending him a present and a card as a surprise. Experiences like that one are unforgettable and the reason I love to do this.”
The hardest part
Sadly, though, not all of the teenagers they have fostered could be helped to change. This is the hardest part for Carol. She recalls caring for a teenage mum who was six months pregnant when she arrived from a secure unit. Carol said: “She was amazing. We got to know her before the baby was born and I was with her when she had him. I stayed in the hospital for 48 hours with her afterwards. She was great up until the baby was six weeks old but then the novelty wore off. After that, we couldn’t keep her safe. She would run off and be missing for days at a time. She didn’t know anything else. I want to find her and bring her back but you just can’t do it. Sometimes you can’t help them if they don’t want to be helped.”
As well as fostering teens, Carol and Paul have fostered three babies and one mother and baby. Currently they are fostering a baby girl who has been with them since she was six weeks old. Carol said: “When we picked up her from hospital, she had adult head lice, bronchitis and a very sore bottom. Now she’s here next to me playing on her mat and trying to hold her head up. It is great seeing her thrive and watching her smile. That’s when you know you’re doing something right. We know we’ve got to say goodbye to her at some point and that’s the hardest part, but it is my job and you do get used to it. It is still hard but I’ve had my children and I’ve adopted one as well, so someone else deserves to have a baby as lovely as her.”
Carol says that creating a welcoming homely environment is key and treating foster children the same as your own children. “You don’t have to live in Buckingham Palace,” she said, “As long as your house is clean and warm and friendly. I’ll never forget when I was doing my initial Skills to Foster training hearing the story of a boy in foster care who was given Netto crisps while the rest of the family had Walkers. You can’t behave like that. The first girl I ever fostered used to hide food in her room because she had been malnourished and was scared she wouldn’t get fed. I made a joke of it but I also reassured her, saying ‘While you’re living with me you’ll always get your breakfast, dinner, tea and sometimes sweets in between”. It’s important to make children feel safe and make them feel this is their home. Whether you’re fostering teens or babies, you need plenty of patience and no judgment.”
Foster agency support
Carol and Paul moved to the National Fostering Group 18 months ago from a previous fostering agency. Carol explained why: “We didn’t get the right support before. It’s very different now. The support I get is phenomenal. My husband has a stressful job so I don’t always want to vent to him but I know I can phone my social worker any time, there is always someone on the end of a phone that I can talk to. We’ve met with staff from the National Fostering Group and done buddying. I love the training and meeting up with other people and hearing their experiences and ideas. I would never go to another agency now, no matter what.”
To find out more about starting your fostering adventure, enquire with us today.