One of the things many foster carers find hard is having to say goodbye to a foster child when it is time for them to move on.
It can be a time of very mixed emotions – happiness that the child is going home or going on to be adopted, but also sadness for the fostering family that has bonded with that child.
Vanessa and Mark have fostered 32 children since they became foster carers with National Fostering Group eight years ago. They know more than most about saying goodbye to foster children and have shared some of their thoughts and coping mechanisms on this emotive topic.
What made you want to become foster carers?
We had friends who fostered with National Fostering Group and were their nominated carers. Over time we became very close to one of their foster children.
Mark was working in a stressful job as a prison custody officer and e have seven birth children between us. He really wanted some peace and quiet but then our friends’ foster daughter said he would make a great foster dad and that’s what convinced him that we should foster.
We chose National Fostering Group because our friends recommended them and we haven’t looked back – they’ve been fantastic!
Can you tell us about your fostering journey so far?
When you apply to become foster carers you do something called Form F. For us, it was like having therapy. We spoke about things we’d never spoken about before and learned things about each other that we didn’t know.
After we were approved, we had a little girl and she was followed by four siblings, the youngest of which was six weeks and the eldest six years. We have tended to have a lot of sibling groups over the years, as well as respite, short-term and long-term placements.
We currently have two long-term foster children, a girl of six and her brother who is nine. We’ve had children go on to be adopted as well as children who’ve returned home to their birth families.
We spoke about things we’d never spoken about before and learned things about each other that we didn’t know.
A real low point was when two little girls who had been with us for two years left to be adopted. We had hoped to have them long-term but it didn’t work out.
Another difficult time was when a placement that we’d had for seven years with a little boy broke down. We did everything we could to try and keep him with us.
It can be an emotional rollercoaster when you foster and I don’t think you fully understand that when you do your training.
There are many highs, though, which balance out the lows.
There are many highs, though, which balance out the lows. The biggest one is the joy that the children can bring when you watch them develop and grow. You change their lives and also those of their family, sometimes.
I’m currently teaching the mum of our current foster son how to cook and helping her to do her garden. She never really learned how to parent so I am helping her with some of these basic skills.
How does it feel when a foster child moves on?
In some cases, but not always, seeing children going back to their parents or go on to adoptive parents can be fantastic.
The mum I’m supporting right now is starting to be able to sit her little boy on her lap, which is great.
How do you cope with this?
It can be an emotional journey. I often cry and my supervising social worker, Sam, comes round to offer me support. I have friends who are foster carers with National Fostering Group who understand what I’m going through and they are supportive, too.
One of them always has a break in between foster children but that doesn’t work for me. I don’t like having an empty house. I like to get straight back on with the next foster child.
I find it helps the grieving process – because you are grieving for the child who has gone – and it’s also good to start to support another vulnerable child who needs love and care.
I love being a foster carer. It’s more than just a job, it becomes your entire life.
I find it’s best to keep busy and keep going rather than having time to sit and mull over things. Our house is never quiet and I’m busy all the time, that’s my best coping mechanism.
I’d say talk to someone who’s been through it and talk to your supervising social worker. It’s good to build a really good relationship with them, if you can, and to be able to trust what they say.
I love being a foster carer. It’s more than just a job, it becomes your entire life. You need a lot of patience and love and to be able to offer a warm, nurturing home.
Often it’s about teaching someone how to be a child again. When you can do this the rewards are enormous.
Fostering has all the feels – it’s challenging as well as rewarding. As the UK’s largest independent fostering agency, we have the resources to give you all the support you need to do a great job.