Having fostered for 10 years, Karen recently retired from Fostering Solutions Lancashire. After talking to a health visitor colleague, whose husband worked for Fostering Solutions, she decided to look into fostering and reduce her hours at the NHS where she worked at the time. “I didn’t apply for several months as we thought we would get turned down, however 6 months later we were approved as foster carers.” Over the last 10 years, Karen has fostered 9 children on a Short Term or Long Term basis, and taken in 16 children for respite.
Karen’s first child was a young girl called Rachel, who was originally only supposed to stay for 2 weeks whilst her Mum was in hospital. She ended up staying with Karen for 9 years, only leaving after she graduated from university with a degree in Business Management. “She’d been in care temporarily before, but this time when it came to going home her Mum put lots of obstacles in place. She didn’t even tell her when she had been discharged from hospital. In the end, Rachel made the decision she wanted to stay with me and a full care order was put in place.” Rachel soon settled with Karen and her husband, and really became a part of the family. “She did her Level 2 and 3 in hairdressing before her degree, and her intention had been to set up a hair salon, but instead she went off to stay with my son’s in Thailand and got a job teaching out there. She’s now back in England ready to start her PGCE in September. I don’t think of her a foster child, and neither does anyone else in the family. My son’s introduce her to people as their sister.” The settled home that Karen was able to provide, gave Rachel opportunities she may not have had if she’d stayed at home.
Eighteen months after Rachel had joined the family, they were joined by Michael. Aged 12 at the time, Michael had learning difficulties and attended a special school as a result. “I’d been his health visitor as a baby, and still remember the family today. When he came into care, I supported him with his additional needs and he did really well for the first 4 years.” The big turning point for Michael was when he moved on to the local college. “Michael got in with the wrong crowd when he moved on from the special school, and that’s when his behaviour started to change. We’d find items missing from around the house, which he’d have stolen and pawned in the local shop for money. I stuck by him though and it was only when he got back in touch with Mum that he moved on. When Michael was given the choice as he was old enough to make these decisions, he wanted to go back. I kept his bed open for around 5 months, just in case he changed his mind. Eventually he decided he didn’t want to live with Mum anymore and moved into semi-independent living. He kept in touch with us though, so we know he’s doing well. We may have had some tough times with Michael but he was never abusive.” Michael left Karen’s house when he was 17 after having lived with the family for just over 5 years, and she stood by him even when times were difficult. The resilience she had whilst supporting Michael gave her the skills she needed when more challenging children joined the family home.
After a couple of fairly steady long term placements, Anthony joined Karen’s family home. “Anthony was a very nice, very intelligent young boy. He joined us from a therapeutic home and for the first 6 months, settled really well. He was a very traumatised young boy. When he first came into care as 1 of 5 siblings, he’d been parenting his younger siblings. The turning point was when his Mum told us he’d been in touch. He’d received a games console and we hadn’t realised it connected to the internet, and in turn he’d been in contact with his family unsupervised. His Mum messaged me to let me know what was going on and we removed the console. From here, his behaviour became very challenging. He just couldn’t cope in the family environment and went back to a therapeutic home. It was the best option for him. The support we’ve received from Fostering Solutions has been excellent.” Even when Karen was going through some tough times, the team at Fostering Solutions was there to support her through every step of the way. From calls from her SSW to visits from a support worker, the team was able to step in and help Karen in whatever way was needed.
Eighteen months ago, Karen started supporting two young sisters who’d already been in care for 9-10 years with other fostering families. “Sarah had been moved into independent living and wasn’t coping well, however by the February she was feeling more confident and moved back out into independence.” Her sister Abigail has been with Karen for the last 18 months until she retired. “She’s a lovely young lady. She found an apprenticeship working in a local nursery, and is so good with the children. It’s the perfect career for her and she’s really settled in the area. It’s what helped me make the decision to move the tenancy on the house over to her after I retired. The leaving care team have taken on the tenancy allowing Abigail and her older sister to stay in the home, and I’ve moved in with my daughter until I can move onto the next steps. I like to say I started with a really positive placement, and I’ve ended with one, regardless of the ups and downs I’ve had in between. It was definitely the right time to finish fostering.” Having left her home to Abigail, Karen’s next step in retirement is to go travelling in Thailand and spend more time with her family when she is able to make the move.
The highlight of Karen’s fostering career has been Rachel’s graduation. “It was amazing. She had always been close to her grandparents and so she invited her step-grandad along to the ceremony. It wasn’t until a couple of weeks when she asked what I was wearing I even knew I was going, but she’d just assumed I was as she didn’t want it any other way. She paid for us all to have a meal and stay in the hotel afterwards.” The skills that Karen gave her during her teenage years, stayed with Rachel throughout her degree, and have now continued into her adult life. “She managed to pay for the hotel as she’d always been good with money. Rachel was always very organised – a little list maker. I was so proud of her when she graduated.” Rachel is so much a part of Karen’s life that she is no longer a foster child, and really is part of the family having been a bridesmaid at Karen’s daughters’ wedding and being a god-mother to Karen’s granddaughter.
For anyone interested in fostering, Karen had some words of advice. “When you first start you think it’s going to be like having your own children, but it’s not. You do get so much more support though, Fostering Solutions have done so much for me. If the time is right for you, then do it. We couldn’t have done it with younger children in the house as it wasn’t right for us, but it’s the most amazing thing I’ve done. I’ve really enjoyed fostering, and the last 10 years have flown by.”
The team at Fostering Solutions would like to wish Karen lots of luck in her retirement, and thank her for all the years of hard work she has put in. Good luck and keep in touch!