Some of our foster carers always knew they wanted to foster, but for others the route into fostering is more unpredictable. This how Lyssa discovered her calling…
‘Do you have a spare room?’
Lyssa was using old newspaper to wrap up china in preparation for moving house when she spotted an advert for fostering in the Midlands by National Fostering Agency, one of our local agencies. The headline said, ‘Do you have a spare bedroom?’.
“I thought to myself ‘I have two spare bedrooms and I’ve always loved children, I wonder if this is something I could do’. At family events I always used to end up looking after the younger children and I’ve got several godchildren although none of my own. I’d never thought about fostering and wasn’t sure I’d be accepted because I’m single and I’ve suffered from depression in the past.”
Despite her concerns, Lyssa phoned the number on the advertisement. “The recruitment officer, Clare, was lovely. She said none of those things would prevent me from fostering and she answered all my questions.
“When I realised fostering was something that I might be able to do I thought ‘maybe I’m meant to do this’ and I began the application process. Eight months later, I was approved.”
Approved for fostering
Although the fostering application process was intense at times, Lyssa didn’t find it daunting. She met with her assessing social worker every Sunday over a couple of months.
“It could be difficult at times, but by the end I think he knew more about me than I know about myself! We spoke about everything from my time at school, to my relationship with my family, childhood holidays, personal relationships and so on. He was very friendly and easy to talk to.”
Lyssa was 31 when she was approved as a foster carer. Her first foster child was a boy of 15 who came on a respite placement. She described it as “a good introduction to fostering” once she had come to terms with “the shock of having a child in the house”.
Almost immediately after this, Lyssa was offered a girl of 16 who had been with another foster carer but who needed more one-to-one attention. This foster child was with Lyssa for nine months.
“Mostly it was a great experience although I recognise that I made mistakes. I tried to be her friend rather than her parent and she had some pretty challenging behaviours which were difficult.
“In the end we both agreed she needed to live semi-independently and I supported her in that. Not long after she moved out, she wanted to come back but she stuck with it and now she’s at university doing a social work degree.
“I’m really proud of her and we still have a close relationship. It was a great learning experience and I do things very differently now.”
Following this experience, Lyssa realised she’d prefer to foster younger children. After several respite placements, she eventually fostered two girls aged 3 and 4. Whereas contact with birth parents had been difficult for previous foster children, this time the experience was very different for everyone.
The foster children’s mother was very young and, at their final contact session, she gave Lyssa a handwritten thank you card, which Lyssa found deeply moving.
Wins and losses
Once the girls left, Lyssa received a referral for brothers aged 10 and 12. They came to live with her, but it quickly became evident that the younger boy needed intensive support for some very challenging mental health problems.
“Most of the time he was great, but when he flipped out you couldn’t do anything to stop him. I persisted for a long time, but in the end, I had to give notice on the placement. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
“He went to another foster carer who wanted to care for him long-term but, sadly, he’s now in residential care after that placement ended. His needs are very complex. At the time, I felt like I’d failed him, but now I can see it was the right thing for him and for his brother, who’s still with me three and a half years later.
“I’m just in the process of taking out a Special Guardianship Order for him. This is his home and I love him to the moon and back. I’m saving up to convert my garage so there’s room for him to stay long-term.”
After the younger brother left, Lyssa’s approval status was changed from ‘two children’ to ‘one child’. “I found this very difficult as it made me feel like I’d done something wrong,” she said.
“I even thought about moving fostering agency, but the Registered Manager got in contact with me and we were able to sort things out. Eighteen months ago, I went back to the Fostering Panel and I’m now approved for two children again, although I only want younger children as I already have my teenage foster son. I’m glad I stayed with NFA, I really love this agency.”
Six months ago, Lyssa began fostering a baby who arrived at just two days’ old. This is an unusual type of fostering placement, as most are dealt with directly by local authorities or are parent & child placements. Lyssa has formed a strong bond with the girl, who is being put up for adoption very soon.
“Of all the challenges fostering has thrown at me, parting from her is going to be the hardest. It will break my heart, but I know I’ve done a good job because she is thriving and the health visitor says she’s the happiest baby she’s ever seen.
“And I know it will be good for her and I have helped to give her a great start in life. I hope, over the next few years, that I can continue to care for babies and young children alongside my foster son.”
“Someone told me fostering is the hardest job in the world but I’ve realised it’s not a job at all, it’s your life.
“When a child is with you, he or she becomes part of your life. Everyone fosters differently but, for me, the foster children are my family. I love my foster son like he’s my own but I also have to drop him off to spend time with his birth mum and that’s hard sometimes.
“I think a good foster carer needs to be caring, non-judgmental and to have a great sense of humour and a good support network. If that sounds like you and you’re inspired to do it, I’d say go for it.”
Has Lyssa’s story 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.