Darren a Foster carer for Heath Farm in Kent and Mockingbird Liaison Worker
Darren has primary progressive multiple sclerosis (MS). His condition was diagnosed nine years ago, although doctors believe he may have had it since his 20s. Alongside husband, James, Darren was already an approved foster carer with Heath Farm in Kent when his MS was diagnosed.
Darren said: “There was a lot of fallout from the diagnosis and many different emotions to process. Heath Farm were incredible and our supervising social worker went out of her way to help. The foster child who was with us at the time had global development delay. The agency got him a mentor to help him understand what was going on and provided respite for us whenever we needed it. They organised a course of counselling sessions for me. We felt fully supported and embraced.”
He explained how the bond between him and their long-term foster child has really helped Darren to come to terms with his condition. The child, who stayed with them for nine years, is still in regular contact as he lives in a nearby care home. He is an important part of the family and their current foster children love him. Darren said:
“He is the first one to notice if I’m not OK and vice versa. We are incredibly bonded. It’s a relationship unlike any other I’ve had in my life. He’s been on the journey with me since I was first diagnosed and that has really helped me and it’s helped him. Seeing me being vulnerable enables him to be vulnerable. Seeing I am imperfect enables him to accept his flaws. It is a symbiotic relationship – we help each other.”
Darren and James currently care for two foster children, aged six and eight. The children – two boys – are full of fun and energy but understand that they need to behave differently around Darren, particularly if he is having a bad day. He said:
“I bring a certain slowness, which I think they find comforting. They also get to see that, despite everything, I try my best and that is encouraging for them. It is not really the practical stuff that is a challenge, it is more the emotional stuff. If I am having a bad day and they are too, that’s when things can be a bit difficult. It helps being in a relationship as James can take over if I need to rest, and the agency is really supportive, too. One of the other carers in our Mockingbird constellation has MS so we are able to talk and share experiences.”
Darren urges anyone with a disability not to assume they can’t foster. He said:
“Before we applied to foster, there were so many reasons why we felt we wouldn’t be suitable – being gay, living in a flat… If I’d known then that I had MS, I’d just have added that to the list. But it’s not true. None of these things prevents you from fostering. In actual fact, my lifestyle with MS lends itself pretty well to what foster children need.
“If you are interested in fostering I’d say ‘there’s no harm in enquiring?’ Then, at least you’ll know. I’d also suggest looking around at different fostering agencies to see which one offers the most support, which has an ethos that you can buy into. The National Foster Group really celebrates and embraces difference. It’s not simply tolerated but actively encouraged and if you’re interested in fostering I’d say ‘come and find out’. We need more great foster carers.”
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