Naomi and James were in their 20s when they first thought about fostering. They looked into the options and attended a few meetings before, ultimately, deciding they wanted to wait until they were older and had children of their own.
Seventeen years later the time felt right for them to seriously consider the idea again. By this point, Naomi was teaching but was ready for a change. The couple had three children, a twin boy and girl aged 9 and another son, 7.
A family decision
The decision to foster was something the whole family was actively involved in, as Naomi explained:
“We sat the children down and talked to them about what we wanted to do. Their responses were different. Our daughter was all for it, whereas her twin was worried about bringing strangers into our home. Our youngest son was only seven at the time and too young to really understand what it was all about.”
The couple applied to the National Fostering Agency South West after seeing an advert on Facebook and attending a drop-in meeting. While the application process was “intense”, it was also very beneficial, according to Naomi:
“It goes into so much about your background and the way you felt about things and why you do certain things. In many ways, it was a bit like therapy. It was intense, but in a good way.”
Parent and child placements
That was three years ago. Since being approved, the family has had several foster children and parent and child placements. Their first placement was a young mum and her baby. Naomi said:
“It was a great introduction to fostering, she did really well. The baby was two weeks old when they arrived and they stayed with us for 10 weeks. The mum was quite young but she really wanted to learn. We taught her how to cook and manage money and even how to interact with the baby. We still see them now from time to time and they’re both doing really well.”
The family has had two further parent and child placements since then. The second proved quite challenging initially, as the mother had had a bad experience previously and could be quite angry. But, Naomi and James persisted. Naomi explained:
“We had to be quite firm at times and I would ask her “If I wasn’t here, what would you do?” She didn’t like that and could be quite stroppy at times but now, two years on, she messages me regularly to say thank you and that we helped her. Her son is now two and doing well.”
Difficult to say goodbye
Of course, not every parent and child placement is a success and the family’s later experience proved the most challenging. The mum, who had mental health problems and had experienced a lot of previous trauma, found it impossible to engage with the process. She left after a few weeks and the family took care of her baby. The baby remained with them until she was eight months old when she was adopted.
Naomi admits that it was very difficult to say goodbye to her as the whole family had become attached, although they were happy to see her go to her new parents.
“They cried, we cried, even the social worker cried,” said Naomi, “it was very emotional but, ultimately, great for the baby and that’s what matters.”
Saying goodbye to the children they care for has been one of the hardest things about fostering for the whole family. Naomi has also found it challenging that some people don’t understand the children’s behaviour. She said:
“We have found that schools sometimes regard their behaviour as naughty rather than an expression of trauma. James and I joined the National Association of Therapeutic Parenting early on so we have more of an understanding of what is going on for these children. I hadn’t realised how much we would have to fight at times to get their needs met. You’re their advocate and the support and the understanding isn’t always there.”
As well as parent and child placements, the family cared for siblings – a boy and girl – aged two and four. Naomi said:
“It was a lot of fun, they were real characters. But here, too, there were some challenges. Mealtimes could be difficult as they would only eat food that was beige. If anything was different colour, or even a darker shade of beige, they’d get very upset. I think if we’d realised some of the things they’d gone through, we might have said that we weren’t experienced enough to handle it. But, actually, it was fine. They went back to their birth father after being with us and they’re both doing well.”
Helping children feel safe
Despite the many challenges, the rewards of fostering are huge. Naomi explained:
“It is wonderful to see them achieve things. One little boy was terrified of water when he came, he would even wear a snorkel to get into the shower. We never shied away from it; we would splash him with water but just keep reiterating to him that he was safe, there was nothing to be frightened of. He’s just swum five metres front and back completely unaided. That feels great. You have to be that person who helps them feel safe, to encourage them to take risks (or what they see as risks) and to say it’s OK.”
The family is currently looking after a three- year old and a seven-year old who have been with them for a year. They are optimistic that the children may stay with them long-term.
As well as being proud of the achievements of the looked after children, Naomi and James are proud of their birth children and the way they have handled having foster children in the family. Naomi said:
“I know it has been as hard for them as it has been for us to say goodbye to the children when they leave. They have been so fantastic with them – getting to know them, playing with them, helping them to feel at home. There is around three years between our current foster child and our youngest birth child. Sometimes there can be rivalries and jealousies and I don’t think I would want them to be any closer in age as it might be too difficult. It is a learning curve.”
Throughout their fostering journey, they have received support from their fostering agency and, in particular, their supervising social worker and other foster carers who they’ve connected with via local support groups. Naomi admits that having people she can call on when she needs to is invaluable.
To anyone who is considering becoming a foster carer, the family advises:
“Do your research and arm yourself with as much help and advice as you can. I would recommend our fostering agency as you have access to support 24/7. I’d also recommend joining the National Association for Therapeutic Parenting and reading The A-Z of Therapeutic Parenting – everything you might encounter is in here.
“Foster children need kindness, understanding, patience, and empathy. You need to be able always to look at the situation from outside yourself, don’t let yourself get in the way. They are in a pickle and you need to think about how to support them to repair their brain pathways. We find it’s important to be active – to be outdoors, on the beach, on the moors, playing. Above all you need to be the kind of person who can show love and help them to feel safe.”
If you are considering fostering, enquiry with us today.