During their first ever night of fostering, Sharon and Julian (Ju) found themselves wondering whether they’d made a mistake.
Their placement was a family group of four siblings foster children, aged between three and seven, who came for two weeks’ respite care. The foster children’s behaviour was very challenging: they didn’t want to go to bed and, in the early hours, they were up and looking for food in the kitchen.
However, within three days everything fell into place. Sharon and Ju established a routine for the foster children to eat proper meals and be in bed by 7.30pm. Ju said: “We thought ‘if we can do this, we can do anything!’”
However, more than a decade down the line, they’re still fostering and they love it. Everything really started improving when they transferred to National Fostering Group.
Local fostering agency
The couple, foster carers in Shropshire, started off with a local foster care agency in 2011. The journey has taken them from enquiring with their local authority, to finding a private fostering agency.
Their enquiries with the local authority cam to nothing because the logistics didn’t work with their existing commitments.
“I work full-time as a senior clinical embryologist,” Sharon explained. “Ju was to be the main carer but to do the Skills to Foster training, I’d have had to take a day off work every week for 10 weeks. That made it virtually impossible so we decided not to proceed.
“A couple of years later, following my dad’s death, we looked at fostering again but this time with private fostering agencies. They came to see us in the evening and were able to work around our commitments when it came to training.
“Suddenly it all felt possible. We applied and were approved in 2011.”
From respite to emergency fostering
At first, Sharon and Ju provided respite fostering. After their success with the four young siblings, they cared for a young boy whose foster carers were going on holiday.
As with their first respite placement, following some early difficulties, the boy settled in really well and there were discussions about caring for him long-term.
However, when the couple received a call at 4.30am regarding emergency fostering for three siblings – a sister and her two brothers – they said yes.
What began as an emergency placement turned into long-term foster care – one of the foster children remains with Sharon and Ju almost 10 years later.
One of her brothers stayed with the couple for two years before returning to his father. Sadly, this didn’t work out and he’s now with another foster family. Sharon, Ju and his sister still see him.
The other brother stayed with Sharon and Ju for five years. However, he required intensive therapeutic input for serious behavioural problems. Sharon and Ju weren’t able to access the help he needed and he eventually moved into a residential care home.
Sharon said: “It was so hard when her brother left, we felt like we’d failed. We tried for so long to make it work. It really took a toll on us and on our relationship but, in the end, it was the best thing for him as now he’s getting the help he needs.”
Support from our agency
“During that time, we moved to Sunflower Fostering because we felt rather let down by the lack of therapeutic support we’d had with our previous agency,” Sharon said. “Since that time, our foster daughter has come on in leaps and bounds.
“She had one-to-one support and they helped her develop a range of coping skills, including mindfulness. She is now fully integrated into our family and recently asked if she could call herself by our surname.
“It is lovely that she feels she belongs. We love her and so does our extended family.”
One of the proudest moments for Ju was when they went to watch her school’s end of term play. “It was all about the children’s heroes and I nearly fell off my chair when my face popped up on the screen,” Ju said.
“I was a blubbering mess at the back of the hall. It made me feel amazing – I will always have that memory.”
The couple are very happy they transferred to a new independent fostering agency. “We can tap into a whole range of different support if we need it and we can pick up the phone at any time,” Ju said.
“They are always friendly and approachable. It’s important to have that as you don’t always know you’re doing the right thing and sometimes you need to be able to speak to someone.”
Alongside their long-term foster daughter, Sharon and Ju now care for two siblings – a boy of 10 and his sister, 7. Despite some initial apprehension, the dynamic works and the children get on well.
Advice to potential foster carers
Their experiences have taught them a lot and Ju has this advice for less experienced foster carers:
“Be yourself, be honest with the children and be normal. We treat the foster children like they are our family and they respond really well to that. Fostering is hard at times but, honestly, I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”
Has Sharon & Ju’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 to your foster children, helping them achieve the best possible outcomes. It also means a fantastic level of support and training for you – more than any other provider in the country. We help you be at your best in this important role.