Charmaine was just 22 when she first became a foster carer in October 2018. Her partner Chris was 24.
Charmaine had been interested in foster caring all her life, inspired by her nana (her dad’s sister) who had been a foster carer for around 25 years. All of Charmaine’s cousins were fostered and Charmaine knew that she wanted to make a difference to the lives of children and young people through fostering. She comes from a big family and had already achieved a Level 3 qualification in Childcare by the time she was considering becoming a foster carer. But the couple also had some concerns:
“We wondered how other people might perceive us and were worried they might think we were just doing it for the money. I was concerned that we hadn’t had children of our own and so wouldn’t be able to draw on first-hand experience. Chris had never really considered fostering and he was anxious about bringing someone new into our lives and the pressures that it might bring.”
Friendly, helpful and reassuring
When the couple began enquiring about fostering they discovered they would not be eligible for their Local Authority as they did not meet all of its criteria. Charmaine explained:
“You had to be aged 25, with your partner for at least three years and in your house for the same period of time. So, we looked at fostering agencies instead. The National Fostering Group definitely seemed like the best. They were very friendly and helpful. We explained our worries about being young foster carers and they reassured us. We applied to become foster carers with them and went through a really great training programme. We joined support groups which meant we could gain experience from other foster carers as well. People told us they would never even have considered judging us for being so young, which made us feel better.”
Closer in age
Charmaine and Chris believe that being closer in age to the children they look after means that they have a good understanding of what the children might be going through, because they have gone through similar things themselves very recently. They also have some interests in common, such as technology and computer gaming. And being tech savvy gives them an advantage when it comes to the move towards electronic recording of information for foster carers.
As one of the National Fostering Group’s youngest foster families, would they like to see more people like them coming forward?
“We need more foster carers full stop. People who are willing to take these children on and give them a chance. If you are young, I would say you have plenty of life experience, even if you think you don’t, and you also maybe have more time than older people.”
Charmaine has continued to work part-time since becoming a foster carer and Chris works full-time as a support worker for adults with autism and learning disabilities. Their journey since becoming a foster family hasn’t been without its challenges. The first child who came to live with them – a five-year old boy – didn’t like dogs and the couple had a dog. Charmaine said:
“We misunderstood and thought he was only going to be with us for five days but it was longer and it wasn’t easy. We met with the National Fostering Group to discuss it and they helped us to understand some of the language better, which can be quite difficult at first.”
Another child came to live with them in January 2019. He is still there and is now coming up to age 11.
Making his life better
Charmaine admits it’s been a roller coaster ride but says she wouldn’t change things:
“We are helping to make his life better and that’s fantastic. Foster children don’t have the best start in life and our job is to keep them safe and allow them to be a child again. The downside is that looked after children come with a lot of issues that you may not ever get to bottom of. In my case I find that I get a lot of the backlash because I am the mother figure and that can be difficult. The relationship with birth parents can be a problem, too, as the child has split loyalties and the things you are trying to build with them can get knocked down really easily. But you just have to remain professional. We make notes of what we want to say in our Child Care Planning meetings so that we can focus on what is in the best interest of the child. It is a good way to stay focused on the desired outcomes.”
Support from the National Fostering Group
Support is critical, particularly when things become challenging. She said:
“I’ve found the National Fostering Group has been really supportive, both with me and with our child, and I can’t thank them enough. They have a great out of hours system and our social worker has been fantastic and has held meetings with the Local Authority and us. I don’t know what I’d have done without her.”
Despite the challenges, the rewards for Charmaine and Chris has been huge.
“You are making a difference to that child’s life,” she said. “Even if you just support one child, you are helping them to get out of bad place into a better one. You go through so many milestones with the children, I never realised. The boy we care for was taught to dislike school but now he is transitioning to a new school closer to us and he is enjoying it. He always had a fixed idea about what he would and wouldn’t eat but now he’s trying new things like pesto and avocados. It can be a challenge to build a trusting relationship with the child but once you do and you see them grow it is so rewarding.”
The couple has a simple piece of advice for young foster carers like them:
“Don’t panic. If you need help or advice there is always someone there who can help you. Don’t keep it in, ask for the support you need. And even though the application process can seem a bit invasive, it’s really worth it in the end.”
If you would like to become a foster carer, get in touch with us today.