Approved as foster carers in Aberdeen in February 2013, Tracey and Mark have three birth children, ranging from seven to 18 at the time, so it was important to them that any foster children were a good match for their family. This is one of the main reasons they chose to foster with National Fostering Agency, as well as the support and training they receive.
Finding the right foster agency
“We did our research and being with an independent fostering agency felt like the right fit for us as a family,” Tracey said.
“Our children were involved every step of the way in the decision to foster. Their responses ranged from ‘great, I’ll have other children to play with’ to wanting to help children who’d not had such a good upbringing as them.
“For Mark and me, it was about making a difference. Ever since I was at school, I’d wanted to work with children. We had our family young and as the children got older, we began to think about helping other children at the same time as looking after our own.”
Support and training
Tracey and Mark live on the outskirts of Aberdeen with around 20 other foster families nearby. During the pandemic, families have supported each other via social media and, once things return to normal, they will be able to get together for craft activities and outings again.
“There is always someone on the end of the phone to talk to, even if it is just to ask something simple,” Tracey said. “The agency has really grown since we joined – at first there were only four or five foster carers in the Aberdeen area and now there are around 20.
“It’s good to be able to talk to other carers because they live it like you do and they can empathise and offer advice. It helps when you know that someone else has been through the same sort of things and come out the other side.
“National Fostering Agency opened a new hub before lockdown, where it plans to hold support groups and training sessions. This will make it a lot easier for us as before this we had to travel to Dundee for training. There are lots of courses to choose from including core training and additional courses that you can choose to do.”
Respite foster care to full-time siblings
Since they were approved as foster carers eight years ago, Tracey and Mark have cared for 23 foster children, mostly short-term respite placements for children ranging from two to 15.
Initially the family planned to do long-term foster care, but they switched to respite when they realised that their youngest son – then eight – was struggling.
“He needed a bit of time just with us for a while,” Tracey said. “We’d been caring for two siblings, one of whom was a year older than him and one a year younger.
“It was difficult for him at times as the boundaries were different for the foster children. They had experienced trauma for quite a long time so their behaviour could be quite challenging and we realised he needed a break from it.
“At the same time, I was working in a demanding job in social work so we changed to providing respite care. We did that until he was 13 – two years ago – when my job began to take a different direction and he was older. That’s when we began fostering a sibling group of two girls and a boy. Our son enjoys playing a big brother role and has his own space where he can get away if he wants to.”
The siblings fostered by Tracey and Mark are aged between four and nine. They are now settled at the local school and Tracey and Mark hope they will be able to remain with them long-term.
“This is a good community for children,” said Tracey, “We are close to the community centre and sports clubs and we are near a playpark and fishing village with a beach.”
Highs and lows
To anyone who is considering becoming a foster carer, Tracey advises being prepared for highs and lows.
“It is full on and it’s all day, every day. It can be difficult for your children as well as for you, especially when foster children are upset and shouting abuse at you.
“But the small things can be the greatest rewards, like when the little one climbs onto your lap for cuddles. That’s when you know you’ve done something right.
“Our experience has taught me that fostering can be particularly hard for birth children when they are young so I would say think carefully about your own children and what age of children would work best for your family. Now that our son is older things are working much better.
“Foster children have had such a difficult start in life and seeing them happy is just the best reward.”