People become foster carers for all sorts of reasons. In virtually every case, however, there’s a desire to make a difference to the lives of children and young people.
Sharon applied to become a foster carer in Kent sixteen years ago. She has three boys of her own who were 15, 17 and 19 at the time. This is how she made the decision to become a foster carer.
The emotional decision
Sharon’s career had always been in the care sector. After working for Kent County Council, teaching young people (16-21 years) basic homecare skills like cooking and washing, she went into caring for elderly people.
She said: “I saw so many young people who’d had such a difficult start and I really wanted to give children some of the same chances that mine had had. My boys were growing up and didn’t need me in the same way.
“I’d always been good at nurturing and wanted to look after children again. I enjoyed caring for elderly people but it takes its toll on your body after a while and I was ready for a change.”
Sharon discussed the idea of fostering with husband, Dave who was also keen, and their birth children who were excited at the idea of having new brothers or sisters.
The couple had no previous experience of being around foster children. In fact, it’s a myth you need experience to foster children, though certain professions – like teaching and care work – make you suitable to become a foster carer.
They initially applied to another local fostering agency. However, it didn’t work out but then they saw an advert for Heath Farm, which is part of National Fostering Group.
Sharon explained: “I love a challenge and I knew that the children we’d get through a fostering agency would be likely to have more challenging behaviour than those coming through local authority fostering, which is why we chose that route.
“I knew one of the managers at Heath Farm and I liked what the agency was all about. There was always someone on hand if you rang up to answer your questions and everyone in the office knew us and knew the children we had.
“We felt well supported and there was good respite care if we needed it and as much training as we wanted.”
Foster children with challenging behaviours
Sharon and Dave were approved to foster children aged from 0-18 and since that time they have fostered 11 children. Dave was involved in different types of work at the time but when they were approved as foster carers, he quit his jobs to focus on fostering full-time.
All the foster children stayed with them long-term – one for eight and a half years; another for three and a half. They currently have two boys who’ve been with them for four and a half years.
Sharon said: “We have cared for children with a range of challenging behaviours. With our first boy, 16, we found it hard to keep him safe. We’ve also cared for children with disabilities, ADHD and detachment disorder.”
Essential support and training
Sharon and Dave particularly value the support and training offered by Heath Farm, which has provided a strong sense of someone having their back – especially important when you foster children with challenging behaviours.
“They are such a supportive agency,” Sharon said. “In an emergency, there’s always someone on the phone who can help and we have a great relationship with our supervising social worker.
“There’s training on all kinds of subjects, in addition to the core training that we have to do.”
The emotional rewards
“The highlights for me are seeing how the children develop and grow and how they are able to go out into the world,” she said.
“We currently have two boys, one of whom has quite challenging behaviour. With his last foster carer, he wasn’t able to go out alone but now he’s 16 and very independent. He goes to football on his own and can use public transport and go to the shops by himself.
“It still doesn’t take much to set them off and they can become aggressive, but we have learned over the years how to de-escalate the situation and calm them down.
“You can’t do much when they get really angry except to sit with them and reassure them and allow them to talk when they are ready. The number of episodes have declined significantly in recent years though.”
Sharon and Dave chose to foster boys rather than girls, as they have three boys of their own. They describe fostering as “a very rewarding job” and say they wouldn’t want to go back to a 9-5 job.
“Fostering is 24 hours a day and some of the challenges are very tough,” she said. “Our boys had to walk away sometimes when the foster children were being abusive to me; I’m their mum, it was hard for them. But this is a great job, I wouldn’t want to do anything else.”
The couple still meet up with some of their former foster children and they are still very much part of the family.
“What foster children need is someone with a warm hard, patience and plenty of understanding who will value them as an individual,” Sharon said. “When you recognise their needs and show empathy, they give you so much back.
“One of the lads who moved to semi-independent living in July said another foster child would be ‘very lucky to have us’. It’s things like that that make it so worthwhile.
“Fostering is not for everyone but if you’ve got the time and the patience I would say do it, it’s very rewarding.”
Has Sharon inspired you?
If you’d like to see if you’ve got what it takes to become a foster carer, you might like to try our Can I Foster? tool, which will give you more of an idea.
Your local team is available to chat about becoming a foster carer, including things like skills, experience, training and so on. Get in touch with them via our enquiry page.