We’re currently in Foster Care Fortnight, so we chatted with Claire, a foster parent in Wales, about her experiences of fostering.
Foster Care Fortnight is the UK’s biggest foster care awareness raising campaign, delivered by leading fostering charity, The Fostering Network. Established almost 20 years ago, the campaign showcases the commitment, passion and dedication of foster carers. It also supports fostering services to highlight the need for more foster carers.
Claire (not her real name) is a foster carer for her local authority. She and her husband have been foster carers for the past 12 years and have fostered 8 children between the ages of 3 and 11. These children have stayed with her for between 1 week and 3 years. Claire and her husband also have their own 17 year old daughter. They are currently fostering 2 children, an 8 year old and their 5 year old sibling. They have been living with Claire for 15 months so far. The local authority are looking for adoptive parents for these children.
1. Why did you choose to become a foster carer?
We had always wanted a bigger family. Yet when that didn’t happen we decided to look into the prospect of fostering. We felt as a family we could offer a positive home life for the children we care for, for however long that might be.
2. Apart from yourself, who else did your decision to foster affect and how?
It affected everyone to some degree. Our own daughter primarily of course as we wouldn’t have gone ahead if she hadn’t been 100% on board with the idea. Our parents too, as we wanted them to take on the role of ‘grandparents’. Also other close family as they took on the role of ‘aunties, uncles, cousins’ etc. Even our friends to a certain extent, as they had to welcome strangers into their homes and lives on quite a regular basis.
Being so involved with the children we fostered affected everyone differently. Our daughter loved and hated it in equal measures. There is jealousy but also love and companionship. She become frustrated at having to share us. However she also has learnt to be non-judgemental and to empathise. She knows how lucky she is to come from such a settled loving family. I truly believe that it helped her to become the well-rounded and decent person she is.
Our families were reticent in the beginning, but once they realised that our hearts were set on it, they totally supported us. This could be hard work for them at times. The support they offered was sometimes practical, such as babysitting, but more often than not it was emotional support, which I know was hard for them.
3. There are lots of different fostering agencies, organisations, and local authorities out there. Why did you choose your LA rather than an agency?
We decided to apply to foster with our local authority because they were recommended to us by other foster carers.
4. What was the fostering assessment like?
The fostering assessment was a bit of a surprise. It took 8 months and was pretty intensive. We were assigned a social worker who took us through the assessment and would meet her usually on a weekly basis. We had discussions, filled in questionnaires, had to give our reactions to case studies, attend a variety of different courses, had to go for medicals, had to provide references, had to draw a family tree, had to arrange for our referees to meet with her… the list goes on! At the time it could be frustrating but I do understand that it’s important to make sure that fostering is right for you as much as you are right for fostering.
5. How did you find the fostering panel?
The fostering panel, like any panel of professionals, was of course a little bit daunting. However as the assessment had been so thorough, we felt well prepared to answer any of their questions. We were probably in with them for about an hour. Then they discussed our application and gave us a decision within the next hour.
6. What support do you have as a foster carer from the organisation you foster through?
Financially you are supported from the day you become foster carers. You will be paid a retainer by the local authority or agency you foster with. You will receive it whether or not you have a child in placement with you. On top of this you will receive a living expense payment for any children you are caring for. This amount varies depending on the age of the child. Some LAs and agencies also make extra payments for things like Christmas and travelling expenses. You should not at any point be out of pocket financially if you decide to foster.
There is also practical support available. If you need specific equipment, for example cots, highchairs etc in order for you to look after younger children they will be provided by the LA or agency you foster for. If you need respite then your allocated social worker will arrange for other carers to look after the child for you for a short time.
This is probably the hardest kind of support for your LA or agency to provide, and does of course vary widely depending on the social worker who is assigned to you. Some people, like in all walks of life are naturally empathic and warm. Some struggle to show this. They do however recognise how difficult fostering can be for everyone involved however, and relevant training is provided by specialists. For example, before the first children we cared for were returned to their mam we attended a course all about moving children on. This is where having a good support system is vital. There will be times naturally when fostering is very emotional. Having parents, other family members and friends there at those times to look out for you is essential.
7. What have you found to be the most difficult thing about fostering?
The most difficult thing to date has been when the children we have grown to love as our own have moved from living with us, either back to their parents or on to adoption. Whist in all the cases it was the right decision for the children it was a very emotional time for everyone who had grown to love them.
8. What do you think puts people off becoming foster carers?
Having spoken to lots of people about being a foster carer over the past 12 years, the main thing that people say is that they couldn’t do it because they just ‘couldn’t give them back’. Being honest, despite the ongoing training and support you receive, nothing can prepare you for this and has to be a big consideration. However, having been through this a few times now, I can honestly say that the amazing experiences you have as a foster carer and the difference you can make to the children in your care make it all worthwhile.
9. What so far has been the best thing about fostering?
The best thing has to be seeing a child grow in confidence and look happy. Some of the children we have fostered have come to us looking nothing other than broken, sometimes physically, more often than not emotionally. That feeling of achievement when you know you’ve made things better for that child is priceless.
10. What would you say to anyone considering fostering?
If you think fostering could be for you look into it. Contact your local authority or an agency. You’ve got nothing to lose by doing that and everything to gain. It might turn out that it’s not for you for a variety of reasons but if it is, from my experience, it’ll be the best thing you ever did.
There are many foster agencies and organisations that work in Wales. The Fostering Network has a database, which can be searched here.
If there are any other problems your family is having, then call our advisors on the FamilyPoint Cymru helpline. The helpline is open 9am – 5pm Monday to Friday. They can help you to find organisations that can help.