Well, that’s how I feel.

Our first eagerly anticipated foster placement ended less than one month after it started.  We’d called time.

There had always been a lot of pressure on my husband and I to be “great” at this fostering stuff.  It’s a positive pressure though, rooted in the fact that our friends and family know our strengths, recognise our skills and have witnessed us in action driving our passion for positive outcomes for kids.  We’re qualified in working with young people, we’re experienced in dealing with ‘challenging’ behaviour, and we’ve got form for turning around some fairly dire situations for the benefit and future of kids who may have really needed it.

What we’re definitely not, are qualified psychologists or mental health practitioners.

You will only ever know so much about a child that comes into your care, and as you get to know them, you will find out a wealth of information; some interesting, some upsetting, and some outright terrifying.  No matter how good your Agency is, they simply will not know everything about the child coming to stay under your roof.  As a good Agency though, what they will do is support you when this information comes to light and you have to deal with it.  This happened to us.

After what literature might call ‘a series of unfortunate events’, Capstone agreed that with our own safety and sanity being the priority, our placement simply could not continue.  Yes, we’d called time, which was our right as Foster Carers to do, but the Agency fully supported the decision, having done what they could in the run-up in attempt to avoid this situation for the sake of the young person.

I would hate to think that this scenario will put people off fostering, because while for good reason all children in care are going to hold and present issues, generally speaking, patience, boundaries and guidance will all win out.  For some children though, all the discipline and love in the world would never help them.  When it’s an issue of emotional health so severe, foster care is not the place to be – and that’s nobody’s fault.

For the short time he was with us, we kept our young person safe, and we did all we humanly could to give him the support we believed would help him in any way he needed.  I’m not going to say that wasn’t enough, because in some ways he responded really positively and showed parts of his personality that revealed him to be a lovely young lad.  But that was just one side of him, and the other side is not one we could face, either personally or professionally.

If I allow myself to keep drifting back to that feeling of failure, then I’d never foster again.  When I reflect though, worse than the feeling of failure is the feeling that there may be a child out there who really wants, needs and could truly benefit from our support, and if we call time on fostering all together, then we wouldn’t be around to help that child.  That’s lot to take on board.

For as long as we’re safe, which our Agency will always ensure, we’ll keep going.  I’m not going to change my parenting style to adapt to situations – that’s not fair on anyone and it’s certainly not sustainable.  For as long as I feel that I can physically and mentally carry on with fostering, I will – the positive pressure will keep me going.

Jo and Ste

 


I’ve been a teacher for 12 years. I’ve progressed through the ranks and held positions of senior leadership in some fairly impressive settings. Prior to those qualifications, I was a teaching assistant and play leader.  I’ve since also taken on roles as a Vice Chair of Governors at a primary school and a mentor for teenage girls.  I never desired that this is where my career would begin or that I’d stay in it for very long.  I wanted to be a journalist when I left university, so I don’t really know what went wrong there.

I loved teaching.  Well, to be clear, I loved the small elements of teaching that actually involved working with the kids.  Having said that, it made me pretty focused on the fact that I didn’t want any children of my own.   That is no disrespect to any of my kids who may be reading this – I love them all like they were my own anyway, and they know this, but I just always thought that if I stayed in that career, I’d struggle, because having a demanding day with 30 or so of other people’s kids and having so much responsibility for their over-all development, then coming home to have to do it all again with your own offspring just exhausted me to even think about.

Because I loved my work though, and felt that my husband and I had so much to give, we thought fostering would be an excellent plan – working with kids who so desperately needed the love, guidance and upbringing that their own parents either couldn’t or wouldn’t be able to give them.  Why bring more kids into the world when there are so many out there who need some kind of parental figure in their life?

This is still my motto, and why I love fostering, but this last year has actually flipped things on its head – I now really want my own kids.

I know exactly why this is.  When you spend so much time with a child or a young person, you really get to know them.  You start realising and witnessing for yourself that you’re helping them in some way, and that they’re subtly taking on some of your personality traits as they become embraced within your family.  As this unfolds, you can’t help but think how wonderful it would have been to have known that child earlier, younger, longer, to see just how much you could have shaped and developed that kid if they would have been yours.

There comes a point when you look at that young person in some random social situation, interacting and laughing, and you think, “Wow, I’d be so proud if you were my actual kid”.  I’ve been there.  It makes me smile, but it makes me sad, too.

That’s why I know that I want my own kids, because I would love the opportunity to give someone a life from the very start.  Having seen through fostering and indeed teaching what some parents have done to their kids, either willingly or through abandonment, it just makes the desire stronger to show that there’s one more parent out there who can – hopefully – do this right.

Jo and Ste


I’ve talked a lot in my blogs about going to ‘Panel’ for approvals in fostering, and having constant meetings with social workers, schools and agencies in the role as a Foster Carer.  Without doubt though, the most nerve wracking meeting you will have is when you come face to face for the first time with the child or young person you are about to foster.

Last week, we had a new child come to stay with us for the evening, and I was terrified.  What if he didn’t speak all night? What if he had some kind of tantrum or outburst? What if he outright hated us?

These were just my initial thoughts – and then I journeyed down a ridiculous path.  What if the puppy got too playful and bit a chunk out of the boy’s arm?  What if he fell down the stairs on the way back from the bathroom or slipped and knocked himself out on the sink?  What if he got food poisoning from the chicken fajitas I’d lovingly prepared for our tea?

Like I said, ridiculous.

Once my other half had managed to calm me down, I was able to be a little more rational and worry about the real stuff, such as how we could best give this young person a warm welcome into our home.

The meeting would always need to strike a careful balance; the need to be warm, welcoming and friendly, measured against the need to be clear on things like expectations, rules and discipline.  It’s a tough balance to strike.  Thankfully, time spent in over a decade in a teaching career has given both my husband and I a good grounding in this approach, but it’s still tough, and every child is different and every situation warrants its own individual response, so there is never going to be a perfect scenario.

I always make the argument in fostering that anything you can offer to support a child or young person in your care is only ever going to be a positive, but, certainly at the very early stages, it can feel like the exact opposite.  The child will possibly be resistant to the change, and will likely be angry about their circumstances… most definitely though, they will be terrified as they walk through your door.

When faced with these initial meetings, my advice will always be as follows:

  1. Remember it’s not about you, it’s all about doing everything you can to make this experience as positive as it can be for the child.
  2. Involve the child in any way you can so that they feel less like a visitor and more like an important part of your home – for example, you could get them involved with mealtime preparations or perhaps get them walking the dog (if you have one).
  3. Keep your plan simple and be prepared for it to change in line with how the child or young person acts or reacts to the situation in hand.

I don’t think this first face to face process will ever get less terrifying, but it’s just the first step to achieving a wonderful result, so get over that first hurdle and enjoy the rest of the run.Jo and Ste


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