Read about Shirley's fostering journey and why she decided to care for children as a career. Shirley specialises in parent and child placements and enjoys seeing the difference she makes in young people's lives.
When my friends and family found out that I was going to foster, they were all so supportive and happy about my decision. My Nan who sadly is no longer with us, loved that I foster, she would come to pick up the kids in the car and she would show them her photos, they seemed to like having her around and always called her Nan as well. My daughter was pleased as well because since losing her brother it has been a bit quiet and she liked the family being busy again.
I think out of everyone in the family, my dad was my biggest supporter, he loved to tell everyone he met what I did! From the experience he had as a child, he knows first-hand what it feels like to be abandoned and not feel safe. My Dad had always said, no one knows what it is like to be hurt and unwanted or not have a home unless you have experience it yourself. He encouraged me to accept many different people throughout life, whether they were hungry, poor, unclean, disabled, or of a different race.
My Dad had a personal experience with not being able to grow up with his birth family. He was abandoned when he was four years old. He was left on a pavement one morning with his sister who was two, and they were told to wait until the bus came back later that evening. They waved to their sister, mum and dad who got on the bus that morning and they never saw them again. My dad and his sister were taken in by a family in the village. My dad told me that throughout those years, he promised himself he was going to have a family, make sure they were fed, warm, had a bed at night, and be loved. That is what kept him going through those dark years and he achieved that by passing on a caring legacy to me. Although, he sadly is no longer with me, I know he was very proud of me starting a career in fostering.
When I first started fostering, I was not officially registered for a while as I had agreed to keep a runaway foster child safe. She had come to the bank where I was working crying, she looked tired and said she was very hungry. She had no shoes and only a t-shirt and skirt on, I could tell she needed my help. I took her into my office, where she opened up to me and told me that she been sleeping under a hedge. I called her social worker to let her know where she was, after that phone call I decided to take this girl in and care for her, ensuring she was happy and safe. She stayed with me for three years and is still in contact today.
When I was allocated my first placement with my original fostering agency, I was very apprehensive and gullible as I believed the young boy who I was going to be placed with had requested that he needed to have respite from his family for a break, so I thought he would be easy to care for. I had planned a lot of activities and days out for him before his arrival, the local village fair was on and I thought he would have a fun time there. I had this amazing vision of him enjoying himself on rides, playing games, and eating yummy hot dogs but the day did not pan out like how I planned as he decided to run away! I spent the rest of the day trying to find him and eventually after several frantic hours I was able to locate him and bring him back home.
I would say the first placement was a bit hectic, but I still enjoyed it, and since then I have had various placements with different children who all have different needs and requirements. That first placement has not put me off fostering!
From the various placements I have had, I would say parent and child placements are my favourite because it is an honour to be there at the start of the relationship between a baby and the mum/dad. Of course, it is not always a straightforward placement when it comes to parent and child, I have had scenarios before where the mum isn’t interested in forming a bond with the baby and doesn’t want to be a mum at all, and then other times you see them forming the strongest bond and moving onto independence. There have been times where I have been asked to care for the baby by the mums as they trust me and are certain that they do not want to care for the baby themselves. It is a sad situation, but I always offer all my love and care to these placements as a lot of the time, they are in this situation because they have never experienced a loving household. They may have not had the best relationship with their own parents and are now struggling to look after their own baby.
Over the years I have learnt how the brain and babies develop as I knew this would be helpful when caring for parent and child placements. Capstone do a lot of training around different topics which I enjoyed as I love learning new things and drip-feeding information to my placements as I know it is helpful to them also.
Over the years that I have been fostering, I am finding the mums in the parent and child placements have a lot more problems than when I first started taking on these placements. Though things have changed, I feel it is focused more on the baby and less on the Mum. I feel the mum also needs the empathy and understanding and time to unravel things in her head. Her body needs to repair and rest and start the new journey of looking after another helpless living being, her very own baby.
All sorts of questions must be going through the mum’s head when they arrive at a new foster home. With my help I can nurture her sowing seeds of ''can do and confidence building'' leading by example and I have found in many ways the mum’s will unravel and will take on board and want to accept the help provided and love her baby. To be witness to that is a reward. At the other end of the scale, sometimes the mum cannot come through, she is in a bad place, being influenced by peers/partners and her choices will be right for her at the time. So, to her, the right outcome maybe for her to leave her baby or ask for the baby to be taken away. Whatever way their journey goes, it is the right way for them and the only thing I can do is review the situation and know that I have done the best I could, all fairy tales have different endings.
The best thing about my fostering journey is when the children and young people I have cared for keep in touch. I do not expect any of them to do that, so when they decide to keep in touch by their own choice, that means a lot to me. It is lovely to receive text messages letting me know how they are, sometimes asking for advice, introducing me to new additions to their family, and even receiving cards on Mother’s Day. Even after all these lovely messages and cards, I never refer to myself as their mum, I am Shirley and I am walking with them on this part of their journey as they need some help.
For anyone who is considering fostering, I would say to look at your own family, your children and even grandchildren as sometimes they do have to step back. Please talk to others as you are not on your own, and ask for all the information you require, fostering with Capstone has made this so easy as they provide so much information and training.
Before I started fostering, I thought each placement would have a fairy tale ending but the reality is that they can sometimes be complex, and things do not work out how we expect them to. Each placement has helped me to prepare for the next and I have learnt so much with each one. I have a better understanding than when I first started, and I now know that nothing is going to be like the textbook example. The most important lesson I have learnt during my fostering journey is that we all make mistakes, we are human after all.
I am glad I have been able to continue my fostering journey with Capstone, they have been very helpful and always there whenever I have a query. Things have changed a lot, especially over the past six months with the pandemic but they always make sure to keep me up to date with any changes. The training available is always good, I always enjoy the nattering with other carers and the great sandwiches! The other carers are a great bunch and I really miss our get togethers due to the Covid restrictions.
Overall, I feel valued and I can say what I am thinking, they listen to my opinion and make me feel like I matter. With the nature of what I do, sometimes there can be an out of hours emergency with a placement where I need extra support or advice, that is why Capstone is amazing because I am able to contact a social worker who is available any time. From the top of the organisation, to the bottom, everyone knows each other as we all keep in touch. It feels like a big family and it is nice to be a part of something that is actively making a difference to young people’s lives.
I definitely would recommend Capstone to anyone who is considering fostering, I have introduced two friends to Capstone, and they are now part of the Capstone family too!
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