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Published on: 2016-01-12 11:00:00
Becoming a foster carer means you are required to and expected to keep up to date with training regardless whether you foster with a Local Authority or an agency. Some training is compulsory, such as the Skills to Foster course which covers the essentials, what to expect when you foster, what is expected of you as a carer and it runs through some common scenarios and circumstances whilst other training courses are very helpful, such as the guide to National Curriculum changes. Whilst I was waiting for my first placement, I decided to get in as much training as possible and attended courses such as the benefits of play, supporting children on the autistic spectrum and understanding neglect amongst others, which I found very informative but also helped start building my network of colleagues which is vital when you foster. I met some very experienced foster carers updating their knowledge and newly approved carers like me, soaking it all up for the first time.
Some of the most important training happens at lunchtime when you talk and mix with other foster carers and hear their stories and how they dealt with problems or concerns but most importantly for me, was the layer of security and confidence I built with each training course I attended. Even though I was approved, I felt more legitimate with each certificate I took home. These courses became a security blanket that told me I was going to be a good foster carer and I knew what I was doing... at least on paper!
One of my early placements was a young person with Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) who displayed a group of conditions associated with the mother drinking during pregnancy, including poor coordination and a low IQ along with some of the physical features associated with FASD. I had only recently completed the FASD training course provided by my agency and was ready to welcome Jeremy into my home. The training course was vital as it helped me know what to expect and it taught me what to do and more importantly, what not to do. However, it was only after Jeremy had left to go to long term carers did I realise how much of the course I had taken in, nodded wisely to but hadn’t actually translated into a potential reality. I hadn’t expected Jeremy to have such a good sense of humour or grasp of irony and wit. I had taken the course information but forgot to see the child behind the condition and diagnosis.
However, never has a training course impacted me as much as my first one; the Skills to Foster course. I went along once a week for three weeks with my husband and we had speakers, trainers and guest foster carers talk to us about what to expect and arm us with tools and knowledge. I worked as a group and individually, we did mini projects and made presentations and my husband and I took home a large manual (which I still use!) to refer to. I had been a foster carer for two years when Samantha came to me and at 13 years old, she looked like a typical young teenager. She had been known to her local authority since an early age and passed around many family members before going into foster care at the age of 7 and since then had lost track of how many foster homes she had been in. My training and experience kicked in and she was soon settled in, going to school and establishing a routine in her new home.
All was going well except we were fostering an 8 year old and on occasions a 4 year old, not a 13, soon to be 14 year old adolescent! It quickly became apparent that her bahaviour was often much younger than her chronological (actual) age and emotionally she was a young child that hadn’t been able to work through the natural stages of childhood. She was bright and intelligent and could snap right back into a being a teenager but most of the time she wanted to hold hands like a young child, was scared of the dark and wanted to play like an 8 year old. We responded to the age she presented to us and not her actual age; so if she wanted to play make believe with her Barbie, then that’s what we’d do. She needed reassurance and lots of positive reinforcement and we spoke to the little girl in front of us that needed nurturing. She would occasionally throw herself on the floor and would have a full blown tantrum like a toddler and instead of saying ‘get up, you’re too old for that behaviour’, we responded to her as if she was 3 or 4 years old... and it worked. Over a period of a year or so, Sammy was able to work through the childhood years she had never been able to have or never felt safe enough to experience until she was in line with her actual age. It was a revelation to us and we often spoke to our Supervising Social Worker (SSW) about how Chronological Age vs Emotional Age was covered in the Skills to Foster course but until you experience it, it’s hard to put into reality. That early training course I attended on the benefit of play also came out several times during the early years with Sammy.
I often refer to my training materials when I have a new placement but the one that has the scruffiest edges, the bent cover and is covered in coffee rings is the priceless Skills to Foster manual that comes out again and again.