When I first started fostering, I wasn’t aware how many specialisms there were under the umbrella term ‘Foster Carer’.
Since then I’ve been on lots of training courses and experienced first-hand some of the different specialities involved. If you’d asked me years ago I would’ve said “oh no, I couldn’t possibly look after a child with mental health problems!” nor any that were labelled ‘difficult’ or disabled as I felt I wouldn’t have been experienced enough to cope.
Even after training courses, and talking to carers who had specialised placements, I will admit I did find the idea scary, but I feel now that what I was really scared of was the unknown.
In fact there isn’t a single placement I’ve had, specialised or not, that I haven’t been nervous about before the child arrived, but I bet I’m nowhere near as nervous or scared as the child or young person about to walk through the door!
I’ve now had a number of placements (or respite placements) with mental health problems or disabilities and find myself being drawn to these types of placements. Fostering a child with disabilities is just fostering a child. There are no standards or guidelines and no two children are alike even if on paper they may seem similar.
Every child comes with history. It could be a combination of all or any type of trauma including abuse, neglect, domestic violence, refugee status or through sad circumstances such as the death of a close loved one. Any of these children could also have some kind of disability so I try not to categorise children.
One of my most rewarding placements has also been one of the most challenging.
I’ve spoken before in my blog about Anthony and his particular disability which is caused by a chromosome deletion.
Anthony’s disabilities are many and complex but underneath he is still a child and has the same basic needs as any child.
We all need love, shelter, stability and our basic needs met (Maslow’s hierarchy of needs) but also consistency and to be acknowledged as an individual. Anthony doesn’t know any of this but he does know if things go wrong with his PEG feeding system or feeding pump and he can make his feelings known. He can also express joy and has a wickedly infectious laugh.
Baby S has now had her suspected FASD (Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder) officially diagnosed by her LAC paediatrician and, as she gets older, I can see she has some different needs than babies at that age.
Baby S has many of the facial features associated with FASD including a thin upper lip, a flat philtrum, distinctive almond shaped eyes and a small chin and lower jaw.
She also has other distinctive features, and this made it easy for the paediatrician to diagnose along with her family history.
Alongside the physical markers of FASD, Baby S is also showing some behavioural markers. It is hard to differentiate in such a small child whether she is just displaying normal challenging behaviours of a young toddler who is testing her boundaries and exploring the world, or if the temper tantrums and lashing out at herself and others is part of the psychological spectrum of disorders associated with FASD.
On paper, fostering either Anthony or Baby S could appear daunting, however by managing Baby S‘s behaviour and taking extra time to help develop core strength and dexterity, she is essentially a mischievous, funny and delightful toddler.
Whilst Anthony requires his foster carer to have some specialised training and to be calm in a crisis he is just a happy and very cheeky 4-year-old boy who loves to listen to music, swaying in time to the beat. He is fascinated by lights and colours so having a few sensory toys around is ideal for him.
Like all children, they both enjoy playing and meeting people and both love to catch people’s eye when we are in the supermarket or on the bus and they both have such engaging funny personalities.
Fostering Anthony isn’t for everybody but if you have a spare room, a small space for some medical equipment, are willing to undergo some basic training and can work with professionals such as district nurses and other medical specialists then caring for a child like Anthony can be highly rewarding.
I tell all prospective foster carers they need to be calm, patient, caring and be open to learning. All children who come into care, with or without disabilities, will need a carer who can provide these things and children like Anthony or Baby S are exactly the same.