I’ve seen a lot of social media chatter and press articles in the past few months about Foster Care, supporting carers and whether being a foster carer is better with a local authority (LA) or an independent foster agency (IFA).
When we first started fostering over 15 years ago, we worked with a local authority. We were completely green and really only knew what the glossy brochure said. It told me I would be helping children that needed secure safe homes, it told me I would make a difference and it told me I would change lives.
The onus was on me; it was up to me to find out what I needed to know. The problem was I didn’t know what I needed to know. I didn’t know any other foster carers, and social media was a glint in Mark Zuckerberg’s eye at the time. I went in apple-cheeked, wearing rose coloured glasses.
The first month saw me urgently buying clothes for a 12-year-old girl who came with a half filled black plastic bag of clothes that would barely fit a 9-year-old, and most of them so soiled they were un-washable.
I kitted out her room taking care to put nice girly things around and, although I didn’t expect to be sharing girlie secrets while I plaited her hair, I was shocked by the level of fierce defiance and screams of “you’re not my mum” as she absconded for the 3rd time that week.
We had sleepless nights, very quickly learnt the telephone number of the out of hours emergency Fostering Team at the LA and had frequent visits by the police at 4am.
I sought support from the LA for my young person, asked for advice and I also asked for support for myself and Hubby. The reality was my young person was in between social workers and had been assigned a temporary, overworked social worker who didn’t know her or her background.
I was told that I wasn’t due another visit for a while and yes, teenagers were difficult. They told me to follow protocol and phone the emergency line if she ran away again. I felt I was drifting in the wind.
My young person was eventually assigned a new social worker and he was actually a nice man that genuinely cared about her. It still took 3-5 days to get a phone call returned and a response to an email could take weeks, if at all.
I’m aware that things have improved a lot across the board in fostering (LA and IFA’s as well as government guidelines) but it left me floundering and adrift on my own. The YP with me didn’t have a particularly happy ending and she left at 16 also feeling let down by the whole fostering world, and I suspect she included me in that list.
We moved away to a different part of the country and we let our fostering credentials lapse, so when I approached the LA in my new area I was aware that we would need to start again.
This time however, I knew what I needed to know. I went into the meeting at the LA with a list of questions and I’m sure they felt I might be too much trouble, however they progressed us.
The list of do’s and don’ts was endless and I admit after that first meeting, I ignored their calls rather than tell them that I didn’t want to foster with them. I didn’t want to stop doing what I knew could be so rewarding so I googled Independent Fostering Agencies (I know, hardly a scientific approach!) and rang the first one near me with an Outstanding OFSTED rating, which was Nexus Fostering.
My first call to Nexus was answered by such a friendly voice; encouraging and enthusiastic, that I left my details and within the hour had a call back from a social worker.
By the end of that call I felt the love; I had been told how valuable my experience would be, my questions had been given thought and answered clearly and I was given a list of the type of training I could access with the agency. The list included areas I felt we needed support and guidance. We did the Skills to Foster course and progressed with Nexus.
I’ve been with Nexus for a while now and feel like part of a professional team as well as a member of the ‘family’. I’ve had the same Supervising Social Worker the whole time I’ve been with them and she feels like an old friend. I can ask her anything and believe me over the years, I have thrown the most complex and sometime bizarre questions her way.
I’ve called her on Christmas Day, she returns my call, answers emails, and when she’s on a well-deserved holiday I get ongoing support from the social work team that know Hubby and I as well as the children who we look after.
Training is an area I am passionate about; not just for me but for all foster carers, LA or independent, and I feel privileged to have been on training courses delivered by some of the leading professionals in their field. In almost every case the trainers are not only psychotherapists, or experts but they have often had hands-on experience fostering children or working with children in care.
Early on in my career with Nexus, I attended a 2-day course in fostering children on the autistic spectrum.
I had no experience in this area, but the course trainer dealt with the topic sensitively and not only gave us a comprehensive virtual tool kit but outlined her own experience. She had an autistic birth child and also fostered children, some of whom were on the autistic spectrum. She allowed us to ask questions and spoke from real, hands on experience.
Although a 2 day course can’t make you an expert, I came away feeling that I could now consider fostering a child on the spectrum and a lot of my perceived myths and fears had been dealt with.
I get asked about fostering a lot by people who are just curious and also those who are exploring it as a possibility. I tell them the truth – it’s given us some of the most rewarding, heart warming, heart breaking, funny, saddest, and most joyous moments in our lives.