Nexus Fostering carer Mellie, explains what life has been like in her home during lockdown, in a household of seven!
Fostering has presented us with many challenges over the years along with plenty of inspirational moments, many of which I’ve written about in my blog. We’ve had teenage runaways, children with mental health concerns, coping with the death of a life-limited child, the amazing joy (and loss) of sending children off for adoption, feeling so proud that I thought my heart would burst out of my chest when one of my so-called tearaway teens was accepted and completed his first year of University in the top 1% and watching a child who we were told may never walk and talk run around happily at nursery meeting all her developmental milestones.
However, I can honestly say that having a house full of children with additional needs during the lockdown of the coronavirus pandemic has probably been one of the biggest challenges I’ve had whilst fostering, but it has also awakened my creative spirit.
Along with the rest of the world, we watched in horror as country after country fell to this horrible virus devasting thousands of lives along the way. We were united in the message that we should stay at home, save lives and protect the NHS and along with millions of people we painted rainbows with the children and stuck them in our windows and clapped out applause for the frontline workers risking their lives.
We made posters to thank our local and friendly postie, the delivery drivers and refuse collectors, and made handmade cards to pop through people’s doors who we knew might be lonely. Along with the rest of the nation, we endeavoured to stick to Joe Wickes PE work out (some of those in our household were more successful than others!), and along with the rest of the nation, we attempted the basics of homeschooling and gained an insight into the life of teachers and another level of appreciation. We were agreed, we were united and yet we had never felt so alone.
We are a household of seven; this includes a 19-year-old teen who has chosen to Stay Put with us and is currently back from university like all other students, hubby and I, and 4 children under 10 years old. 3 of these children are neurodiverse with conditions such as FASD, ADHD and autism. Due to some of the children’s more complex emotional and behavioural needs, we get a lot of assistance outside what is considered normal fostering support.
Some of the behaviours the children display can be quite challenging and as such are on the Nexus 360 plan which gives them and us additional support; access to a trauma psychologist, fun outreach events with a trained one to one key worker along with additional respite for us and one-to-one support whenever we need it. Due to the lockdown and government guidelines along with needing to protect ourselves, our social workers and case support team, all face-to-face contact has stopped.
This coincided with our 10-year-old getting a cough and cold which thank goodness wasn’t COVID-19 but did mean we had to self-isolate for 14 days and as such the children couldn’t go to school. Although school has stopped for most children, those whose parents are key workers or children who are considered vulnerable are still able to go to school where it’s deemed safe and necessary. Our children come into this category for both reasons.
Suddenly we had everyone at home and had gone from hands-on support to having no visitors and nowhere to go with 4 very (often hyper) active young children. I often praise my agency for their outside the box thinking or being one step ahead of me when it comes to being there for us or the children but this time they really pulled the bunny out of the bag and not just over Easter.
Like the rest of the nation, the Nexus team worked from home and put together video conferencing support so we could have access to therapy, our psychologist, our social worker, support groups for foster carers to chat together and specialist support groups for those of us caring for children with additional needs.
Inventing new ways to keep the kids in touch with their outreach support team was another challenge but within days ideas were flooding in on how to do this virtually. My children loved this virtual contact and have played games online, performed science experiments, made up quizzes, taken part in a remote treasure hunt, played bingo and we’ve done baking via video conferencing with a support outreach worker. More chocolate went into his mouth than in the cupcake cases, but he had so much fun. Part of that fun was talking 1:1 with someone else (who wasn’t me!) and seeing himself on the screen.
We’ve been blessed with good weather, so the garden toys have come out including the paddling pool and they’ve had hours of fun. Have I focused on schoolwork and meeting educational targets? No. We tried doing a few school-assigned projects but it’s been painful for everyone involved. We have however watched Horrid Henry, other educational programmes, focused on reading and phonics, worked on lots of creative projects including gardening, painting, made a life-size Viking shield out of cardboard, created a short movie, life skills (learning how the washing machine works), lots of baking and cooking and found inventive things to do with empty toilet rolls.
We are living through historic times and although the children in my care have shown signs of anxiety and stress at what is happening out in the world, they’ve also made unique and wonderful memories about the time we all stayed in.