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Foster Carers Sonja and Steve’s Story

Sonja And Steve (1)

Sonja and Steve are some of our brilliant Nexus Fostering foster carers who both came from teaching careers before they moved into fostering.

Steve explains, ‘Both my wife and I had spent our careers working with children in schools but felt that we wanted to do something more individual and personalised to make a positive impact on children. Sonja and I were teachers and then Headteachers, and I also spent several years undertaking school inspections with Ofsted. Our careers had seen us work in three different countries in Europe and Southeast Asia, so we felt we had a good overview and knowledge of children coming, not only from diverse backgrounds but also from diverse cultures.”

Steve continues, “I have also worked as a freelance musician and felt that fostering would give me a greater ability to be able to have this as a part of my life than working as a Headteacher did.

Lots of skills transfer easily from schools into fostering. The importance of being child-centered, building strong relationships with the children you care for, having consistent boundaries and routines, and being able to effectively judge the progress children are making across a wide range of indicators. All these things, placed in a different context, can be easily just as useful in both roles.”

“Nexus Fostering has greatly impacted our lives and overwhelmingly this has been positive. It is a 24/7 job, and it can be frustrating, exhausting, and very challenging. However, it has also extended our family, given us great joy, and allowed us to involve our birth children in taking on little areas of responsibility in a way they wouldn’t have been able to, had there been only us in our household.”

When asked how Steve and Sonja combine fostering and raising their birth children, the couple made it clear that these two things may be separate for some, but it isn’t how they have ever seen it. Sonja says, “from the start, we discussed our decision to foster carefully and thoroughly with our birth children and decided that we would be a ‘Fostering Family’ rather than ‘Foster Parents or Carers’. We therefore approach all aspects of our life in a way that means there are now just 7 of us instead of 4. In a time when so many people seem to be mainly concerned with themselves and their happiness, being able to engage our birth children in contributing to help children generally less fortunate and facing different challenges to themselves has been of great benefit, both to them and to us.

We genuinely feel that we simply have a larger family now and that means we share everything across and among us and support each other through whatever comes our way.”

Sonja continues, “we have had one placement of two boys for two+ years and alongside that have tried several respite placements, 1 additional short term and recently 1 additional long-term placement. We are currently going through the process for the two brothers to also be placed with us on a long-term plan. I hope that all three of the boys currently with us will become long-term.

We didn’t set out with this in mind but did have a clear idea from the start of what would work well for us as a family. We both have an educational background so we knew we would not find significant educational challenges testing like other carers. Also, the fact that we are already a bilingual household, and that I have lots of experience teaching English as an additional language in schools, meant that we were not afraid of children who couldn’t speak English (which proved to be the case with our longest-term placement).

We also said we wanted to foster children younger than our birth children, as they said they would enjoy being older siblings to the children we took in but would be less comfortable with children older than them. Their views and wishes were particularly important to us in ensuring we could make fostering work as an integral part of our family over the longer term. “

Steve and Sonja are part of the Nexus Fostering carer representatives' group and describe that each placement brings its challenges. Being able to have a close relationship with our Supervising Social Worker and making sure that we were utterly convinced that we were doing the best thing for the children in our care at all times certainly helped us work a way through the challenges and come out of the other side reasonably intact.

Being a carer representative means that they are happy to try and be there for someone else doing the same role as them. That might mean just being available for a chat, or raising something significant with the Carers Advisory Board that they have been frustrated about but wouldn’t have otherwise known where to go to try and resolve.

“Being a carer is hard and just being there for each other is always important.”

Steve said, “We regularly meet other carers at contact sessions, attending local authorities or Nexus Fostering events and activities. This inevitably means you can share your experiences with each other and be there to listen if people are having a difficult time. Very often we find carers just need to know they’re not the only ones facing the challenges and that they’re not doing anything wrong - it's just hard sometimes!”

Steve’s advice to anyone thinking about fostering is “think carefully before you do it - but if you think it’s right for you, few things will be as rewarding.

Nexus Fostering has supported us and provided lots of training throughout the years. The overwhelming majority of which have been of extremely high quality and very useful to our development and understanding (although the initial online training in the first 12 months is time-consuming and cumbersome though - be warned).

We have had constant support from the Nexus Fostering Ampthill office which means we’ve been able to rely on getting speedy answers to key questions and quick support when we’ve needed it. Support groups were also particularly useful during our first year of fostering when we were trying to work out what was ‘normal’ and what possibly wasn’t. Having a structure to talk to people already in the role was very helpful. Regular holiday activities for the children (Theme Park, Trampolining, Bowling etc…) have also been positive, not only for the children but for us to meet other carers and share experiences together.”

Reflecting on their fostering years and special moments during that time, they say “it’s the ‘small moments’ that can be so significant. A child who hasn’t wanted to trust you finally asks for help. The look on their faces when you take them somewhere special, they’ve never been before… or let them try food they’ve never tasted that they discover they love… Getting a hug from them for the first time…Those are the moments that make it all worthwhile.
We would probably be most proud of the fact that all the children in our care are happy, settled and feel that they have a real ‘home’. If we could only wish for one thing for them that would probably, be it.”

Sonja says, “We talked with several agencies when we were looking at coming into fostering and they all had slightly different approaches and structures. I think the most important thing for us was probably that we felt a resonance with the Nexus Fostering approach and felt that they were really prepared to see us as individuals and work things to our individual situation. Sonja and I wanted to approach fostering as equals and fit other aspects of our professional lives around it. A 50/50 approach if you like. We were committed to saying ‘that one of us would always be available to attend professional meetings or whatever else was needed, but that it might be one or other of us depending on the exact time of day or day of the week etc. A lot of other companies insisted one of us had to be the ‘main carer’ and take the lead on those kinds of activities which we felt would be much harder for us - without any improvement in outcome for the children we were caring for.

This has proved to be the case in the time we’ve been fostering, and we have been able to make things work well for the children in our care, Nexus Fostering, and the other members of our household.

Having this kind of flexibility to respond to individual circumstances, coupled with the general therapeutic approach left us feeling confident that Nexus Fostering would be a good fit for us and the way we felt most comfortable working.

How would Sonja and Steve summarise fostering in three words? Valuable life purpose.

If you would like to find out more about Nexus Fostering contact us on 0800 389 0143 or enquire here.

Category

Fostering insights

Topics

  • Foster Carer
  • Therapeutic
  • Siblings
  • Support
  • Social Worker
  • Birth child(ren)
  • Training

Date published

27 March 2024

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