How we support a little girl with her disability and love seeing her big smile
07 November 2023
07 November 2023
*Children's names have been changed to protect identities.
Kelly and Michael have been foster carers for five and a half years. Kelly left her role as a nursery worker and took on fostering as her full-time career. Kelly shared their experiences of fostering a little girl with a disability to help spread awareness of the need for more foster carers to help support children with disabilities.
In our home, there is me, Kelly, my husband Michael, our son Jacob, aged ten, and our daughter Ivy, aged seven. Plus, we have a few animals: three dogs, three chickens and a tortoise.
Michael's full-time job is as a farrier, which is putting horseshoes on horses. He works 5-6 days a week and really long hours but always helps out when he is back home. I am the primary foster carer in the home; however, before this, I worked in nurseries for 12 years. Previously, my focus was working with children under the age of two. Along with my experience in nurseries, I have two children of my own and a degree, which I did while working at the nursery.
We used to have quite a few foster children in the nursery I worked at, so I would support them and help take care of them. I remember I was always wanting to take them home with me. We always said we would have our birth children first before we fostered.
When we initially spoke about becoming foster carers, Michael suggested it first. We did a lot of research into it, and Michael was proactive with this and found Nexus Fostering, so he set up the initial meeting we had with one of the social workers. Where we had spoken about it from me working with looked after children in nurseries, it wasn't a shock, but we felt we were ready now we had our own two children, which we knew we wanted to do first. It came at a good time as I was either returning to work or doing something different career-wise, and fostering felt like a great option.
We have now been approved foster carers for five and a half years. We currently foster a little girl called Poppy, who has been diagnosed with medical needs.
How did your son Jacob and daughter Ivy adapt to becoming a part of a foster family?
Our biological children have adapted well to becoming a fostering family. Jacob was five when we began fostering, and Jacob's got ADHD. So sometimes that means he doesn't show much emotion, but we only found that out three to four years ago he had ADHD. He's been pretty good, though, and likes to help where he can, which is lovely. Jacob sometimes gets a bit frustrated if the children cry a lot, but he is good at sharing his time and understanding. He's at that age now where he can go upstairs for a bit of space if he needs a break if things start to feel full on for him.
Ivy is now nearly eight, so when we began fostering, she was about two and a half years old. At that young age, she didn't know what was happening, but fostering has been a part of her life. Ivy doesn't know anything different. It is just normal for her now, which is great as she has grown up in a household that supports other children.
You are currently fostering a little girl with medical needs. What medical needs has Poppy got?
Poppy has a genetic deletion. Which means Poppy has intellectual disabilities, mood disorders and developmental delays. It's also quite broad, but some we won't know until she is older. It's also lots of other things like schizophrenia, epilepsy, and autism. We won't know what scale this will be on, though, until she is older.
We are currently waiting for further genetics tests. We've waited a year for that now to dig into it a bit deeper. There are many unknowns at the moment where she is still young and developing; even the Doctors tell us this when they read through her medical records. She is learning to find her feet and saying some words, which is fantastic. We love going to baby groups as these are still relevant to Poppy's developmental age.
Have you found it challenging?
We support Poppy with various medical needs ranging from physio, occupational health, speech and language help, a dietitian, and a paediatrician. There can be a lot of hospital appointments to go to. We have something on most days. Poppy is a very chilled little girl, which makes it a lot easier.
When we are trying to get appointments made with medical professionals, it can be frustrating at times because I am noticing post COVID, many things are taking much longer. We've got that open access to hospitals. This means we can go in instead of going to A&E, so it's just little things like watching out for her signs and symptoms when she's poorly. When Poppy does have a hospital admission, and she's poorly. The hospitals are really good though at taking care of her.
It is a full-time job taking care of a young child with a disability, and that involves chasing up all these appointments and being an advocate for her, always fighting to get the best outcomes for her. Fostering is my full-time career, and I would never be able to take on any other work and support Poppy like we do. She is our priority.
Do you feel that you get support from Nexus Fostering?
Part of the support we get is from our Supervising Social Worker at Nexus Fostering.
Vanessa, our Supervising Social Worker, is amazing. She visits the hospital, brings Poppy presents and me supplies and even on her day off, she'll check in to see if we are all ok.
They also have an out-of-hours team who have been good at communicating, and people know your situation. They do as much as they can for us.
How does Poppy do day-to-day?
Poppy is a very happy baby, generally. She's understanding a lot at the minute, but I am starting to investigate baby sign language for her to try and help her communicate.
I have found valuable tools such as a specially adapted hospital bed we have now, which helps my back and is better for Poppy too. It is good to know what works for you and take up things that will make your life a bit easier. We are always looking at ways to improve something that might need adjusting to fit her needs. Another good example is the British sign language we are exploring.
What advice would you give to someone who is looking to foster a child with a disability?
If someone were looking to foster a child with disabilities, I would be realistic about looking after anyone with a disability as it can be challenging; there is no sugar-coating it. Poppy is a relatively easy baby, and it is manageable for our household.
It is being understanding of the young person or baby's needs, not making quick judgements, and always being open to finding out more before it is agreed if they are coming to live with you.
You could consider even meeting them before if that's an option and seeing what they're like before you decide. Being open-minded and knowing it will take up a lot of your time, and this is something you are going to be committed to.
I didn't have any experience of supporting a child with additional needs. It's been a learning curve for us all in the household. However, there's lots of support and help out there. Poppy has many professionals involved in her care, and they've been great, and that's helped. So explore all your support networks and contact your Supervising Social Worker if needed.
What are the next steps for you and fostering Poppy?
We are unsure what the future might bring in terms of how long Poppy will be with us but we will continue to support her in her development and have built a very close bond with Poppy. We might be offered to foster her on a long-term basis, or there have been talks about potentially adopting, but whatever happens, we will always have her best interests at heart. Fostering a child is such a rewarding career.
If you want to find out more about fostering a child, get in touch to see how you can make a difference - Contact Us | Nexus Fostering
07 November 2023