What is your name and how long have you been fostering?
I am Emily and I foster with my husband John. We have been fostering for just over three years.
How many placements have you been involved with, and how many of these have involved caring for a child or young person with additional needs?
We had a very short emergency placement just after we were approved, and then we started fostering our current young person, Julie, who is with us long-term. She has a genetic condition resulting in a severe learning disability and she attends a special school.
Have Nexus Fostering provided you with support?
I cannot fault the support we have had from Nexus. It is so reassuring to have the continuity of a small team of social workers who know us and our young person. We have even had the same Supervising Social Worker since we did our Form F. Julie had an instant rapport with her which is helpful for participation events, and she even minded Julie for me once when I needed to go to a meeting and didn’t have cover. I can easily contact Nexus and always get a quick response. The programme of training has been excellent.
What sort of challenges have you faced as specialist carers and how do you cope with them?
Some of the challenges are common to all children – like getting her to turn the TV off and get some fresh air!
We do have particular challenges such as communication. Julie has Global Developmental Delay and when she arrived, at 13 years old, she hardly used any words and her understanding seemed very limited.
I’m sure things were made worse by the stress she was suffering as well. It was very difficult for her to express herself and she would become extremely agitated and resort to screaming, dropping on the floor, and hitting on many occasions. We had a lot of support from her school and a nurse from the children with learning disabilities team.
We worked on communication using Makaton signs and visual symbols and we worked on reducing Julie’s anxiety and frustration though establishing routines and using positive behaviour management.
These days Julie is generally happy, lively, and affectionate. She can usually express herself using short phrases and even the odd sentence. While she still hits sometimes and occasionally screams it’s mild compared to how she used to behave. Her anxiety, especially at home, has reduced a lot.
Last week she went on a school residential trip for the first time where she hardly hit at all, ate all her meals, went to sleep each night and enjoyed the activities – a fantastic achievement for her!
It definitely helped that I had worked with very young children in nurseries for many years, and both I and my husband had experience of working with adults with learning disabilities.
We also have regular time off from Julie (and Julie from us!) through monthly overnight contact when she stays with a parent and two weeks a year respite. We use Personal Independence Payments for respite with local organisations that work with children with additional needs every other Saturday and during school holidays. In addition, the Local Authority pays for Julie to have a personal assistant for 20 hours a month. All of these things relieve the pressure and allow us to give her better care.
What do you find most rewarding/ fondest memory about fostering?
We have been lucky enough to see slow but steady progress with Julie. For someone with her level of learning disability very small things are a big achievement and can get me very excited – a bit like how you are with a very young child.
I was really touched and surprised when one of my sons told me Julie is “like the little sister he never had”.
My husband adds that has got a lot out of seeing Julie learn to enjoy going on caravan holidays and now she’s always asking to go on another one.
What is the main message you would like to get across to someone who is learning about fostering for the first time?
If we are talking specifically about fostering a child with additional needs I would say it can work really well and I think a lot of it is about matching your characteristics rather than thinking about disability alone. I love looking after young children and Julie is in many ways like a nursery-age child (with flashes of teenager). I knew I was open to fostering a child with additional needs, but I specified that they would have to be able to walk to the local park because I am an outdoors person. Julie loves going to parks and being in countryside.
It turned out that Julie loves music and has an amazing singing-voice which suited the whole family and as we all enjoy singing and playing instruments and it gives us a shared interest.
The other thing I would say is be realistic about what you can manage and make sure you get plenty of help and time off to recharge your batteries.