We have been a fostering family for around 11 years now and have always had children and young people with additional needs. Not that all looked after children don’t have needs greater than a child who has benefitted from a stable background, with good attachment, and a loving and caring family.
It is one of the most rewarding jobs you can do. Making a difference to lives, nurturing independence, education, and social skills.
We don’t exclude ourselves or the young people from anything; we take them abroad, to family parties and social gatherings. We just adjust what we do so their needs are met; equality means everybody should have the right to access anything.
To pretend it is not hard work would be a lie; but the challenge of thinking about strategies, finding a way, and seeing development and improvements is worth it. It can be great fun too; sometimes you just have to laugh.
If they go to special schools, education meetings and communication tend to be better than with mainstream schools but if they are in mainstream school, Education, Health and Care Plans (EHC) are good tools to help you understand what they need and are entitled to.
We get support from the local authority disability teams, who are not always up to date with foster care, and the Nexus team are very helpful and always on hand if we need them.
When we think back on our successes, some stories come to mind. A young lady with learning and social difficulties who we had from aged 16 to 21. Once assessed she was able to recognise her needs and learnt to manage them, or ask for the appropriate help, and then move onto independence with a full-time job.
A young man with learning difficulties who is also sight and hearing impaired has had 2 cochlear implants since coming to our home in 2014. He can now use a mobile phone so has his independence, he can travel independently once we have done the bus and train route a few times with him; he takes photos on his phone of trains, platforms, busses, and road names and uses these snaps to help him when alone; he is unable to read.
He will now go into a fast food shop to buy food and will buy a drink from a local newsagent but tends to buy something with the price flashed on it. Recently we have been approved as Shared Lives carers, adult foster care really, as he wishes to stay with us even though he is now 18.
Another young man who lives with us is 16. We looked after him during school holidays when he was in a residential school for about 4 years.
2-3 years ago, he told us he didn’t want to return to school but live “at your house all the time”; he has autism. It all took some time, many heated discussions and self-doubt but eventually, last year, he came back in July and “stayed forever” – his words.
He is now in a special needs day school and comes home to us every day. Previously he was prescribed anti-anxiety medication as his anxiety was so bad he self-harmed frequently. Now he is virtually anxiety free and he is thriving. Most significantly, he is able to describe some of his emotions and recognise when he needs us to help him with things.
Julie is carer for one of our London teams and we are so grateful she has shared her story with us. If you think you could offer a home and a loving environment to a child, with our without disabilities, please call us on 0800 389 0143.