We speak to two of our foster families to get their view on how fostering has impacted their lives.
Cat and her husband Paul have fostered with Brighton and Hove City Council for over 8 years and have two sons now aged 18 and 20.
Cat has had 6 foster children over the 8 years and currently has a 17 year old girl living with her family.
Why did you decide to foster in the first place?
It was always something I wanted to do from a young age. I wanted to provide a loving environment for a child to flourish. I learnt so much through my own sons and I wanted to do something to help children who had had a difficult start in life.
How did you introduce the idea of fostering to your sons?
We had a very open communication from the start and we chatted about what fostering was and why we wanted to do it and they were interested and supportive from day one. They were very involved in the entire process and spent time with the assessing social workers who made sure they understood what fostering was and were comfortable with what it would mean for them. If the social workers believe the children are not supportive, then the carers will not go forward as the whole family has to be behind the decision.
How old were they when you started fostering?
They were 8 and 12 so old enough to express any concerns they might be feeling. We always said to them that if it became too much at any point, we would stop fostering immediately. We set down boundaries for everyone at the start; for example, each person has their own room and no one can go in without the permission of that person. We felt it was important for everyone to have their private space and that we must all respect one another. It also allows everyone to have a little sanctuary of their own.
What tips do you have for other new foster carers who have children of their own?
Put boundaries in place at the beginning and make sure you have regular communication with your children. Communication with your foster children is so important as they will have anxiety around not knowing what is acceptable in your home. It will all be very different from their own home and they might never have had boundaries and home agreements before . Sometimes this involves explaining the simplest things like sitting at the diner table and using knife and fork, all of which could be new.
It’s important to manage and share and your time! I make sure I have special one to one time with each of my own children, even if it’s just a walk outside so I can check in and make sure they have the chance to talk honestly and openly to me.
Also it’s important to follow the safe carer guidelines which you’ll receive training on during the assessment process and which keeps everyone safe.
What qualities should foster carers have?
Foster carers need to be confident and strong as you become the advocate for the child you are looking after. You have to be their voice if they’re too young to speak for themselves. You have to be good at multi-tasking, be warm and caring and also have the ability to create routine and regularity in your home; for example set meal times. It’s important to create boundaries and be firm but fair.
What advice would you give to potential foster carers?
Be patient. Don’t expect miracles overnight. Often the damage has occurred over a long period of time so it may take years to heal. Sometimes you might not even notice the tiny changes which have taken place and then when you do it feels like a huge milestone and you realise the difference you’ve made. Focus on a positive future and don’t get too lost in the negative back story, their time with you is a stepping stone to a better future.
How do you think fostering has benefited your children?
I believe my children have a much wider perspective of the world now. They are more tolerant and open minded and it has made them more rounded. I also think it teaches them a sense of gratitude and appreciation as they realise just how lucky they are to have a stable, loving family. It sets a good example of being kind and compassionate to other people.
Cat’s son Kyle (18) says ‘I’ve felt proud to be part of a foster family, and would encourage other children to give it a try. Each placement has been different but I have happy memories of every one’.
We also spent some time with Sarah who has been fostering with Brighton and Hove for 18 months and has a daughter, Hannah, 13 and a son George, 10. Sarah has fostered 3 teenager unaccompanied minors, one who is still with the family and she has also had 2 respite and emergency placements.
How has fostering impacted your family?
Overall it has had a really positive impact. We have fostered unaccompanied minors so we’ve learnt so much about their different cultures and customs and spent so much time talking about these as a family. It really has been a joy and extremely enriching.
Hannah (Sarah’s daughter)
It has been really rewarding seeing my foster brothers develop their English and feeling like I’ve been part of that. When they first came to us, neither of them had good English and we couldn’t really chat to each other but by the end when we’re able to have a great conversation, I suddenly realised just how far they’d come. I feel really proud that I’ve been able to help them and it was really special when my foster brother introduced me recently as ‘My sister Hannah’.
Has fostering been as you expected?
Sarah - Surprisingly yes. I had a background working with children as well as my own 2 children so I understood behaviours. The assessment process also really helped as it was so thorough so we felt very prepared for what our fostering role would be and my own children were involved throughout too so they knew what to expect.
What’s the best thing about fostering?
Sarah - Seeing how each boy has grown in confidence over time and recognising how you’ve facilitated that growth. When they first arrived they are exhausted, terrified and overwhelmed physically and mentally. It has been amazing to see the change as they relax and become more at home and comfortable with us. It’s the little things which you celebrate and which you may not even notice at first.
Hannah – It has made me appreciate my mum and feel grateful for my family. It has made me far more understanding and I’m patient when the boys need my mum’s time. I realise they are deserving of her time and so I don’t mind sharing her!
What advice do you have for other families who are considering fostering?
Sarah – Have the confidence that you can do it!! Times will be tough sometimes so you need to be patient and be able to let things go and see the bigger picture. It’s important to have a good support network around you and be able to laugh and have a sense of humour. You need to make time for your own self care. I give myself an hour per day to read my book or have time for myself. You have to resourceful, use the support that’s available and accept that there are some things you might not be able to change. There is no magic spell to heal the separation, loss and suffering these young men feel. Accept that it will take time for the hurt to heal and just be available to listen. Keep having open and honest conversations and keep everyone informed about what’s happening at different times and why.
What advice would you have for children whose parents are considering fostering?
Hannah - Don’t be worried about it! If anything is worrying you then tell your parents and don’t keep things bottled up. Although your parents might be giving some of their time to someone else, they will always have time and love for you too. When I say that my mum fosters, I say it with pride.
To find out more about fostering we'd love you to come to one of our fostering information evenings or find out more by calling 01273 295444 or visiting www.brighton-hove.gov.uk/fostering