This month we spoke with one of our foster parents, Tanya, 37, who lives in Norfolk. Tanya has been fostering for two years with AFA, and here she shares with us why she came into fostering and what it has been like…
Can you tell me a little bit about what brought you into fostering?
I went through a distressing childhood, maybe not to the extent of it being on the radar of social services but there was domestic violence and drug and alcohol misuse, so I had a lot of my own adverse childhood experiences. Later, as an adult I met somebody who I had a romance with, and this was with a chap who had been fostered and I thought, blimey if people can grow up like this, coming through the system and turning out to be as wonderful as him, then maybe fostering is something I can do?
The pieces all fell into place as I had a spare bedroom and it felt right for me. I was drawing on my life experiences to try and turn some negatives into positives, trying to not be a victim and letting it all be in vain, but to turn it on its head, have a bit of positivity and give back. None of us asked to be born, none of us could choose the parents we were born to, what life we are born into, what race we are… none of that is in our control, so in essence choosing to be positive was something I could control, and out of that I chose to go into fostering.
And you’ve been enjoying it so far?
It’s been a journey is what I would say! I was first approved as a foster parent with the local authority originally in May 2018 before I chose to move over to AFA, but where I am now, I’m more than happy. Honestly if it wasn’t for AFA we wouldn’t still be fostering. Before then, we had very complex children placed with us at a time when I was a brand-new foster carer and still had lots to learn.
I was very eager and very keen but was labelled as naïve, which felt a bit diminishing and derogatory. I remember thinking, I’ve probably been through more than you’ve been through, and here I am, stood here with a passion, having seen and experienced similar things to some of the children who need looking after. My daughter and I did struggle and suffer through our early experiences of fostering. We felt lost, abandoned, hopeless. I felt like I was constantly criticised and always doing something wrong.
The first time I met Toni and Craig from AFA they understood me and the situation I was in and it was such a relief to feel like I was where I belonged! Since then, my fostering social worker Nikki has done so much work for me, and not only is there such a high degree of thoroughness and professionalism, but everyone at AFA has so much warmth. You walk into the office and Toni gives you a hug, and they just really understand that at the heart of it all we’re all just people, we’re running high on so many emotions, and that’s all taken into consideration, whereas before I felt like I was just a cog in a big machine.
How do you know that you’re making a difference in children’s lives?
It’s not always shown so you don’t always know you’re making a difference! The children may not be reactive and responsive there and then in that moment, but little by little they are able to draw back on the stability, love, and warmth you’ve provided for them, giving them the therapeutic parenting that they need. It’s like planting the little seeds they need.
When you’ve got someone new coming to stay with you, how do you help them to settle in?
I prepare by getting as informed as I can. Depending on the child and their age, we will ask as many questions as we can. At AFA we don’t just take the paperwork at face value, we ask lots of questions to get more detail and more depth. We like to know the bigger picture because how it looks on paper can be a bit of a different story. We like to try make sure they have some familiar things and some things they like.
What special moments in fostering stand out for you?
AFA have worked hard to find us a good match. In October a lovely little boy came to live with us and now we can’t remember a time without him. He’s one of the family through and through and I feel like I’m a mum to two but I’ve only done half the work! He was five when he came and he had his sixth birthday with us. For me this is the dream story; I never thought I would be lucky enough to be blessed like this, especially because often the children’s experiences are traumatic and it impacts on them deeply and greatly, but things are going well, better than I could have hoped for.
What do you think puts people off from fostering?
Well, let me put it this way, I’ve seen adverts in local magazines where they say things like, “have all your children grown up and left the nest; have you got empty nest syndrome? Why don’t you open your arms and your heart and your home, come and take a child?”
It’s all very rose-tinted and not the reality. It’s almost like setting people up to fail, they’re selling you a dream, the possibility that you will “replace” a much-settled birth child with a child that needs care, which in fostering is a very rare circumstance. AFA are very realistic about it, and they will tell you about the difficulties and what potentially could happen. They train you in a therapeutic way and they are there for you every step of the way, available 24/7.
Lastly, what would you say to someone who’s thinking about fostering?
Well from my experience, I can’t recommend AFA enough! Fostering can be a very challenging journey. Remember, you’re carrying someone else’s precious little broken heart, and like I said, they didn’t ask to be born; they’re innocent in all this. You’ll need to understand that their behaviour is their language, so if you’re wanting to foster you’ve got to be prepared for anything! But with AFA you will be supported and you’re a strong and decent person just for coming forward to do fostering.
Have you enjoyed reading this story? If you could help a child or young person to heal by offering a spare bedroom in a secure and loving home, we provide our foster parents with full training and support and a competitive allowance to care for a child. To find out more and start the assessment process, please call our friendly team on 0333 358 3217 or complete our online form