This month we spoke with one of our foster parents, Sarah, who lives in Norfolk with husband Dave and their children and here she shares with us how they came into fostering and what it has been like…
So, tell me how long you’ve been fostering for?
It’ll be six years in October I think, me and my husband Dave both fostering. We have four children but three have moved out and they’ve got families of their own and we’ve got a 13-year-old boy who is still at home.
Tell me a bit about what brought you both into fostering?
It was my friends Sam and Kev who inspired us. They’re with AFA as well and they started fostering about two or three years before us and I saw them doing an amazing job, and I thought “I want to do that!”
The first fostering agency we got in touch with came out to see us, but we didn’t click with their social worker because she made an unkind comment about our little boy who was only about six at the time.
She asked him what he would do to make a child feel welcome and at the time he had a little soft ball in his hand and he threw it into a wicker basket and said “I would ask them if they would like to play with this, if they would like to do this with me” and I thought that was quite good of him, but she turned around to me and under her breath she went, “Hmm, I don’t think they’d want to do that”, so that’s why we didn’t go with that fostering agency.
So, I asked Sam which agency she was fostering with and she put us in touch with AFA. I think it was Craig (Specialist Services Manager) who first came out to see us, and we liked him and knew then that we wanted to go with AFA, and that fostering was for us.
How many children have you looked after in the years you’ve been fostering?
We were approved in October 2016, and we got Jamie and Kirsty in the December, and they’re still here now. We have done some respite, and we’ve done three parent and child placements.
We’ve now got another two young lads that came to us last November, plus our own 13-year-old. It’s a houseful!
What would you say that you’ve learned about yourself in fostering?
Oh, that’s a tricky one, but I think the biggest thing that I’ve learned with children is pick your battles! My grown-up children come in and say, “Mum, you’d never have let us get away with that!” But in fostering you come to see that the little things don’t matter anymore.
Otherwise, I’d be in a non-stop battle with everything and it’s really not worth it. It’s just the little things that I turn a blind eye to now, the kids running in with muddy shoes… kids have got other things to worry about rather than what’s on their shoes!
Can you think of any challenges that you’ve overcome in fostering?
I think our biggest one was Kirsty. She was about three when she came to live with us and the original plan for her was adoption, but we all knew that was the wrong thing for Kirsty and it was a huge challenge to get people to listen to our views and concerns.
I think it was probably one of the worst times of our lives and my husband Dave would say the same, and so would Nikki, our fostering social worker.
I think Kirsty and Jamie had probably been here for about a year and then suddenly, the social workers at the local authority said “OK, now we need to find her a family” and she would sit on the end of the settee with tears rolling down her face and you’d say, “what’s the matter?” She said, “I don’t want a new mummy and daddy, I want to stay here”.
It was heart breaking and the social workers wouldn’t listen, they wouldn’t even listen to her brother who also said he didn’t want her to go. It was an awful time.
They found an adoptive mum for Kirsty and she came here to visit but at the twelfth hour we got a new IRO (independent reviewing officer) who spoke to Kirsty and looked through all the paperwork and said “no way can this happen” so it was down to her and Nikki that it got stopped.
You know, it wasn’t even a match, I mean Kirsty’s got a few other brothers and sisters, and we’ve got a large family as well, so she’s always been used to having lots of children around her. This lady had nobody.
Also, Kirsty is scared witless of cats, yet this lady had cats and loved them, and we asked if she would consider getting rid of the cats and she said no. It just wasn’t a good match at all. Thankfully it came good in the end though and now we can’t even remember a time without Kirsty and Jamie here!
When you have a new child come to stay with you, how do you help them to settle in?
I think it’s finding out as much information about the child as you possibly can. That’s a challenge because I don’t feel you’re told all of it by the local authority’s social worker.
We try to get the child some some familiar things, allowing them to bring things from home, finding out what they like, and with the two little boys that came in November we gave them a bedroom that was a blank canvas so they could help to decorate it and make it what they want it to look like. They loved that!
What sort of things do you do with the children that you foster?
Well, we always take them on holiday with us, always. We would never put a child into respite for the weekend or to go on holiday.
In the last six years me and Dave have had to go away once because his mum was poorly, but even then, my daughter came and stayed in the house and she looked after the children. Otherwise, they always come away with us.
It would be damaging for the kids especially if we took away our son Seth and left the others at home… you couldn’t do that could you? That’s another rejection surely.
What sort of support do you get from AFA when you’re fostering?
Loads! It’s mainly Nikki our fostering social worker, she is amazing! Even when she’s on leave, she still has her phone on! We’ve got a few problems going on at the minute, and she’s off today, but she’s got her phone on, and I’ve already spoken to her. The only thing Nicki won’t do is my ironing!
AFA are just amazing, all of them are like a small family, although obviously it’s been different over the past couple of years because of COVID, and we haven’t had our normal get togethers, and all the fun days.
Can you tell me about a special moment that really stands out for you in fostering?
Actually, there was one that happened only a couple of weeks ago, it’s to do with Jamie; he’s been here for six years, and he doesn’t show his emotions, he’s a lovely lad but we’ve never been able to give Jamie a cuddle because he doesn’t like that sort of contact.
But two weeks ago, I wasn’t very well and I came out of the bedroom and walked down the stairs and there was this big bunch of flowers just sat there in the sink! I thought that says it all… he said, “I didn’t think you were feeling too good so I went up the shop and got you these” and he’d got them out of his pocket money, it made me cry!
What do you think puts people off from fostering?
I think people think that all foster children are trouble. Dave says that on social media people tend to see foster parents as “chasing money”, and the social workers as “interfering” and often have the view that the children should be with their mum no matter what is going on.
But the longer the children are with you, the better their mental health gets. With Kirsty, she started sharing her things and she is so caring about other children. We can’t wait to see what sort of adult she grows up to be—although she’s already told us she’s never moving out!
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