Fostering case studies

During Foster Care Fortnight our short term foster carer Georgina from South Cumbria shares some insights into the importance of 'resilience' in fostering; in having it as a carer  and how you can help to instill it in the vulnerable children you care for

Over the last couple of days I have been thinking about resilience. It's been an important fact in our current placement more from the children's view point; specifically how little they have had. How we take for granted or assume and don't recognise how much it is key.

If someone asked you what resilience meant what would you say? As a definition resilience is about the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties, a toughness. Resilience is perhaps one of the key things missing in a foster child's ability to cope with the changes they experience.

Over the bank holiday weekend we had a burst water pipe in the bathroom. Resulting in a small waterfall down the staircase and to two of our foster children 'it was chucking it down' in their bedroom!  

For the youngest child it has become the conversation most foremost in her mind. However, despite this we have managed to calm her panic about re-entering the room and her anxiety, that the bedroom she has moved into does not do the same thing through the ceiling! 

Martin and I and our eldest daughter spent a whole day taking the plasterboard off the walls and the ceiling down and the flooring up! During lockdown, it's not been the best time for this to happen, but despite this we had to crack on and dust ourselves down. It's not been the end of the world. It shows our resilience; our ability as individuals, as a couple, as a family to adapt - our resourcefulness.

What's in your toolbox? For the children we foster we can be game changers in their lives.

We currently have a sibling group. The dynamics of their individual needs can be hard and extremely challenging and it is only with reflection that we can see progress.

Do you have a spare room in your house - in your life - in your heart to show love and care and share a hug? Then they're all reasons why you too could foster. 

Remember we are here for the short term in a child's life and in the longer term supporting them to independence; through loss, grief and laughter. If you're able to recognise every child has potential and everyone needs help to rebuild themselves and build that resilience to help with their lives in the future; then you'll be showing them real lives from another perspective. If this sounds like you, fostering could be for you.

Our Foster Carers of the Year in 2018, Rob and Christine, from Penrith, foster four children long term. 

Christine said: "We are into week six of this strange lockdown. Our four children finished school as they knew it, on 20 March.  And so it began, this new life.

"Husband working from home, three different primary and secondary schools sending through daily, exhausting work tasks for me to grasp and for us to trudge through. 

"Technology; what a nightmare, all different websites and so many things to print upload and send back.  

"Our kitchen has been transformed from an eatery to some kind of exploded classroom/technology department and art class with wires, phones, iPads, laptops, pens and more pens! Cats on the table walking over the work; falling over the dogs who think this is just one big snack area!

"I walk round and round listening to cries "I can't do this" or "I don't get it"  or "I'm finished" (at 9.10am)! I scream inside my head.

"I'm trapped in this all-inclusive hotel where breakfast runs into lunch, which runs into tea and then supper (apparently a fourth meal which has been introduced during Coronavirus) in between snacks….

"It's hard on all of us, but I think we are the lucky ones; we're safe here at home, we have a garden and fields around us for walks, the internet to keep everyone entertained, food on our table and most of all love in our house.

"Every day brings us challenges; whether it's dealing with tantrums, tiredness, boredom and lack of routine or missing friends and family. But we have become closer and we are a happy bunch together and I will miss all my guys when they go off back to school and work and leave me with an empty quiet house all day! Well maybe not…"

Rob and Christine

Marie and Robert from Workington have been fostering two siblings for two years.

Marie said: "We were approved in February 2018 and our first placement was very short term, just four weeks.

"The following week our two foster children moved in with us and have been with us ever since! 

"The children have been brilliant during lockdown. They took to the new routines straight away and have had no real problems whatsoever. The eldest does her home schooling each day online and her younger brother gets sent work for the week every Monday. 

"We are also doing a lot of home baking and getting the children involved making simple lunches and puddings. It's also been such nice weather, which helps, and we have quite a big garden so they can play on the trampoline and are also learning to ride their bikes. They got new bikes for Christmas and now we have the time to help them learn. The eldest is growing so quickly that she is growing out of all her clothes now, so I have been busy in my sewing workshop making her skirts and shorts - she loves it.

"They still have contact with family members but these days it is via facetime or a mobile phone and it has gone really well. 

"My husband has been home on furlough during lockdown and has loved spending time with the children. I just wish we had started to foster sooner. I thought about it for ages and in the end we got a leaflet through the door and Rob said 'let's go for it'. I work in a private nursery, where the children have parents who can give them everything. I knew there were some kids out there who had nothing and I just thought I would really love to help them and to make a difference."

Marie and Robert

Mel and Tim from Aspatria have fostered for nearly 10 years and foster three siblings long term.

Mel said: "We never planned to foster siblings and started off fostering the eldest of the siblings by himself at first and we thought 'this is just amazing'. So when the opportunity arose to foster his young brother and sister we just knew it was the right thing for us all. 

"I think we are all coping really well with lockdown. I have seen lots of other parents saying on Facebook that they are at the end of their tethers but we must be doing something right because I am actually enjoying it!

"We've had a few bad days when the children were bored and tired and wanted to be outside playing, not working. But we've had to be firm but kind and remind them that they shouldn't fall behind with school work or they will struggle when life returns to normal. 

"We have all got used to the new routine as the weeks have gone on and I have a big board now in the kitchen with the daily 'work' timetable. It starts with Joe Wicks in the morning and then at 11am there's science and other things in between. We all need a routine or you end up losing the plot. 

"They have the afternoons off and go for a walk with Tim and also enjoy baking and cooking. Each of them cooks tea once a week and they really enjoy doing it. 

"My husband works full time and normally leaves the house at 7.30am and returns at 5.30pm but he is on furlough now and is really enjoying spending more time with the kids. We are also enjoying playing the old fashioned board games and spending more time as a family. I can honestly say our lockdown environment is very calm, chilled and relaxed."

Mel and TIm

Dawn Limitsios, from Barrow, has been a foster carer for 10 years. She has been caring for three siblings under the age of four during lockdown.

She said: "Lockdown with three fostered little ones under the age of four is hectic! It was before lockdown, but staying home 24/7 adds another dimension to it.

"As the main carer, I have a health condition that puts me in the high risk category and I'm shielding so we don't leave home at all. Thank goodness for our garden and the good weather!

"We've had highs and lows over the last six weeks. From chicken pox and ear infections to multiple birthdays and baking galore - it's been fun!

"I'm normally clock watching all day, rushing from school to contact with birth family to multiple appointments. The slower pace of life in lockdown has been great for all of us. The children are so settled and happy. The eldest has started sleeping through the night for the first time; the youngest has gone from starting to crawl at the beginning of lockdown to virtually walking now and the middle one's speech has improved so much. 

"It's not all fun and games as I don't get a break at all now but there's always bedtime! I wouldn't change a thing though, no matter how hard it is. I'm proud of what I do and the difference I make in their little lives. They're safe with me, I'm safe with them, we will get through this together!"

Dawn Limitsios

Pauline and Andrew live 10 miles outside of Carlisle and have been long term foster carers for Ellie*, 12, for 2 years.

Pauline said: "We have a grown up son and we originally thought about fostering when he was a young teenager 16 years ago, as at the time he had a best friend who was fostered. But it never quite seemed the right time and then about three years ago, Andrew asked me if there was anything I regretted not doing and I said 'yes, fostering' and so we decided to look into it.

We started the process and decided that long-term fostering would work best for us as we didn't think we could cope with short-term; building an attachment then saying goodbye. 

Ellie had just turned 10 when she was placed with us and I remember feeling quite worried the day she moved in with us. Then I put myself in her position; coming into a stranger's home with the hope you are going to be cared for after a bad start in life and I thought 'if I have a knot in my tummy, then how must she be feeling'?

But we clicked straight away, I gave her a big smile and some homemade cookies and I spent a lot of time with her talking and getting to know her. About five months after she moved in with us we were going for a day out in the car and she was sitting in the back and she said 'I have something to ask you, can I call you mum and dad?' It was an amazing feeling, I thought I was going to burst!

These days she is definitely part of the family and we treat Ellie just like we would one of our own, and for me, only ever having a son and grandsons, having a little girl to look after is like a breath of fresh air. Ellie is so chatty and so caring and we get to do all the girly things together.

Team work is so important in fostering and we have a really good team around us - including not just social workers but GPs, the school, the Children in Care Council and more. We feel really supported and so does Ellie.

We started fostering because we wanted to feel like we'd done something good for a child. We thought we'd be giving a child a new life, but in fact she's given us a whole new life - something we never expected! She's changed our lives and she has blossomed in the time she has been with us, from a quiet little girl to a sassy, confident young lady who is excelling at school. We are incredibly proud of the progress she's made." 

*Name has been changed to protect the identity of a child.

Pauline and Andrew McGregor

Our carers talk about how they hope to create happy memories for their children, this year and every year.

This year as we sit down together as a family of four at the Christmas table it will be a time of reflection. This will be our third Christmas with our two looked after children now 10 and 14.

The first two Christmases together we have spent with them on holiday in Spain but they wanted to be at home this time. Definitely their choice to swap from heat to cold!

We've talked about the routine for the day and they are so excited. From discussing what time to get up to what vegetables they don't want with lunch!

They really want to play some games so maybe Santa will bring something special we can all join in together…

Looked after children have all kinds of past experiences at Christmas some sad some happy but it's our responsibility to make sure they enjoy all of their years now growing up with happy memories.

Some may not be lucky enough to see their birth family at all and we have to make this time of year extra special with lots of fun and play.

Fostering is sometimes challenging but all the children deserve a better brighter future and it's up to us to achieve that with them.

Fostering changes lives not just for our children but it enriches all our lives.

May everyone have a happy Christmas and may all our children achieve their dreams.

Christine and Rob

Rob and Chris with flowers

What is Christmas? Christmas is a time for rejoicing and being with loved ones, but it is also a time of reflection at the past year and changing the new.

Being in care at Christmas is no different from not being in care.You still have people who care about you and love you. It is still a time of celebrations and love. It is still a time of looking back into the past year and using the new lessons learnt to improve the New Year.

But Christmas is a lot more than individual love and self-reflection. It is a communal festival of friendship, love and reflection. Being in care is like being in a large family of other children in care. You may argue. You may agree. You may love each other.  You may hate each other. But what is important is the fact that you care about each other and use what has passed to apply to the future and create a better world, not only for yourself but others too - carers, Independent Review Officers, Social Workers and kids in care.

Like I said, being in care at Christmas is no different to not being in care at Christmas. All that is different are the lessons we learn and how to apply them to our own future and to everyone else's.

Rhys, aged 14

In her moving letter Dawn writes "As you grow you won't remember your first Christmas and, in time, even any of us. So we will keep all your precious memories safe for you."

Dear little one at Christmas,

The excitement is starting to build for Christmas. As yet you are totally unaware. This will be your first Christmas in this world. A very special time. You have lived with us your whole life which has been a happy joyous time for all within our family. 

As you grow you won't remember your first Christmas and, in time, even any of us. So we will keep all your precious memories safe for you.

We will put your personalised Christmas tree decoration in pride of place at the front of the tree along with all the others on our tree. All our babies past and present have a named Christmas decoration; one for them to keep and one for us to treasure as the years go by. 

We're putting up our tree this weekend. I'm sure you're going to love all the lights, rolling around under the tree and trying to grab the ones you can! This has been a year of first experiences for you and we have loved sharing them with you. Your first smile and those teeth within, the first time you learnt to roll over, cuddles and snuggles and the first time you opened your arms for us to receive those cuddles. 

We have yet to experience your first night to sleep right through but that's something to look forward to in the new year!

Your Christmas outfit and 1st Christmas bib will join your Halloween costume in your memory box to take with you. 

This is where my hopes and dreams for the future my darling little one lies - that you find a lovely family next year. A family that will love and cherish you, protect you and have fun with you as you grow. A family who will always be there for you. A family that understand that the last year with us has also been an important part of your life and will stay in touch with us your foster family who love you with all our hearts.

Happy Christmas little one.
Love Dawn

Dawn

Dear Corey,

It's been nearly eight years since you joined our family. I know it was a bit strange at first being somewhere different, but you fit in really well straight away. 

You have changed so much, you arrived unsettled, angry, sad, shy and always with your head down and apologising. You didn't say very much, but you liked to join in with things we did and bit by bit you got used to us. 

Now you are always loud, bubbly, laughing, joking, smiling and being cheeky (in a fun way!) and love being the centre of attention telling us stories of your day.

It's a real joy to see how you have grown up, I know somethings have been hard but we have got through it together and you have done amazing. School wasn't easy, college a struggle but we are so proud to see you thriving now at your youth work, a job you love. 

It's a privilege to see you relate, and get alongside children and young people at church and in schools and youth clubs and share your story and help them. You have been a great role model and mentor to other young people and we are so proud of what you do and you should be too. 

I'm so glad our family have had a part to play on your journey…You also make a brilliant cuppa and give great hugs! 

Happy Christmas Corey.
We love you lots!
Ros and Jonny

Ros and Jonny

`We are all look forward to spending time together as a family at Christmas`

Whatever religious significance Christmas may have to people, there is surely no doubt that it is a hugely important occasion for families to spend valuable time together in a way that seems more and more under threat. In these days of increasing fragmentation, isolation and demand on the family, such opportunities are precious, and it is important to grasp them.

This is as true for foster families as it is for any other, more traditional, family group. And so it is that this Christmas we'll be getting together with our foster children, both past and present. James is now 23 and lives independently, and Simon is 21 and at university. Both will join us, along with our other three boys who live at home with us.

As permanency foster carers, we are perhaps lucky to have the chance to involve the young people who live with us in this extended way. When they come to us, it is with the intention that it will be a permanent relationship that will see them through to adulthood. And, as with any other family, we hope that, once they spread their wings and move away, they will remain in touch and supported by us.

So, the tree is up and decorated, the turkey ordered, cards (almost) sent and presents sorted. The house has the appearance of mainly-controlled chaos, and excitement is mounting. Indeed, if Father Christmas fails to turn up at the appointed time, there will be a major diplomatic incident between Carlisle and the North Pole.

It's a very busy time, but we wouldn't have it any other way. For the last 15 years, we've offered a permanent home to children who, for whatever reason, have not been able to remain with their birth parents. Sometimes it has been hard but, despite the odd panic, we've never had cause to seriously doubt the decision we made all those years ago. It has been an absolute privilege to welcome these children into our home, to live with them, and to watch them grow. Sometimes the steps taken are small, sometimes they're large, but always they're important and often humbling.

And for us, this is reward enough. Merry Christmas!

Dave

Dave Kerry

Sophie and Rob cannot wait to spend their first Christmas with their foster child

Dear Foster Child,

As Christmas approaches we have been thinking about the time you have spent with us so far.

It seems so much longer than eight months. The main highlight of course was definitely when you arrived! You must have been very nervous but guess what? So were we! You have changed so much since then, achieved so much and grown in every way. We have had many ups and downs but you have become so much part of us, we cannot remember what life was like without you. We look forward to seeing you every day.

We are immensely proud of the way you have adapted to your new home and family and how you have settled at your new school. You are doing so well, with work and behaviour. So many Star of the Day awards adorn our kitchen walls. You have also made friends which is something that has always been so hard for you to do.

We loved our first family holiday, in Harbottle Lodge, Northumberland. Remember the boat trip, collecting shells on the beaches and visiting Cragside and Wallington. You looked so snug and comfy in your secret camp bed each night. What great memories we have.

The 'boys', our dogs Claude, Hamilton, and your puppy Wilf, have supported you in expressing your feelings and helping you to talk about difficult subjects. Walking them with you is always an adventure. At school you talk about them more than anyone else!

We haven't been so excited about Christmas for many years. It is very special having a child to share this time of year with. We are confident that you will be on Santa's good list and cannot wait to see your face on Christmas morning and help you enjoy playing with all your new toys.  Before the big day we still have the decorating and ice skating in Newcastle on Christmas Eve to do, will this become a family tradition for us?

We hope that in 2019 you will continue your journey of trust and growth and become even happier. After Christmas we have your 10th birthday and our holiday to the Isle of Lewis to look forward to.

Much Love

Rob & Sophie (Mummy & Daddy)

Sophie and Rob

Barrow based foster carer Alex shares an emotional letter to her foster child with us as Christmas approaches.

Dear foster child,

You celebrated your 18th birthday this year and I couldn't help but think back to the little boy you were when you first walked into my home 8 years ago. 

You had been in care since birth and when you were 4yrs old you were diagnosed with autism and would tell people you were 'disabled'. There were few expectations for you academically and as you approached 10 and you were due to leave primary school the plan was to send you to a special school for children with disabilities.

Then 'Fate' stepped in and you got moved into my home when you were 10 years old. Very quickly it became apparent that although you had autism, it was in fact Aspergers and you were blessed with a special talent for music.

I enrolled you into main stream school and with a lot of hard work and dedication from you, you excelled and thrived at school and in life. 

You played your trumpet every year for the school productions, and you also play for our local brass band at events all year around and you have even busked with a Ceilidh band!

Now you attend college studying music, and play regularly with different bands you are in at a local nightclub, playing everything from rock to Jazz (your favourite).

I remember when you first came to me you could not hold eye contact and would have meltdowns if asked to mix with other people. Now you are in college full time and also volunteer for a local cancer charity four hours each week! 

You also completed your National Citizen Service qualifications last summer, which was a massive achievement and you go to a youth club every Monday where you mix with other young people with autism.

You are such a talented, lovely-natured young man, who has overcome many, many obstacles, but never complains. You just keep giving life your very best.  

As this year ends and Christmas approaches the one thing I would like to say to you is how very, very proud you make me every single day. I could probably write a book, never mind a letter, on all your achievements and I know you will continue to shine in 2019!

Love Alex, your foster carer xxx

Alex

Our foster carer from the West of the county, Hank de Groot, shares his memories of fostering at Christmas.

For me, fostering and Christmas have a lot in common, being together as a family, bringing out the best in people and happy memories.

First of all I am relatively new to an English Christmas as I grew up in Holland.  In Holland the 'present' part of Christmas is on 5 December when Sinter Klaas (Santa Claus) comes over from Spain with black Peter to give everybody their presents. So, one of my happy memories is sharing this Dutch custom with our foster children.  They all enjoyed it because it meant they got presents twice, at Sinter Klaas and at Christmas.  Once I had a foster child whose birthday was on 5 December, triple presents, what joy!!

Another key memory of a fostering Christmas is the contact with birth families.  This contact is not always easy, but around Christmas the contact would be in the Christmas spirit with presents and treats.  It never failed to bring a smile to the children's faces.  Finding some 'happy time' in what is otherwise an emotional situation, helps to bring Christmas alive.

Obviously the Christmas experience changes with the age of the children, your own as well as the foster children.  For many young adults in fostering it is a new idea that Christmas is not just about receiving but also about giving.  Experiencing that giving something of yourself, a card, a present, a visit, can be the start of something positive often meant that Christmas lingered far beyond Christmas day.

However, Christmas is not complete without the Fostering Christmas party.  What an opportunity to meet up with other foster children, foster carers and social workers and, of course, father Christmas.  The happy chatter, the running around, the food, the presents and knowing that we are in it together, supporting one another as one big family.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, 

Hank

Hank

Care leaver Simon from Carlisle talks about the support he's had in foster care to achieve his dream of becoming a vet.

Care leaver Simon shares his story during National Care Leavers` Week 2018

I'm Simon, I'm 21 years old and am currently in my fourth year of studying veterinary medicine at the University of Nottingham. I first entered foster care when I was 12 after my grandmother could no longer care for my brother and I after our parents had sadly died. I moved into care with my brother and we started living with Kevin and David who we both knew already from previous respite care. Not only did Kevin and David welcome us into their home but also into their families and we have both continued to be a part of their families all the way through our time in care and we continue to be a part of the family now. 

I have always had an interest in animals and their care as well as doing well in school. When I moved into foster care I used to help Kevin with many animals that he looks after as part of his job working for an animal charity. This made me more interested in at least working with animals and it was during an employability session in school where a teacher had suggested that I could become a vet that I really started to take this more seriously. 

Part of applying to study veterinary medicine involves having to have done several weeks of work experience working with animals. Both Kevin and David were very supportive in helping me find placements as well as taking me to and from them. I also received support through a scheme at the time to help people in care find work placements which was how I ended up getting a weekend job in a vet practice which really helped my application for university.

I'm currently in my fourth (out of five) year of studying to become a vet. We have moved on from learning general anatomy of animals to learning about illnesses and conditions that they can get. Our final year which begins next Easter is a full year of rotations where I will be able to hone my practical skills and put what I have been taught into practice. I'm really enjoying how practical my course is and how you can see how much of a difference you make to both people's pets or livestock but also the difference you can make to the people themselves.

I've received lots of support over the course both from the university and my local council with both having lots of options for both financial and emotional support. I have also had loads of support from Kevin and David and continue to live with them during my holidays and they still support me to complete all my placements. I'm so glad that I decided to go to university and pursue such an exciting career; being a care leaver has never seemed to impact my experience thanks to all the support that is there for me. 

Graduation

Simon (left), with his brother James, at his graduation ceremony, after completing three years of his veterinary degree.

Foster carer Jeff from Barrow talks about his fostering journey.

The question I am asked more than any other is why? Why do my wife and I choose to look after children that are problem children from within the care system?

Truth is this is a question I used to ask myself even when my wife suggested fostering while our own children were growing up. Between 2009 and 2016, as part of my job, I spent a lot of time in the car travelling with the radio on and I regularly heard the call for help on the Bay and CFM radio stations from Cumbria County Council. 

Some of the stories touched me so much so that I agreed to go with my wife and investigate what fostering was all about. We attended a drop-in roadshow at the Forum in Barrow which was a very informal affair meeting a couple of existing carers and a local social worker. All provided a positive view of fostering so my wife and I began our journey.

There have been some ups and downs while going through the recruitment process but it has also been a very informative and rewarding process; actually learning some skills and information that would have come in very handy while bringing up our own children.

There are many types of fostering, something that you learn while attending the fostering skills for life training programme and my wife and I decided to start with respite fostering otherwise known as assisted support care (ASC). This is where you provide cover for other foster carers so that they can take a break if needed for example there may have been a death in the family or a carer may need to undergo a medical operation where they can't look after the fostered child for a period of time.

My wife and I have been fostering now for 4.5 years and have enjoyed every minute. All the children we have looked after have been lovely well behaved children. I agree that in our case many of the children have spent time with other foster carers and had boundaries and family life brought back into their lives in many cases. This is not to say we have not had some minor issues but they have only been minor and there has always been support from the social worker network available to us.

We have plenty of room available in our house now that our own family is grown up and we started fostering by agreeing to look after 4 - 11 year olds and by using a bunk bed we agreed that we could also take siblings. This age group aligned with my wife's and my own working patterns, (my wife works in a school). It wasn't long before my wife identified that during school holidays we could take children with an age from birth to 4 and not long after this we were also asked if we could take an older child so now we are cleared from birth to 18 years. But in agreeing to these ages we have made it very clear that we review the children coming into our lives before they arrive. This is part of the safeguarding plan for our household. We have a grandson who also stays with us and we need to make sure things are right at home while we have the foster children to stay. Social services are very supportive of this and will spend as much time as you require so that you can get a full understanding of the child and their needs when they come to you based on their previous knowledge of the child since they entered care.

We have undertaken many activities with the children we have looked after including visiting the lakes, various attractions and Blackpool Circus which my wife and I have enjoyed as much as the children. Not all activities have been away from the home and my wife likes to show the children how to bake when they stay with us and many like to return back to their main foster carers with a small present for example a gingerbread man or fairy cake.

So far all the children that have visited us have asked to pop and see us again which make us both feel that we have given something to these children and at the same time this supports the fostering family as other carers can take much needed breaks.

I think anyone who has room to take a child and enjoys what children can bring to a family should consider fostering. In many cases just like many things in life the challenge starts at the beginning but becomes more rewarding as it begins to develop and flourish. If anyone could do that for a child then it has to be worth it doesn't it?

Jeff and Christine

Chelsea who has lived with her foster parents for five years shares her story.

Chelsea*, 15, who along with her sister, aged 13, has lived with her foster parents for five years, shares her story

Being in care is an amazing experience for both the child and the foster carer.  But what is it like to start with?

Imagine your car breaking down and you have now here to go, but a stranger invites you into their home, you try to avoid it by calling the care emergency number but you're told they can't help you until the morning.  You have no other option but to accept the stranger's request, you're so far from home and you're loved ones, you're scared.

This is similar to being in care, you're welcomed into a strangers home, you're frightened and your family is miles away.  But eventually it starts to feel safe, it starts to feel like home, but 10 times better.

Being in foster care is no different than not being in care, it's also not as bad as people make it sound.  Being in foster care is so special as you choose to be together, you choose to be a family.  For the foster carer its life changing, as you are giving a child a fresh start at life.

When people hear the word foster care they assume it means 'kids who have no family' but this is wrong, it means so much more.  The word care its self means:

CHERISHED

ACCEPTED

RESPECTED

ENCOURAGED

We are foster kids and this is our story:

In the beginning, life was like one big scary roller coaster.  The transfer of going into care was like being torn away from family.  We didn't know what was happening or why it was happening.

We were at school rehearsing for a Christmas school play when we were told we wouldn't be going home tonight, instead we were going to stay with a woman called Jane who would look after us.

Jane told us she was a foster carer and that she'd be taking care of us for the time being as out birth parents were unfit to have children.  Life changed drastically, we moved schools twice and began to have regular meetings with Kate, who was our social worker at the time.  Kate told us we would soon be having new guardians and the placement with Jenny was only temporary but we would still be allowed contact with our birth parents and two brothers.  Having contact was one of the hardest things about being in care because at the end you always had to say goodbye.

Sometimes care can make you feel a bit resentful, it suddenly becomes full of people telling you what to do and it can sometimes make you feel as though they are taking over your life.  The first thought you get when being moved into care is 'what did I do wrong' or 'this is all my fault' but let me tell you something, thousands of children get moved into care each year and it's never their fault.  Sometimes parents become unstable to look after their children.  A child can also be taken into care if they are suffering or at serious risk of significant harm.  Children who get sent into care don't always understand that it is to keep them safe.

A lovely couple had been approved to the foster care system, they were delighted to start a family of their own.  Kate told us we would have new parents for a permanent placing, they were called Alan and Liz, they were so excited to have us join their family.  Our short term carer Jane helped us get ready to start a new adventure, this time she explained that there was no need to be frightened and everything was going to be just fine.

Leaving Jane was emotional, there were tears, runny noses and a whole load of sappy goodbyes, but you don't want to hear about that, it was a messy situation.

Most of the time as well as the child being frightened a new foster carer can also be frightened.  But remember you have the power to change a child's life, by sticking with them along the way even when you have your doubts.

That's our adventure, now its time to begin yours.

*All names have been changed

Looked after child image

Blog from a carer

The silence is deafening!

The child has gone; the small mite who shared a part of our lives for more than five months.  All vestiges of her presence are neatly packed away.  Like memories of her, hidden in our minds.  The odd sign is still apparent though.  The garden swing, silently redundant now, moves imperceptibly in the breeze.  Echoes of her silver, bubbling laughter surround it - the image of her imploring blue eyes as she shouted "More! More"!

The tadpoles live in peace once again, delving into the murky depths of the pond.  No longer in fear of being caught by eager little fingers, before being thrown back with disdain, if they refused to wiggle!  How she'd love to see the baby toads as they develop!  I feed the goldfish in solitude.  

I collect the eggs alone today.  No shining little face by my side, peering expectantly into the nesting boxes to shout "Yes!" and clap her hands excitedly if the hens have obliged, or a sorrowful shake of the head, a mournful "No!" if the nests were empty.  Oh! Her joy the day we found the two chicks newly hatched one black the other bright yellow, protected by a fussy, clucking Mother!

A discarded bunch of flowers lies forlornly on the path, picked by little hands.  (Weeds, actually, but to a child, all is beautiful, even the humble dandelion!)  The Guinea pig squeaks hopefully for his daily carrots, but none appear at the cage door. (Later, I'll do it later.)

Time hangs heavy on my hands, but I can't face our usual walk alone.  The baby goats will remain unvisited today; the passing tractors will miss her cheery wave and shout of "Bye bye!"

Practicalities next, (we're out of loo rolls, and cheese. I must go to the supermarket!) When I get into my car, a pile of sandy little shells greet me.  That day we went to the beach, and she got frightened by the patch of sticky mud on her shoes, holding up her arms to be carried!  I won't throw the shells away just yet.

I wander round the house, idly tidying here and there.  A yellowing apple core under a chair; still bearing tiny teeth marks. A couple of Smarties under a rug, a favourite hiding place!  A poignant, tiny white sock under the stairs - whatever happened to the other one?  The bathroom neat and tidy now, no disarray of plastic ducks adorning the shelves, just a brightly coloured toy that I missed - still full of water.  I shut her bedroom door from habit; I sing a lullaby in silence.

You brought so much joy and merriment into our lives; we are so much richer for the experience.  It gives us the strength and hope to carry on our work.  Thank you, my little one: you left with a piece of all our hearts.

God bless you, and keep you safe

From a Carer

Borrowed child image

Rob and Christine of Penrith have been fostering a brother and sister (aged 9 and 13) since they were approved to foster 18 months ago.

They said: "We work in Penrith and every day we saw the fostering advert on our parking disc and eventually decided to give the number on the advert a ring. From then on it all moved quite quickly.

"They got us straight onto a training course, then our application went in and we were well supported by the assessment worker, who's a good friend now!

"We decided early on we'd like siblings and that we could manage at least two. We were shown a profile of the kids and at that point we started to get very excited; they did a great job matching us.

"Eighteen months on and this is their home now and it's like they've always been here. If you are thinking about fostering, make a call today - it's been a life changing experience for us."

Sandra, along with her husband Rob, has been a foster carer in Carlisle for 35 years.

She said: "I started fostering because I really, really wanted to make a difference; if only to one person. In fact we've now looked after 196 children, from new born babies to teenagers and sibling groups. There are so many children who just need love, understanding and security.

"As a carer you need to have what we call 'stickability' - to see past the problems and stick with it. One boy who came to us had never been shown how to use a knife and fork. He was 13. We expect these children to play the game but they've never been given the full deck, so how can they play the game? It is down to us to show them.

"When it is time for the children to leave, I struggle with it every time. Every child that leaves takes a part of you with them. But if they remember just one little thing we've taught them, then we've made a difference and it's a very special feeling."

"Fostering was always something I wanted to do, after our own children left home we decided to go for it."

I'm Rosemary and I live in Penrith, I've been fostering with Cumbria County Council for 15 years. I also work part-time in a local supermarket.

Fostering was always something I wanted to do, after my own children left home me and my husband decided to go for it. For most of my life I've worked with children or had children in the house, I've raised my own children and looked after children as a child minder and nanny so I felt I had something to offer.

I first began fostering as a short term carer, looking after primary school age children who'd come from neglected backgrounds. It quickly became evident that the children we were caring for would not be returning to their birth families in the short term and myself and my husband began to care for children longer term.

In our 15 years fostering we've fostered children from babies up to teenagers, to see the difference fostering makes even in just a short while is truly rewarding.

With the council you receive good, informative and useful training to help meet the needs of the children you are caring for. We're also lucky to have access to a vast support network; from members of my own family, friends, neighbours and other local foster carers, and of course there's always support from social workers.

Fostering is a fantastic job, it's something you must be committed to and do it from the heart, take opportunities to speak with the council and other carers like me who can tell you about our experiences.

RG_Carer

I became a foster carer over 10 years ago now, and haven't looked back since. I was originally a baker at Morrisons and thought, hang on, I can't be getting up at 4am for the rest of my life, what else do I want to do? So I trained as a nursery nurse and worked in a few primary schools helping individual children with special needs in the classroom. I also worked in Nursery and Reception classes as a nursery nurse for a long spell and absolutely loved it.

Working with children in these many different environments opened my eyes to the children out there who need a helping hand. A loving and stable home, that's such a basic requirement for children to flourish. Then it was foster care fortnight and there was loads of media coverage about all the children out there needing homes - so we took the first step and made the call. It took quite a while for us to get registered, but it was well worth it.

The council offer a great level of support, and are always at the other end of the phone whether it be a crisis or an everyday question. But to be honest, we picked the council because we pay our taxes into the council and want to make sure that they're well spent. Going through a private agency would only mean paying a middle man, and we'd rather every penny got spent on the children.

We were originally cleared for permanent fostering but to ease ourselves in we started off with respite care. This means looking after children over the weekend to give other people a break. It also meant we could both continue working full time.

Then we got a call one day and some other kids needed somewhere to stay urgently. Who were we to say no? From there, we're pretty much had a full house and we love it. My partner still works full time and I've given up the nursery work as our youngest has special needs so it works out better for the whole family with me at home. Plus, I'm effectively a taxi driver for the other two kids - just because I'm a foster carer doesn't mean I don't get the joys of waiting in the car for the kids when they're too busy having fun to come home!

James our eldest, is now 18 and has officially left the care system but still very much part of our family. He's welcome to stay for as long as he likes, which given he's off to University in the autumn will probably only be in the holidays with a car load of washing.

It can be a bit of a mad house, what with all the animals and the kids coming and going but I wouldn't have it any other way.

This is our family and I love it.

My husband and I have been fostering for about five years now. We're registered to foster children of all ages but we usually take children under two and only one child at a time. My husband works full time at our family business and I now work part time from home doing the books. It's good to keep the grey cells going, there are only so many times you can watch Mr Tumble! I fit my work in when the children sleep or are on contact visits.

One of the reasons we wanted to get into fostering was that my sister was adopted. She was in a children's home and then moved twice when she was little. She didn't have a settled time or continuity of care. She has very few pictures, keepsakes or memories of her early childhood. We wanted to make that difference for the children we welcome into our home, giving them a stable place where they can feel secure. We also keep photographs, keepsakes and record their firsts so they can take those with them to their permanent homes; we know how important they will be to them in the future. The application process wasn't that intrusive. Yes, there are lots of questions but they're all necessary, you're going to be looking after the most precious little people in the world. They talked to our family and friends, did lots of paperwork and then it was all over. In fact it was a lot faster than we thought it would be.

It's been a few years since we had a baby in our home, and to start with it was a bit of a shock to the system with night feeds etc, but fostering fits in so well with our lives. We're home bodies really so it's not like we're missing out on going out all the time - although, there is the odd time when we desperately long for a good nights sleep. We are part of a local church with lots of children so we tend to get together with other families for outings and holidays. One added bonus is we get to play with all the latest toys again (we're just big kids really).

We take a break between each placement to recharge our batteries and sort the house out and then we accept another little person. We always consider carefully before we say yes to another child, we want to make sure that once we accept them into our home, that's it until they either go back home or are adopted, we don't want them to have to be moved or go through any more disruption in their lives than is necessary.

Our family are very supportive, but it goes beyond that. We have our network of friends, the church, our social worker and the child's social worker to support us. Everyone comes together to give this child the best start in life. It's an awesome thing to be part of.

It is hard when it's time for the children to move on, you become very attached to them. But it's so rewarding to have the honour of seeing them recover, grow and progress in a loving and secure place. We still see some of the children we have fostered and it is such a blessing to see them happy and doing well.

Our only regret is that we didn't do this years ago.

Graham and I are new to the world of fostering - well actually that's not strictly true. We've only been registered foster carers for the last year or so but I work for Barnardo's and Graham's family used to foster children. So while we know how things work, it's very different being on this side of the fence.

We always said when we got married that we'd become foster carers at some stage, it was never a question of "if", more of "when." So once our children were old enough to understand what was going on and also old enough to help out, we got our ducks in a row. We looked into fostering with an Independent Fostering Agency, but we found that to foster with them we would have been required to give up work and become a foster carer full time. This works for some people but I didn't want to do that- I love my job! Also, as Graham works shifts and I'm part time there is always someone at home so it wasn't necessary.

Our application with the council was processed relatively quickly, about nine months, and we've had children here pretty much from day one. At the moment we have two brothers under six who are waiting to be adopted. It's crackers really that they haven't been adopted already, but these things take time. They're such loving and clever little boys who would want nothing more than to have a Mum and Dad, and whoever gets to call them their sons will be very lucky people. Our friends ask whether we're tempted to adopt them ourselves, but we didn't start fostering to extend our family we're here to help the children on their way and give them a positive future.

While the children are here they are part of our family. For example, we have parties for birthdays and invite all our family, just as you would for your own children. Also, last week Graham spent hours and hours running round the garden teaching the little one to ride a bike without stabilisers - he's cracked it now and it's great to see him cycling around outside without a care in the world. I'm not sure who is more chuffed, Graham or our new cycling champion.

We're off to Disneyland Paris in summer (much to Graham's distress, he hates rides so will be our glorified bag holder) and we wouldn't dream of not taking the boys. I won't lie, it's a bit of a paperwork palaver, but our social worker's been great at helping us fill out all the right forms and getting their passports, so fingers crossed the passport office do their bit and get them here in time.

One thing we didn't predict was how involved our own children would be. They love it, and I guess that makes it so much easier. They're happy to baby sit or play in the garden with the kids. Our daughter is considering a career in social care and has actually put herself forward to sit on the Brother and Sisters Council - it really is like being part of Cumbria's Biggest Family.

I'm not saying it's all been easy, it hasn't, but the good days make the hard ones worthwhile.

Lee and I started fostering just over a year ago. Lee works as a cheesemaker but also has his own business as a children's entertainer and I've given up work to be a full time foster carer. We've had our own family (we've got 5 children) and we're actually now grandparents but we missed having little 'uns in the house.

We'd actually applied to be foster carers before but due to personal reasons we pulled out. The application process took quite a while and I lost count of the forms we filled in but the council kept us on track. We're now looking after a 2 year old and a 6 month old baby.  We've had the 6 month old from birth and bringing them home from the hospital was slightly daunting, I thought we'd have forgotten how to look after a newborn but it all came flooding back.

We haven't had to go through the "giving back" stage yet, and we're dreading it to be honest. We'll get through it though; maybe we'll have a little party and turn it into a celebration for the child moving on. Friends have asked if we've considered adopting them, but we're not doing this to help just these two babies. I want to help hundreds.

There is quite a community of foster carers here in Maryport, and what with the coffee mornings, summer bbq's and Christmas parties you make loads of new friends. It's nice to know that if you've got a question - there is someone at the end of the phone with the answer.

It breaks my heart to think that there are so many children out there without the loving and secure home that they deserve. So much so, we're in the process of moving into a bigger house so that we can help more children.  It's the most rewarding job I've ever had.

We were approved as foster carers in August 2019 and, after doing a long weekend of respite care, we started our first short term placement in October. Two siblings were placed with us a girl and boy, now aged 12 and 7. 

Earlier this this year we heard about the Coronavirus and, to be honest, when it was first being discussed in the media we thought the press were sensationalising it and did not realise how serious Covid-19 was going to be. It was only a week or so prior to lockdown that we really started to think about the implications. 

Lockdown began and a new era in our fostering journey dawned; not only were we just getting to grips with being carers, but we also had to take on new roles as teachers, contact supervisors and worst of all IT gurus! The children were great - a few battles ensued over how much school work they should have to do, but we all soon settled into a new routine. What should have been a hard time became a bit of a revelation. No more 6.30am get-ups, followed by an hour's drive in a taxi to and from school for the children, no more rushing to and from our part time jobs, but lots of time to spend enjoying simple pastimes such as walking outdoors (and discovering many new places close to home which we never knew existed!), riding bikes and doing scavenger hunts, and also time spent indoors playing games, baking and crafting. We found that we were really beginning to bond as a family.

Mid-April, a note was pushed through our door by a neighbour about a Street Party to celebrate the 75th Anniversary of VE day. Wow - the opportunity to get 'dressed up', have a chat with our neighbours and to have an evening out! I had been doing some crafting with the children, but this gave us something new to focus on - a window display so we could enter the local 'best dressed' window competition! The children worked so hard, colouring pictures, making bunting and World War 2 paper planes. It was an activity we could all get involved in, even my husband contributed and I think it's the first bit of crafting he has done since he was seven.

Not only did we craft, but we used the celebration to study the War with the children. We did some reading together and watched You Tube videos on rationing, air raids and evacuees. These activities resulted in really constructive discussions and made us all realise that what we were going through in lockdown was nothing compared to what people had lived through in the war years. 

The day before the party was like the Great British Bake Off, we made scones, profiteroles, cheesecakes and brownies, the children really loved the baking. Luckily the weather was great on 8th May, and the children were very excited from the moment that they got out of bed. We all spent the morning pottering in and out of the house getting ready. Bunting and flags were put up, garden table moved to the front of the house and the table covered in a huge union jack table cloth. We all dressed up in red, white and blue and I had bought some Union Jack bowler hats and bow ties. The children were so proud of their efforts when they were arranging the cakes on the cake stand and putting the little flags they had made on the food. Our picnic table looked amazing.

Everybody in our street was out on their front doorsteps at 11.00am and the two minutes' silence to remember the fallen was impeccably observed. As the party began to get underway, and more people came outside, the children really enjoyed chatting to the neighbours (from a safe distance).We played bingo and sit down bingo, there was an adult and a children's quiz (we won both - go us!) and lots of raffles. Later in the day, there were some timed running and egg and spoon races up and down the street, and the children loved joining in with everything.

The children were amazing and we were so proud of them; they had never attended anything like this before, yet they behaved and socialised so well with the neighbours. They watched Churchill's speech, and were genuinely interested, and wanted to watch the Queen's speech before bed. It was a day that we could share and we became much more like a family.

Prior to writing this, I asked the children about their memories of the day. The seven year old said he liked winning prizes that he hadn't had to pay for. The 12 year old said it was a day she will never forget; she said that she had had such a good time that the day gave her hope that she could be happy and enjoy life, despite all the bad times she had been through, and that she would always remember the kindness of the neighbours for talking to them and including them in the celebrations.

J&N fostering VE cakes VE table VE window

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