STORY l From A Foster Carer's Perspective
To mark Fostering Fortnight 2018 we want to celebrate foster carers. This is Arthur and Laura’s story. They offer a short break one weekend a month to Sarah (not her real name). We think you’ll learn a lot from their story - we certainly did - even in how to support friends and families who are fostering.
Q. Tell us about yourselves.
A. Hi, My name’s Arthur, I'm married to Laura and we live in Belfast.
L. And I’m Laura and I’m obviously married to Arthur, and I’m currently on maternity leave with our daughter Rachel.
Q. What started your journey towards fostering?
L. Growing up my family fostered and I can remember going to children’s homes to pick the kids up, so it’s always been a part of my life. To be honest this was really hard at times but it was really good for me because it helped me realise there are kids who didn’t have the same family and opportunities as me. In addition to this we spent a year overseas working with kids in extreme poverty and when we came home we didn’t want to lose that intentionality of investing in young people. We wanted to live with the same values here as there and one of the ways to do that was to open our house and lives up through fostering.
A. I’ve worked with kids here and in South Africa in extreme poverty and it broke my heart that they didn’t have someone solid in their life to look up to and look after them. Their choices or future might look different and we want to be able to help them.
L. We also love offering respite care because we can support the amazing work that full-time foster carers provide.
A. At the end of the day, we both love kids and it’s something we wanted to do. It’s hard work but we’ve never regretted it.
Q. Can you tell us about your experience of applying to be carers?
A. We actually found it a really good experience, even though it is intense. We applied with Action for Children and at the time we were both working part time so we had a lot of availability to make the appointments which definitely helped. I absolutely loved it because we had to talk through our own families, relationships, background and upbringing - it was really reflective and therapeutic.
L. The application process gets a lot of negative press and you hear about people saying it takes years but we started at the end of February and had our formal assessment in July. Our experience is that these agencies are on your side, they’re looking to support you every step of the way.
Q. When did you first meet your placement?
L. It was quite quickly after we’d been assessed because Sarah’s placement had fallen through. We had a phone call one day and then she came round for a chat the next and then she came to stay the following weekend. And we’ve been committed to Sarah one weekend a month ever since which has been great for allowing everyone to build up strong relationships.
Q. What would a typical weekend look like when Sarah comes to stay?
L. We love that it actually just looks like a remarkably normal weekend for us. We pick her up on a Friday night and take her to the youth club, then we head home and have supper before bed. On a Saturday we try to hang out with some of our friends and families who have kids around Sarah’s age so she gets the chance to just do normal everyday stuff like going to the park and playing games. We just go and do what we would normally do and she just gets involved.
A. She does love Spongebob and we can watch a good few episodes in the morning before we get up, it’s great!
Q. Is there anything that you’d wish you’d known beforehand?
L. There’s a lot more support than you think. We’ve been able to pick up the phone with Action for Children and chat through any issues we’re having.
A. Be flexible and open, involve your friends and families in your foster experience. You’re not just babysitting somebody for the weekend, you’re giving them the chance to see and experience what family can look like.
Q. What’s the hardest thing about fostering?
A. To be honest, at times we can feel guilty at times that we can’t do more. When we hear some of the stories of children in care we would love to be able to help them all.
L. For good reason we can’t hug Sarah - but it is hard. Especially as our own daughter grows up we worry about how Sarah will feel when she sees us kiss and hug Rachel.
Q. What’s the best thing about fostering?
L. We’ve been able to play a part in seeing a foster placement succeed. As respite carers, we can give Sarah’s foster mum a break to see her friends and family and recharge. At one point it was looking like Sarah might have had to go to a children’s home because the placement was proving difficult. We were able to step in short-term to support her foster mum to have a break meaning Sarah was able to stay in a secure and long-term partnership.
A. Sarah is so funny, we really do love getting to know her and spend time with her. She’s great fun and adds so much to our lives.
L. The great thing about getting into fostering before starting a family was that we know it works for us. We know we’ve built a really good relationship with Sarah and it’ll just be a part of our daughter’s life as she grows up, not something we introduce at some stage.
Q. Would you recommend fostering?
L. Oh yeah, definitely. It’s not for everyone - but you don’t have to be a foster carer to play a part. Even if you know someone who is fostering, simply offering to hang out or make a meal with them is such a massive help.
A. If you have a passion for doing it at some point we’d say just do something now. You don’t need to wait until your life is all in order or jump straight into full-time foster care. At our stage in life, respite care is working really well for us and really benefits everyone involved. It’s a lot more do-able than you think.
If you’d like to learn more about fostering click this link.