A foster carers diary: ‘Painting by numbers’

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A foster carers diary: ‘Painting by numbers’

Bob, a foster carer, writes…

It’s unforgettable…that moment when you accept your first foster placement. All the training has prepared you for this, yet there’s no way of knowing exactly how things will work out. Loads of encouraging words from friends and family…all telling you what a great thing it is you are doing. That’s all fine whilst you are going through the application process. The day when you might actually be accepting a young person into your home seems comfortingly far off. There was, as we had been told to expect, a gap between becoming approved to foster and receiving our first placement. So around three weeks had passed – my wife Lynne and I were wondering if the phone would ever ring – and then it did – one sunny Saturday afternoon when I was busy painting the garden fence – a job I had been putting off for longer than I care to admit.

Lynne came running out to the garden to ask if we could take a young Nigerian lad on an emergency basis – probably for no longer than a couple of days. The agency needed us to make a decision: all they were able to tell us at that point was that he had been taken into care because his mother was unable to cope and had problems with substance abuse. The identity of the boy’s father was unknown. We were promised more information, but at that precise moment, a decision was needed as the boy literally had nowhere to go – and had only the clothes he was standing up in. We were told his name was Afamefuna and he was eleven. Does your heart rule your head or your head rule your heart. It’s hard to know. We said yes. Probably because we were told his name and that in some way made him more real as a flesh and blood person. Then we panicked; which I guess is pretty much a standard reaction, what to do? Food. We had been told he would be with us within the hour, so Lynne dashed to the local supermarket with no idea of what she was getting.

As she had driven off I recall her mentioning all children like ice cream don’t they? She returned half an hour later with an odd assortment of food – but I was pleased to see, plenty of fruit. There was nothing to do but wait. I realised that I had been painting the fence and had completely forgotten the paint brush in my hand. I noticed a stream of paint splashes on the patio. As I was musing on these, the doorbell rang, my pulse quickened and in my hurry, I kicked over the tin of emulsion. Not an auspicious start…I am sure every new foster carer can admit to an attack of nerves when contemplating their own front door opening to, well, who knows what new set of experiences.

Lynne opened the door and a social worker smiled at us and said this is Afamefuna. There was an awkward pause and then I remember seeing this young boy look up and break into a smile. We were surprised as we had expected him to be lost and forlorn. The smile broke into a chuckle – not what we had expected at all. Perhaps being foster carers was going to be a lot easier than we expected. I then noticed the social worker was trying to stifle a grin. This was odd. Certainly not what I had expected. Next, I noticed Lynne fixing me with a look that was a strange blend of resigned amusement and consternation. It seemed I was the only person not sharing the joke – whatever it was.

I was released from my puzzled state when Afamefuna pointed into the hall, causing me to turn. I looked, and saw a set of neat white footprints charting my progress along what was, fortunately, rather old carpet. It was a moment – at any rate, it broke the ice and Afamefuna was ushered in with a broad grin on his face. He amused himself by carefully avoiding my ‘footsteps’ as we went out into the garden. The social worker had another case to sort out and stayed only long enough to let us know Afamefuna had not eaten for a couple of hours and had told her that he liked chips with everything. No surprise there then. My mind considered the mountain of fruit that Lynne had festooned the sideboard with. But chips we could do…doubtless, there would be time for fruit.  Then all too quickly we were left alone. What to do? Afamefuna had, as we had been told only the clothes he wore, they looked old and torn in places. The elbow of his jumper had become threadbare and I noticed that the sole of one of his shoes had started to detach itself… that would have to be sorted.

I noticed he was looking at where I had left off painting the fence. There was still a fair bit to do. I was suddenly struck by a thought. As Lynne was busying herself getting us some orange squash – the afternoon had got quite hot by now – I picked up my brush and painted a face on the fence. Afamefuna, as I had hoped, got up and asked if he could do the same. It was, admittedly, an unconventional way of painting a fence: more to the point, we all found we could relax. We had a few laughs – there really isn’t anything quite like laughter to make people feel at ease whether you are eleven or in your fifties. And of course, as there had been quite a few more paint splashes, it gave us the perfect excuse to replace the worn out clothes Afamefuna had arrived wearing…even better for Lynne she got a new hall carpet.

Afamefuna was the first foster child we looked after. He only stayed a few days before moving on to a placement closer to his school. That was five years ago. Since then we have coped with a fair few emergency placements. We still do, when appropriate, as Lynne and I are fortunate in having a long term foster placement now – Gail. She has been with us for nearly three years. Gail is doing well at school and making us feel we have made a real difference to her life. What is so special about fostering is that every child you care for creates a whole set of unique memories.

I can never see a paint brush now without recalling that hot summer afternoon and how nervous we were. The memory makes me think you can certainly paint by numbers, but certainly not foster in that way. There is no formula for being a successful foster carer as each child will draw out and encourage different elements of your own personality. This is hugely rewarding for as you help a child to grow, you sense that is what is also happening to you.

Have you got what it takes to be a foster carer?

Could you make a lasting difference to the lives of children and young people by becoming a foster care. It can be tough – there are good times and bad times, but the good times make all the difference. They are what make the memories. For an informal chat with no commitment, or pressure please call 020 8427 3355. Our experienced recruitment team will provide you with an insight into the process of becoming an Approved foster carer.

*Names changed to protect privacy.

Foster Carers! Think about transferring to Rainbow.

If you are an ‘Approved’ foster carer with a child in placement, consider transferring to Rainbow Foster Care Services.  You may find you could be eligible for a generous bonus. Contact our fostering recruitment team on 020 8427 3355 and discover more about the benefits of being a part of our Rainbow fostering community. If you live locally, or maybe not so locally, we would love to invite you to our offices for a friendly and relaxed chat over a coffee.

This will give you a good idea about what the fostering experience will be like with us – in a relaxed atmosphere with no commitment expected.

We are particularly looking for people who have past or current experience of working professionally with children or young people. We have places on our ‘Turnaround’ therapeutic foster care training programme – an option for foster carers who are interested in the challenge of looking after children with complex needs. Trained therapeutic foster carers are paid an enhanced rate and depending upon experience and the type of placements accepted can earn between £25k to £40k per annum.

Why not visit our special foster care news page?

A foster carer from Crawley receives recognition

27th March, 2018

Prince Charles has awarded foster carer Barbara Bower, aged 73, an MBE at Buckingham Palace. It was given to acknowledge her commitment and dedication to fostering. When she was


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