Foster care providers notice that as with so many things, fostering goes in cycles. Patterns of demand change. At the moment there is an acute need to attract more people to offer foster home settings for parent and child placements. We have run a series on what these placements are and the practicalities of managing them. There are many differences yet the essential qualities a foster carer must bring to this distinct role remain the same: compassion, dedication and commitment. Now is a good time to share some of the experiences and memories foster carers who have chosen this area of caregiving.
Together with my husband Mike, we have been working as foster cares for nearly sixteen years. Over that time we have worked with many different families. On each occasion we feel we have learnt different things – that is what makes being a foster carer so unique. In those earlier years, we had quite a range of different placements. We learnt from the emergency foster placements that fostering could be unpredictable, to say the least. The long-term placement we had sought we ultimately got and that was hugely rewarding. Anna came to us in her early teens and then did well at college. She remains in contact with us which is a source of pride and pleasure. Mike and I had a break from fostering for eighteen months after that. He was changing job and we were involved in moving house. Once we had settled in we knew we wanted to foster again. To brush up on our skills we chose to do a number of different foster care courses. That is one thing we really value about our relationship with Rainbow Fostering: the number and variety of courses offered – along with the interest and support to identify what might best suit at that particular time. Well, as it happened we decided to sign up for a course in Parent and Child foster care (back then it was called Mother and Baby fostering).
I suppose it appealed to us both because we could see that it provided the chance to keep a young family together. As relatively experienced foster carers, we weren’t naive and the training made it clear that in a good many cases the mother is simply unable to provide the necessary care despite the best efforts of all involved. We understood the probability of success could depending on the parent be quite low. There were examples in the training of Parent and Child foster carers who had been able to provide the care and support that kept a family intact. That may not be possible in all cases but; as we reasoned, if you could be successful with just one young mother – or father – that would be something. Fostering for as long as we had meant we were certainly pragmatic. If I could choose one essential quality to have for a foster carer to make a success of managing Parent and Child placements, it would be pragmatism.
Our first placement was a young mum and her baby. We had been told by our social worker that this particular mother had an obstinate and unpredictable character. When she arrived she was in fact low key and unresponsive. They had come at the end of a long hot summers day – the kind that makes everyone listless. Our social worker informed us that there was a strong probability that after a court hearing scheduled in a months time that the baby would be removed. Things were described as very much “hanging in the balance.” It would depend on there being some tangible signs of progress. Not; as I remember it being put ‘huge strides’ (how could there be in such a limited amount of time?) But “small steps” in the right direction. Mike and I understood this completely. Fostering is nothing but small steps – and sometimes there are a few backward ones as well – the occasional great leap forward is a rarity: slow and steady progress, we believe, is the best sort.
The next day mum was a little more responsive. She told us that she wanted to keep her baby “Always” which we found touching. Especially as it came across to us as a helpless yearning rather than a desire based on any grounding. It was itself childish – how could it be otherwise – mums like her have frequently been on the end of a long list of judgements made by others. Could anything be more disempowering? She seemed to think that it was inevitable she would have to give her baby up. I think what made the difference was – that first small step – was we responded by saying that was certainly a possibility but that it didn’t have to be that way at all. I remember Mike saying to her that in many ways it was something that, with our help, could be in her control.
This struck home. The last thing so many young mums in her situation feel is a sense of control. Certainly not in most aspects of their lives, far less when connected to the enormity of caring for their own baby. That first day she said very little. In the evening without any prompting, she volunteered “I love my baby but how can I very show anyone that.” Being a foster carer is about the job of rebuilding. And it usually starts with confidence. I told her how good it was that she had those feelings for her child but what impressed me was her desire to show this. There can be pivotal moments in fostering relationships. This was one. Very obviously no one had ever told her that anything she might do, say or think could be ever be counted ‘impressive’. I also thought at that moment it would be positive if she did indeed have a streak of obstinacy in her character. At least if it could be managed and directed into achieving the goal of keeping her baby. From that moment something in her changed – only ever so slightly at first, but her thinking I had been impressed by her desire to keep her baby was the start.
Then, as you would expect, our lives got rather busy. Her baby started to make his presence felt – as babies do. Over the next few days, there was a lot of work caring for the child and showing mum the simple basics. We had tremendous support form Rainbow Fostering all the way. Our young mum became ever more desperate to find ways to show she cared for her baby. There were setbacks along the way – inevitably. But she never lost sight of wanting to demonstrate this. Mike and I had been told by the social worker that mum’s own birthday was in a weeks time. Without saying anything to mum, we knew this was a valuable opportunity to demonstrate care in all sorts of different ways. We could show our care and interest for her and her baby. The idea we hit upon was to plant the idea that her own birthday could be a celebration of the progress she had made since being with us and, most of all, a celebration of the care and love she had shown her baby.
Her birthday when it came offered a great opportunity to reinforce important lessons in the care of the baby. Her bathing it and dressing it in a special ‘birthday romper suit’, choosing a favourite baby food and decorating our special ‘birthday table’. Rainbow Fostering were brilliant as they embraced the idea of this being a special celebration and our supervising social worker brought along some of the bright, shiny decorations used in the annual children’s awards. Mike took lots of photographs of the special occasion. So this young mother was left with the message that a lot of people cared for the way she was working hard to show she cared.
And this young mum got to keep her baby.
That day always sticks in my mind. We have had other Parent and Child placements that haven’t worked out so well. That’s fostering and if you decide to become a Parent and Child foster carer you have to be prepared for this. All of us question at times is there a meaning to life? Certainly, if you can keep just one small family together – with the help and support from Rainbow – that question is answered.
Name(s) changed to protect privacy
The Rainbow Fostering Approach.
Rainbow Fostering is interested in talking with anyone who might be interested in a career in foster care. We realise people need time to make to reflect when it comes to such a big decision. It is a life-altering judgement to make. Not everyone is cut out for fostering and many people we speak to have the best and most generous of motives yet, ultimately, it is not something for which they are suited. This is why we never rush people from the moment of that first initial contact. Our Team at Rainbow has decades of combined experience – exactly what you would expect from an agency rated ‘Outstanding in all areas’ by Ofsted. This means we are happy to take as much time as any applicant feels they need to make the decision to proceed with fostering. We have posted a great deal of information on our website about the many aspects of fostering there are. Our Blogs have been placed in the number two position – another sign of our ongoing commitment to putting as much varied and informed content out there about fostering as possible. All very well, but we know nothing beats a relaxed and informal chat with a professional from Rainbow who wants, first and foremost, to know you are making the right decision for yourself and your family. Only by doing this can we then be sure that a vulnerable child or young person stands a good chance of being placed in a loving and supportive setting.
These are all our words, so in the words of one of our foster carers:
“Certainly, the supervising social worker we were assigned was just so good. We felt she really took the time to get to know our family and the individual characters of the boys. She could see the way our house was run and the “amazing bond” the boys have was obvious to her.”
From our offices in London, Birmingham, Manchester and Hampshire, we are looking for people interested in:
Fostering is open to people who are (over 21) married, divorced, single or cohabiting. You can foster whatever your sexual orientation, ethnicity or cultural background. We have streamlined our recruitment process and are holding initial interviews online via Skype. This means there is nothing to stop you applying right now. It’s easy to do and a member of our recruitment team will help you. For more information, call 0330 311 2845
Transfer to Rainbow. We are always interested in hearing from people considering transferring from either a local authority or agency. We make the process simple, straightforward and efficient. We have foster carers who have been with us for over ten years – some even longer – which tells its own story.
Today’s recommended blog can be found at:
As children and young people have returned to nurseries, schools and universities, it’s important to check the latest advice and guidance to stay safe and well. Make sure you regularly
visit – https://www.health-ni.gov.uk/coronavirus All our agency contact details and office locations can be found via the link below. If you prefer, you can leave your contact details and arrange for a member of our team to call you back at a time to suit you. We look forward to hearing from you soon! And remember Hands, Face, Space. http://rainbowfostering.co.uk/contact/
Rainbow putting the focus on fostering.