Foster carers are well aware that part of the job means being able to expect the unexpected. This is what makes fostering a challenge. ‘Ups and Downs’ is the cliche all foster carers get used to. There are big dramas, then there are the smaller things that happen. It’s often these that can shed light on the nature of a child or young person in your care. And it’s sometimes the smallest things can make a particular foster child or experience memorable as they can change and become the ‘big things.’ The cameos in this blog series offer a personal glimpse into the day-to-day world of foster care. Hopefully, they serve to inform and sometimes entertain…So, now in his own words, our foster carer Mike paints a picture of a cricket ball and a canoe…
I’ve been fostering for fourteen years now. And along the way, our house has been home to quite a few youngsters. Originally I was interested in fostering children who were between 8 and 12. That seems strange now given the way things have worked out. So I’ve fostered a number of teenagers and to be honest, I like the rough and tumble of it all. The thing about teenagers – they present a foster carer with different challenges. But they are at a key stage of life where you really feel you can make a difference to their prospects.
Bit of background required: I got into foster care all those years ago because my brother and his wife were foster carers. They had put me forward as being part of their support network. It just so happened that I was put in the hot seat when my brother’s wife was ill and had to help him look after a teenager. This had been part of their respite arrangements. Vince was a black lad fifteen years old and a handful. But he was passionate about cricket – especially bowling. Luckily that particular weekend the weather was really good. I looked out my old cricket bat and stumps and off we went to the local park…
Long story short, I had a great afternoon. In my youth, I had been an enthusiastic member of the school cricket team, so a few practice bowls was something I felt I could handle – even though my bones were a few years older. Anyway, I went into the crease – with my brother Ron as wicketkeeper. We watched casually (a bit too casually as it turned out) as Vince walked back ready to start his run-up. Momentarily forgetting the foster child (had I been paying attention I would have noticed the rather alarmingly long run-up he was taking) I pictured myself back in my own ‘glory days’, already seeing in my mind’s eye the delivery of a well-timed stroke sending the ball high over the tree line. I was still basking in this illusionary vision when a red blur shot past both me and my ‘wicket-keeping’ brother. To say that we were ready would have been well wide of the mark. In fact, to judge we were a bit shaken would have been an understatement. This boy could really bowl. Concentration was called for as we took it in turns to try and cope with spinners, bouncers and more than one masterful googly. Anyway, for the rest of the afternoon, Ron and I hardly made contact with the ball. Vince was clearly a talented bowler so I let him keep my old cricket ball as a memento of the afternoon. The memory I have of his delighted grin stayed with me. It struck me with some force at the time how it such a small thing could provide so much pleasure. Like so many foster kids, then and now, Ron told me Vince had arrived at their home with only the clothes he was standing in. So I could see that the unexpected gift of a cricket ball really meant something.
For the next few days couldn’t get the thought of what a pleasurable afternoon it had been. My partner, Anne, and I did not have our own children – still don’t – but she was rather charmed by my account of the afternoon. And I think a little relieved when I told her the ball seemed at times to be travelling at light speed. She had no illusions about my cricketing skills and judged me lucky to have escaped unscathed. Not long after that, I met up with my brother’s social worker at his home. She had been told all about the afternoon! Mostly, it has to be said by Vince who had not stopped talking about it with her. Out of the blue, she asked me if fostering might be something I would consider. Even back then there was a real shortage of foster carers. No different today – worse in fact. Her asking such a direct question kind of hit home. It made me realise that I had been thinking along these lines almost subconsciously. My partner, Anne, could not have children. And there had always been her career to consider. Quite a high flyer and often travelling. My own work involved freelance writing so I was at home a fair bit. It also gave me quite a bit of freedom. I remember being impressed by Ron’s social worker thinking I had what it took to be a foster carer. She made a compelling point: I already had a very good support network in place with my brother and sister-in-law as a potential back-up. Her enthusiasm had certainly set me thinking. By the time I got home, I was ready to put the idea to my partner. I knew from my brothers experience what was involved. In any case, it would be a good few months before I would be ‘Approved’ to foster so it wasn’t something you could rush into.
I made the decision I would apply after speaking with Anne if she thought it was a good idea. She was supportive from the start. “Be good for you”, she quipped after I had raised the idea with her. And I think, after all these years and the inevitable ‘ups, downs’ and the odd alarm, I would definitely agree with her. Doesn’t mean fostering was something I entered into lightly. I still recall how nervous I started to get as the date of Panel approached. What made the difference was the support I had from the social worker who was assigned to me. And right from the start, even though I knew there would be many challenges to confront, everyone at Rainbow had stressed foster carers should never lose sight of the fact that fostering should be fun. Everyone only gets one childhood and; sad as some individual cases were, it was all about discovering the fun in life. That’s what children deserve. So that has always been my approach and I have been fostering for many years now.
I have one lad staying with us on a long-term basis: Tim – he’s been here for five years and now about to turn eighteen. Things have worked out well. He’s keen to stay – part of the ‘Staying Put’ arrangements Rainbow are helping to arrange. We get on very well – though there have been some difficult times. He’s going to a local college. Anne and I are proud as he got five GCSEs and is now on track to do reasonably well for his 2 A- levels. Having Tim has worked well as I have had a number of youngsters stay for varying lengths of time before moving on. Having a long-term placement already here tends to make them settle in more quickly. Then it’s usually only been a matter of a few outings to the fish and chip shop for everyone to get on. And of course, as we’ve had boys with us, fish suppers tend to get mixed in with watching ‘Match of the Day’. This is a formula that has pretty much enabled everyone to get on from the get-go. I can think of only one placement that went seriously awry. That boy had been absconding from a number of foster homes before coming to us. We tried really hard, but it didn’t work out. That is something all foster carers should realise that sometimes, despite everyone’s best efforts things go wrong. Anyway, after leaving our home he went into residential care.
Anne’s reaction at the time, “You can’t win them all.” I have to say, she’s been a considerable source of help and support over the years. She has a pragmatic streak which is invaluable when the going gets tough. As it will do on occasions for all foster carers.
Despite all the time that has passed, I never forget Vince and the fun we had playing cricket all those years ago. I learnt from it only takes a small gesture and genuine engagement to reach a youngster. It’s about trying to understand their world with all its complexity – as well as its enthusiasms. And it’s working on these that can create that all-important bridge. So my big idea for every placement has its roots in that afternoon spent with Ron and Vince. Very simply, I try and involve youngsters in helping me and Tim with my hobby – making canoes. It’s kind of a magical process – watching a canoe take shape from the flat fibreglass. Quite enthralling – as well as being artistic. Working on something like this with a teenager is a great way to make communication just happen. It’s very bonding and a great shared project. Really good for demonstrating the benefits of collaboration. And of course, once made a canoe is a source of great fun and adventure. It’s a pastime that requires a responsible attitude, common sense and safe behaviour – keeps you fit too!
Find out about canoeing opportunities by visiting – https://www.whitewaterthecanoecentre.co.uk/local-clubs-21-w.asp
Names changed to protect privacy
Foster with Rainbow Fostering – rated ‘Outstanding’ by Ofsted.
Michael is a foster parent who relishes the challenges of fostering. He’s made a tremendous difference to the lives of the youngsters he’s provided a home for. Rainbow needs many more foster carers just like Mike. People who join us enjoy the training and support we provide. They can sense their own fostering skills and professionalism improving all the time. Right now, there is a shortage of over 8,000 foster carers. Foster homes are needed to offer loving, secure and stable environments for vulnerable children.
We know foster parents – just like children, come in all shapes, sizes and varieties. We have foster parents who are single/divorced/married – as well as couples who live together – with or without children. Rainbow Fostering also has same-sex couples fostering children and young people.
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We always strive to place our youngsters in foster homes which will reflect their own background and cultural heritage. Consequently, we are always looking to find potential foster carers drawn from all the different communities. Rainbow is recruiting foster carers in London, Birmingham, Manchester and Hampshire. Call us today on 020 8427 3355 or our National Line – 0330 311 2845.
Visit these pages of ours for more useful information: http://rainbowfostering.co.uk/fostering-in-greater-london/ and