Foster carers know they should always expect the unexpected – no two days are ever the same – which is what makes fostering interesting. And it’s sometimes the smallest things can make a particular foster child memorable. These blog series are cameos offering a personal glimpse into the everyday world of fostering. So, now in her own words, our foster carer Sonya paints a picture…
I’ve been fostering for eight years now. Along the way, our house has been home to a whole bunch of youngsters. We were originally interested in fostering children under ten. But that’s certainly changed. We’ve fostered teenagers which led to us accepting a long term placement. Gail came when she was twelve and has been with us for four years. Long, long story as there were a few problems to begin with. Not least when she arrived. We were the third placement for her – things just hadn’t worked out in her previous placements. As everyone knows that is deeply unsettling for a foster child. But – as we had had a few teenagers on a short term basis – we weren’t in unfamiliar territory. Mike – my husband – is quite right: everyone thinks fostering young children is easier than older children. It isn’t – the problems they might have when they come into foster care are just different. And his feeling is, if you ‘click’ with a teenager, their world can be a really interesting one – if a little noisy and untidy at times.
“Keeps you young at heart and in the game of life” is one of his favourite quotes.
Mind you he worked for a number of years as a youth worker when he was younger. So he’s always been comfortable around young people. Then we had our own child, Tom, who is now in his late twenties working abroad and carving out his own path in life.
So now living with us we have Gail – who is doing okay at school. Typical teenager – eyebrow threading and comparing nail bars with her mates. A bit too much time; if I’m honest, spent on her smartphone, but we have a little bit of give and take on that. Luckily, she is very good at drawing and I remind her that she’ll get even better if not all her time is spent on her phone. She’s good – pleased that her talent has been recognised and wants to get as good as she can for herself. Maybe Art School one day – who knows? The main thing is she has a real enthusiasm for something.
Last night the phone rang: an emergency placement – nine-year old dual heritage girl. Never been in foster care before. She had had to be removed in a hurry – down to domestic violence I was told. No other major problems – been attending school regularly – always a good sign. She got here with the social worker very late on what was the last day of the school term. Poor girl, Adalyn, was completely exhausted.
Today has been okay. Luckily she had been so tired the night before she quickly fell asleep. Always makes me sad when they arrive with so little. Just a carrier bag: an assortment of odd items hurriedly thrown together. I have a little tip: when we get a placement, the next morning can be a little awkward. That’s just the way it is for all foster carers – usually.
So when I get the table set for breakfast, I always have an Argos catalogue tucked away under a magazine. That’s because – if the moment is right – it provides the chance to start a chat about getting some spare pyjamas or a nightdress depending… or a new toothbrush – just small things – doesn’t really matter what. It’s can be a low key conversation giving a child something matter of fact to talk about. So anyways, back to this morning. And a surprising moment – a golden opportunity.
“Was that enough to eat Adalyn?”
“Yes,” was the response in a very quiet voice – face looking down at the tablecloth.
“you didn’t have many clothes with you last night.”
This time she looked up and I noticed her looking at a picture on the kitchen wall that Gail had drawn with coloured pencils. It was of one of her friends and quite an amazing likeness. I could tell Adalyn was thinking of saying something else, but the words weren’t quite coming. I said:
“My foster daughter Gail drew that – you’ll be meeting her bit later.”
I followed up with:
“it’s very good isn’t it – she loves drawing.” And almost instantly Adalyn said:
“Art’s my favourite subject at school. I like drawing. I don’t have any coloured pencils at home.”
I noticed her face fell quickly – mention of the ‘H’ word – every foster carer will notice that – especially how it can change the mood of a conversation almost instantly. Very quickly I said:
“Well, that’s easily fixed.”
I reached for my trusty Argos catalogue:
“We can sort out a toothbrush and a few bits and pieces but we could also look and see if they have some coloured pencils.”
There wasn’t an instant reaction but Adalyn moved closer to where I was sitting and at least looked while I scanned the index and found the page with art materials. That’s the charming thing about kids – I guess one of the many reasons I foster. I could tell she didn’t want to open up – I didn’t expect it – not so soon. But there was no missing how interested she was in all the pencils and felt tips so colourfully shown in the catalogue. Fostering, in my opinion, is about judging moments.
When to speak, and when not to. And then how much engagement is needed at a given moment. There will always be those times when you get it wrong – we all do. Obviously when you have had the same child for a period of time that judgement gets a bit easier. Not so easy when you’ve only had a youngster for a few hours – and most of these they have spent asleep.
“I can’t draw like that.”
Adalyn pointed at Gail’s picture on the wall.
“Well, Gail has been drawing a long time and she has got a lot better because she is always doing it. And she’s got loads of pens and pencils in her room.”
Having spotted my opportunity, I moved quickly. As I took the dishes to the sink, I noticed Adalyn reaching for the catalogue – still open on the page I had left it. So I said:
“I’d be really interested to see you draw a picture of something – maybe we’ll get you a nice set of pencils when we get that toothbrush.”
Turning slightly, I could see just the trace of a smile on Adalyn’s face. I had broken the ice.
And as Sonya realised, fostering an interest in drawing has important benefits: visit – https://www.minilabstudios.com/why-drawing-is-important-for-your-childs-development/
Names changed to protect privacy
Foster with Rainbow Fostering – rated ‘Outstanding’ by Ofsted.
Sonya is a foster parent who relishes the challenges of fostering. She and Mike have made a tremendous difference to the lives of the children they have cared for as well as those they are currently looking after. We need many more foster carers like them. People who enjoy the training we provide. People who can sense se their own fostering skills improving all the time. Today, there is a shortage of over 8,000 foster carers. That means a lot of vulnerable children coming into foster care needing loving, secure and stable homes. Our job is to find people like Sonya who are motivated to do their best for the children they look after.
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.
With our support, Sonya is now training to become a therapeutic foster carer. This means she will have the skills to look after children who have more challenging behaviour. Developing her fostering career in this way will mean she will receive enhanced payments. But the most important thing Sonya wants is to be even better at what she does.
All Rainbow foster carers receive a FREE subscription to FosterTalk magazine which contains interesting and important information about all the different aspects of fostering:
We always strive to place our youngster in foster homes which will reflect their own background and cultural heritage. We are always looking to find potential foster carers drawn from all the different communities. Rainbow is recruiting 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/frequent-asked-questions/