All foster carers know that having a foster child – especially a teenager – in your home changes everything. It’s a whirlwind. For a start, they will be bringing through the door their own world and all that goes with it. And this can be intimidating. It explains I suppose, why so many people involved in fostering tend to want to foster younger children. At least from the start. But if you have a placement with a teenager that goes well – then it can drastically change your thinking.
These blogs are simple ‘one-off’ snapshots offering a glimpse into the everyday world of foster carers.
So right now, it’s Dave a foster carer finding himself catching up with new media and the benefits for fostering it can offer.
I’m Dave! What I’ve discovered is fostering certainly makes time go quickly. I was approved to foster eight years ago and the years since then have sped by. Being a foster parent is something I had thought of from time to time. But when I left the army, it wasn’t immediately clear to me what direction I should go in. My wife was supportive. Her thinking was that it was best if we didn’t rush into anything. We have no children of our own, but having been in the army, l got quite a bit of experience dealing with recruits. To be honest, watching them arrive and complete basic training, was good to see. You almost felt their confidence growing by the day. That’s because there is so much structure in the army.
So when I left the service it was a big change for me. I looked around at a few different things but nothing quite seemed to fit the bill. Then on a friend’s recommendation, I found myself going to a local job fair. Bit of a confusing experience if I’m honest. Loads of companies all pitching different things. So many options to consider – maybe too many possibilities. I was feeling a bit overwhelmed – went for a cup of tea to have a think.
After strolling about, I came across a stand that had posters and all sorts of paraphernalia to do with fostering. Pads, pens and bags – I was even given a pen! That resulted in a conversation with a bloke on the stand about the kind of people who become foster carers. I didn’t have much idea and hadn’t considered it remotely. But what did stick in my mind after our conversation was fostering meant you could work from home and it was a very flexible job. Nice, I thought on reflection. I didn’t really want an office job that might involve hours of commuting. Also, having been in the services, I had always liked the idea that no two days were ever the same. That’s something you will find appeals to an awful lot of ex-service types. The guy on the stand told me that the same was certainly true for foster carers. I decided there and then I wanted to find out more. I left with a bag with a folder of information and some leaflets to go with my pen.
The rest, as is so often said, is history. My wife had been supportive from the off. When I came back from the Job Fair she thought being foster carer could potentially be a very good fit. She’s a secondary school teacher – quite experienced in dealing with youngsters.
That’s all quite some time ago. Actually getting to be a foster carer didn’t take anything as long as I thought it would. Once I was approved to foster, it was only a few weeks later that I had my first placement. I’m the main carer in our household. I am fortunate in having a good support network. This was something the agency placed quite a bit of emphasis on during the training.
I think my best piece of advice for anyone considering fostering is to make sure you have friends and family around. It can make all the difference. And I needed that support in the early days. I wouldn’t be telling the truth if I didn’t admit to us having a few problems along the way. Some of the youngsters we’ve taken haven’t always been easy or straightforward to deal with. But its all experience. And none of the placements we’ve had have ever really gone ‘off-piste’ as my army friends might have said.
Every foster carer has a reason or idea that originally made them think of fostering. It might be buried away somewhere in their mind. Whatever it is, it’s the thing that made them think they could do the job in the first place. When some people start training, they realise that perhaps it was maybe unrealistic. No shame in that. The most important thing is that people who go into fostering do so with their eyes open. The agency encourages you to think about all the life experiences you might have had. Was there anything special? An idea you had about yourself – or generally, maybe something you could offer that would be unique to you. A personal angle or belief enabling you to make a success of fostering. As I said, we all need a reason for doing something – whatever it is. To that extent, I’m no different. And my idea; the thing I felt could make the difference: developing respect. And this comes straight from my army experiences and the training I had over the years.
I understand the importance of respect: making it real. Making it something you can almost feel hanging in the air. That’s what counts. And I don’t just mean having a youngster respect you. I think for me personally, what makes the key difference is showing a young person respect. Of course some of the ways they have behaved – or more accurately been allowed to behave – haven’t helped. That’s for sure. But too much time on your hands can result in getting into trouble. That’s why in service life, no one is ever left idle – or without direction. My feeling is an awful lot of kids drift into trouble because they have no direction. That’s why I have come to enjoy fostering teenagers – boys and girls – we’ve had them all. They quickly come to understand that whatever their experiences, my wife and I respect them as individuals. What I say to them which seems to work is sort of along these lines –
“I can see you’ve had all sorts of troubles and upsets but – and it’s a big but, we respect you. Why, because we are respecting the potential that you have. It may not be clear right now what your path might be, but everyone has the potential to do something and be someone. It’s a totally new world for you being with us – but it is one full of potential for all of us.”
It’s not a speech. It’s just an idea you pick the best time to introduce. Sometimes it’s even over beans on toast for breakfast. Getting better as a foster carer is about picking the right moments and delivering the message – or messages in the right way. I enjoy that challenge.
So the agency asked just for something I’ve enjoyed about fostering very recently. Here goes:
Phil is 15. He’s now been with us for nine months. Things are going okay. We are; along with the agency, viewing Phil as maybe being long-term with us. Julia, my wife, feels Phil is getting a lot out of his situation and doing well at school – reasonably well from what had been quite a challenging position when he first arrived. By that, I mean he hadn’t a particularly good record of school attendance. That’s changed. He’s got a bit of an interest in computers and smartphones like all young people. We don’t resist it. You can’t. What we do is engage around it. That way, it’s possible to monitor what’s going on in a bit of a low key way. And do you know what? I’m learning stuff from Phil now. I think now he’s settled and he’s well on the way to becoming a bit of a geek. That’s what I mean about identifying potential. He senses it himself now. And what he really likes it – like so many youngsters – is telling me something I don’t know. And when it comes to social media – there’s quite a bit. This is an important subject for all foster carers, Believe me. School and family life for everyone can be affected by social media. For good or bad. Foster carers need to be aware of social media. Anyway – one Wednesday evening it was pouring with rain:
I started a conversation with Phil;
“Had a good day – did you learn anything interesting; tell me something I don’t know.”
Phil grins – he’s got some nugget of new info – obviously.
“Google and Facebook are 1 and 2 in the world for visits -try to guess what’s third?”
I think for a few moments – not much idea – then say – Instagram. I’m pleased with that – but sensed it probably wasn’t going to be the right answer.
“good go but the answer’s YouTube”
“It’s just amazing for videos. The choice is just mind-boggling. The minute you are on it
“It’s just amazing for videos. The choice is just mind-boggling. The minute you are on it and you see the trending videos you realise how much there is.”
So we turn on the computer and ‘googled’ YouTube to see what the top trends were that day. But as Phil points out, they’re changing all the time.
All you foster carers out there if you’re hard up for something to talk about, try YouTube you won’t be disappointed. We instantly had a choice of loads of videos:
‘My Aquarium Exploded’; ‘12 animals you should run away from’; ‘Top 10 most Horrifyingly Mysterious Lakes in the World’ and there was even a video of a red crab fighting a giant mantis shrimp!
Completely spoiled for choice:
“What shall we watch first Phil?”
Phil thought for a moment:
“An audience with Neil Armstrong. That looks good.”
I was pleased thinking about what a very good choice it was. Especially as this is the 50th anniversary of the moon landing in 1969. Loads of history and science playing a part in maybe the greatest adventure story ever.
Julia came in and watched some of the videos with us. She got caught up in the drama of it all. It made for a great evening. And very educational; not just for Phil, but for us all. Julia said I had given her a couple of ideas for school. And on a personal level, Phil was really taken by the fact that I could still remember the tv coverage of Armstrong landing on the moon. You can never tell what might grab someone’s interest. It seemed what really struck him was that I had been a young boy of only nine when Apollo 11 flew to the moon. And what also really registered with Phil, we noticed, was the part when you could hear in between the transmission beeps from the lunar surface, those immortal lines:
“That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind”
When the video was over, we had a good time just making up ideas for what we might have said if we had been the first person to step out on the moon. If you think about it, that’s quite an interesting challenge as you would know; as Neil Armstrong did, your words would be famous forever.
Phil came up with a great line that made us laugh out loud – which we could see gave him so much pleasure:
“It’s one small step for a teenager – who told his mum and dad he was just nipping out to the shops.”
So now Phil has become really keen on English at school. That evening got him thinking about language and how people go about writing comedy. He certainly enjoyed making us laugh. That’s what can be so special about fostering. Just finding an opening – it might seem small, but it can lead so far. You just never know. Phil is now working on a comedy sketch for the end of term show. And that’s all sprung from the sense he got when he made me and Julie roar with laughter. He obviously felt empowered – that he might have the talent to explore. And as I said to him
“We certainly respect the way you had us laughing our heads off.”
Respect: there it is – making a youngster feel they can have self-respect because they have something to offer!
Fostering with Rainbow is an experience like no other.
What I do like about our Agency is the way they always try and think of everything from the foster carers point of view. And they love to hear all the news foster carers have and how their kids are doing. It really does feel like one big happy family.
Our social worker Gill reminded us the agency always loves to gather tips from foster carers. They think; and it’s true, that we’re all learning all the time from all the different experiences we share.
So, here’s our fostering tip: it can often be really hard to get a conversation going with a young person. And you really need to be able to do this to start building a relationship. Especially if they haven’t been with you too very long. So a look on YouTube for subjects that might be trending. Doing this is almost guaranteed to throw up some amazing, crazy and varied subjects. Just the Things you could never make up.
BUT – and it’s a big but – all foster parents; if they are not that computer savvy do need to make sure they have the right search filters set on their computer. Online safety; as the agency always stress – and run excellent courses in – is very important. There is a lot of inappropriate material in the internet you don’t want coming up in a search. So there is a lot of bad stuff out there in cyberspace…as the great Neil Armstrong, I’m sure would be warning us.
You can get a lot of information about online safety and how to set filters on computers and digital devices by visiting: https://www.nspcc.org.uk/preventing-abuse/keeping-children-safe/online-safety/
Names changed to protect privacy
Fostering careers with Rainbow – an agency rated ‘Outstanding’ by Ofsted.
Dave is an experienced foster carer who has made a huge difference in the lives a good few youngsters. And put very simply, we need many more people like him – and his wife – to provide the kind of loving and dedicated homes so many vulnerable children need.
At the moment, there is a need for an additional 8,600 foster families in the UK. Rainbow is looking for new applicants in London, Birmingham, Manchester as well as Hampshire
Contact us for an exploratory chat on 020 8427 3355 or our National Line – 0330 311 2845. There is no pressure or obligation – we just want to make sure people have all the information they need to take what is a life-changing step.
It’s a good idea to explore our website further: some pages look at right now – http://rainbowfostering.co.uk/youth-participation/