Foster carers like us really appreciate the opportunity to write about our experience of fostering. My partner Susan and I have been carers with Rainbow for the past six years. And, yes, as you so often hear, it can be a bit of a rollercoaster ride. Fostering will always be challenging, but no one could have foreseen the different and unique challenges foster carers would face brought about by Covid.
Being a same-sex couple life has presented us with different problems and issues to overcome. As it’s ‘Pride Month’, we got to thinking how very different things are now in the terms of the way gay people can be valued for the contribution they make – whatever their life experiences. This has definitely been our experience in relation to fostering. Our agency, Rainbow, was tremendously supportive from the moment we approached them. And this has remained the same throughout all the lockdowns. One of the best things about being part of a closely integrated and supportive network of foster carers is the imaginative ideas people have. And, together with Anna, we certainly benefited from one of these during lockdown…
Like probably all parents and foster carers, we had real anxieties about the whole homeschooling thing when the schools were closed. How could we do our best to support the education of Anna the eleven-year-old we had been fostering for two-and-a-half years? There were no other children in our household so we worried about her losing all social contact with her peers. Growing up knowing we were gay had given both of us a very good idea of what it’s like to feel isolated. Susan and I were especially concerned about the prolonged effects of lockdown and how they might affect Anna. Then, like most other foster carers we had anxieties about the practicalities of online learning. Things like zoom meetings were completely outside our experience. We needn’t have worried on that score: the support and guidance we received from Rainbow were truly outstanding. It made the difference and without it, the following experiences would not have happened.
As the daily pressures of the first lockdown mounted, we were just so glad to be able to join up with other foster carers in the zoom meetings Rainbow arranged. And it was during one of these that we got a great idea from another foster carer. And, the thing about a really good idea is that it can be put to so many different uses. Mike, another Rainbow foster carer, had been talking generally about the difficulties all carers experience in those first few hours and days when a child first arrives. We all agreed how awkward that can feel so Mike told the group how valuable his aquarium had been to him. It was clear from what he went on to say that he was pretty knowledgeable. He was, however, keen to stress that this was a hobby anyone could take up. Hearing him speak we could instantly see how enthralling such a colourful and eye-catching spectacle an aquarium would be to a child. He was an experienced foster carer with long experience of emergency placements. Mike told the group that children would usually be fascinated by his aquarium. The phrase he used was “they couldn’t take their eyes off it.” And it didn’t seem to make any difference what age they were. He thought it gave them something to focus on when they first arrived – usually late at night and in a confused state. The fish seemed to have a calming effect and allowed a child fix on something if; as so often was the case, they didn’t want to talk. In the zoom meeting, the aquarium could be seen in the background, and even though scaled-down, it was a real attention grabber. Mike repositioned his laptop and got up and drew the curtains to darken his living room. Suddenly a large area of our screens was filled with brightly lit colourful fish. Some darted about whilst others idly swam past searching for food. The effect of so many translucent shapes blended with others that were iridescent or brightly coloured was hypnotic. And as the fish moved in different directions and at different speeds against a rising wall of bubbles, it began to feel hallucinogenic. Or put another way, spellbinding, and we weren’t even in the same room. The other foster carers seemed similarly affected so complete silence reigned for quite a few moments. Later Susan and I were in agreement: we could see how a child could easily be spellbound and even calmed by such a spectacle.
Mike was at pains to point out that his aquarium – as well as being a conversational icebreaker – could offer sanctuary. If a foster child wanted to be left alone with their thoughts they could enter this underwater realm. Often, he said, they appeared to completely lose themselves. And sometimes, after a while, they might suddenly begin talking about something that was troubling them. Being in a state of distraction seemed to prompt them into sharing their thoughts in an unsolicited way. Mike’s heartfelt opinion was an aquarium had therapeutic properties that could be of benefit to anyone – adults as well as foster children. Changing tack completely, Mike also said it also provided an opportunity for – a great phrase this – ‘exuberant interest’ particularly when it was time to feed the fish or introduce another new one. He had found it a great aid for promoting conversation. Mike told us about the boy he was currently looking after who had become almost fanatical in his interest. When he came back from school, his first thought was always to feed the fish. What particularly pleased Mike was that this enthusiasm had provided the basis for really good school project work.
After that zoom meeting, Susan and I felt quite inspired. We live close to a garden centre and at that stage of the lockdown, they were just being allowed to re-open. It also had a fairly sizeable aquatic centre which had for some time been a bit of a local draw. Everything Mike said seemed to fall into place when we remembered the families who would take their children there to be fascinated by the array of brightly lit fish tanks. Not to mention the incredible variety of of colourful as well as weirdly shaped fish with bulging eyes and thick lips. We decided to do some homework as we felt this could be an endeavour with many educational ‘spin-offs’ that would benefit Anna. We weren’t going into this on the same scale as Mike but our initial online investigations gave us the confidence the three of us together could create something quite special. Hopefully, the following will be of benefit to all foster carers persuaded by Mike’s observations. So, in true ‘did you know?’ style, this is what we found in our researches: for children, looking after a home aquarium can be an especially rewarding hobby. It can allow a youngster to come ‘face-to-face’ with nature in their own home: quite literally a window on another world. Even before lockdown, the pattern for daily life is for children to be increasingly removed from contact with the natural world. A hugely disproportionate amount of time; so the research finds, of young people’s time is taken up with smartphones and television. Keeping fish can produce many results: it’s highly educational – lessons are there to be had in biology, chemistry – as well as environmental science. Having an aquarium also involves design and a lot of artistic consideration. There is a huge range of different coloured rocks and plants you can put in an aquarium – not to mention sunken galleons and treasure chests.
Children can also learn responsibility, respect for nature and living creatures, and how their actions directly impact the welfare of living creatures. They learn responsibility – fish must be fed; a tank must be cleaned regularly and algae must be removed. An aquarium is a complex micro-system that has to be kept at the right temperature between 75 and 80 degrees for tropical fish. The tasks involved are not huge, but they do require diligence and commitment.
You won’t be surprised to learn that at the first opportunity all three of us headed off to the garden centre and returned with a medium-sized tank with all the equipment needed to be up and running a couple of hours later. Anna had a magical time (her words) which seems to have continued undimmed. Over recent weeks, we have returned with more fish. It’s been possible to get fish that have been bred in captivity – so not removed from reefs – triggering a rich conversation about the importance of ecology and protecting the natural world. So we now have plenty to talk about and a vibrant spectacle to enjoy. Perhaps the most pleasing alternative to the television you can imagine. Following Mike’s example, we decided to place the aquarium in a different room from the ‘goggle box’. And, as I was telling other foster carers during our latest zoom meeting, it has been most noticeable just how much more time Anna has spent in the room with the ‘family fish’. And you won’t be surprised to hear that they all have names.
Susan and I are so grateful to Rainbow Fostering and all the foster carers we have met during the lockdown. And, especially, to Mike who has been delighted – if not surprised – to hear about the success we have had with our own aquarium. Anna has created dozens of brightly coloured pictures of fish that are decorating her bedroom and the fridge door. We got her to start a weekly diary recording the daily feeding time and the particular days the tank had to be cleaned. What is especially pleasing is Anna has some really good school project work underway – all based on our aquarium. And the icing on the cake is her school friends can’t wait to come round and feed the fish when things get back to normal.
(all names changed to protect privacy)
“We can’t think of many things that are as rewarding as being foster carers – and all our friends at Rainbow make it just that little bit extra special.”
If you are looking to foster our friendly team is a phone call away to discuss any questions you might have. Why choose to foster with Rainbow? We have been rated ‘Outstanding in all areas’ by Ofsted. Rainbow provides the highest levels of support to its foster carers. We prize the skills and abilities of our carers and the commitment they show to creating bright futures for children. Because many of our children have had a traumatic start in life we apply a team approach to meeting their needs. Integral to our Secure Base Therapeutic Training Model are the professionals – carers and therapists we have to support the varying needs of individual placements.
Fostering with Rainbow means joining a mutually supportive and vibrant community of foster carers. It means access to support groups as well as a wealth of ongoing training opportunities. Our foster carers are able to develop their careers with us in whichever direction they will gain most from.
Our children are from a wide variety of cultural backgrounds and are of all ages. Foster homes for teenagers, sibling groups, and children with complex needs are currently urgently needed in London, Birmingham, Manchester, Luton, and Milton Keynes. We also need foster homes for mothers and their babies – known as Parent and Child fostering placements.
Eligibility to foster.
We have foster carers of all ages, from all walks of life and- as well as cultural backgrounds. If you’re married, single, divorced, female or male, renting or a homeowner, straight, gay, lesbian trans, or bisexual – you are eligible for fostering. To foster with Rainbow you will also need to be over 21 and have a spare bedroom for a child or young person.
What matters most of all to us is that you have the interest, compassion, and motivation to do your best for the child – or children – you are caring for.
We have provided a list of answers to the most frequently asked questions we receive about what foster care involves. We hope it will be helpful – visit it at – http://rainbowfostering.co.uk/frequent-asked-questions/ And another of our blogs covering a particular fostering topic can be found at:
For the latest information on fostering statistics visit – https://www.thefosteringnetwork.org.uk/advice-information/all-about-fostering/fostering-statistics
Rainbow keeping the focus on fostering.