Posts tagged as: Blogs

A Day in the Life of a Foster Parent

Foster care is all about resilience, compassion and having a heart big enough to embrace unknown challenges. For one of Compass’ foster carers in particular — we’ll call her Sue to protect her identity — the journey began just over five years ago. Sue has kindly agreed to share her experience, delving into a day in the life of a foster parent, and discussing the insights she’s gained along the way.

Why Sue Became a Foster Carer

Before embarking on her fostering journey, our featured carer was a close protection officer for years. Her role primarily involved keeping famous people safe and ensuring security at nightclubs. Having this background equipped her with invaluable skills in conflict resolution, communication and maintaining a secure environment – traits that seamlessly translated into her role as a foster parent.

Sue was first inspired to foster through her mother, who has been a foster carer for over 20 years. Her sister also fostered for a while, and watching the positive impact they had on their kids led to her wanting to care for children in need. It also enabled her to receive direct advice which has helped her along her fostering journey.

What Is a Typical Day in the Life of a Foster Parent?

Sue’s day begins like everyone else’s. The alarm rings at 6am to help her prepare for the busy day ahead. Her foster children then wake up around half an hour later, and she begins to iron their clothes and prepare their breakfast as they get ready for school. The eldest then takes the school bus at 7:45am, while the others go to breakfast club at 8.

With the children at school, our foster carer spends her time running various errands. This includes a number of things such as cleaning the house, doing the washing and going food shopping. She then dedicates the after-school hours to cooking dinner, taking one of the children to Scouts, and spending time together watching telly. Once the children go to bed at 8pm, our carer gets some well-deserved rest, as she takes the time to wind down and relax, before heading to bed at 10pm. This schedule may seem overwhelming to some, but for Sue and many other foster carers, every effort is another step towards creating a safer and loving atmosphere for a child.

Who Do Foster Carers Turn to When Things Get Hard?

The journey of a foster carer isn’t navigated alone. Our carer highlights the support she received from Compass, including therapy sessions and a present social worker. In one particular instance, one of her foster children went through an incredibly difficult time after dealing with trauma. Not only did Compass provide her with the help she needed, but they also took essential steps to keep the child safe.

“Compass are good as gold, I have to be honest,” Sue said. “I had therapy sessions with them, the Local Authority was brilliant as well. My social worker from Compass is also amazing. She’s always at the end of the phone if I have to pick it up for anything, she’s brilliant. Yeah, Compass have helped in a lot of ways. They talk to the children if there are any issues, they help me as well with all sorts of different things, telling me what work to carry out, so it’s been really good. I’ve got to give it to them, the Local Authority as well as Compass. They work together really well.”

What Are Some of the Best Parts of Being a Foster Carer?

As is common in most foster parent stories, the highlight is without a doubt getting to witness the children grow and flourish. When asked about the growth of her foster children, our featured carer beamed with pride, with the very topic giving her chills. She told us about how the eldest girl excels academically, and how her middle boy had had a rough start but was recently nominated as Deputy Head Boy in school. Her youngest child has come a long way with their spelling — every story a direct reflection of the profound impact of love and guidance.

In many foster carers real-life stories, you’ll likely hear about similar achievements. After all, although it can often be challenging, foster carers put all of their energy into the kids in their care. From helping them thrive at school, to creating a familial bond, it’s important that every child feels secure where they are.

“The way I see it is everybody comes with some sort of baggage, whether in foster care or not” Sue said. “So you’ve just got to work with that. At the end of the day, you’re in foster care for a reason. So as long as you can provide love and look after them and keep them safe, I think fostering is a very good thing.

Embracing the Role of a Foster Carer

A day in the life of a foster parent is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit, the power of compassion, and the importance of a stable and loving environment. Through her long journey from close protection officer to loving foster parent, Sue has shown the critical impact of creating a safe and nurturing environment for children in need. This is the heart of what we do at Compass, and we are truly proud of all our foster carers’ dedication to their roles. So if you ever find yourself wondering “what’s it like to be a foster parent?”, our carer’s story encapsulates that reality — a reality of growth, sacrifice and unconditional love and devotion.

Give vulnerable kids stability and empathy.

Find out more about fostering with Compass!

Craig’s Compass Journey

Just over 14 years ago I was stuck in a rut, in a job that wasn’t taking me anywhere. Suddenly, I was made redundant. I chose to see this as a positive and time for a change.

I may not be the brightest person you’ll ever meet, but with my determination to always work hard and self-discipline taught through my childhood and love of sports, I knew I had something to offer.

New challenges

I applied for a role in a residential children’s home in my town. Not knowing what to expect, I took up the offer but realised within the first week that I had landed on my feet and was quickly offered a permanent position within the home.

I soon learnt that I needed to be resilient and calm under pressure, but even after hard shifts I would go home safe in the knowledge that that every decision I had made that day was in the best interest of the children living in the home and that I was keeping them safe; for me that was the most important thing.

Making changes, not just for myself…

Every day was different and I began key-working a young lad. I was confident that under my wing, he would show his full potential – let’s call him Danny*.

Danny started to get rid of his scruffy tracksuits and moved to skinny jeans, polos and vans, we couldn’t get him away from the mirror as he was constantly brushing his fluffy, swept, clean hair. Danny started to take pride in his appearance and with this his confidence grew.

Having been removed from every school setting in Sussex, Danny was given one last chance of an education and he grabbed it with both hands! Yes there were bumps down the road but I used to explain that tomorrow is new day and it’s how he bounced back that was important.

And Bounce back he did! Winning “East Sussex young Educations Person of the year” in his age group with a 100% attendance. How amazing!?

Danny continued to make good progress and was consistently making better life choices. He had turned from a very angry young man who was fighting the world (unsurprising given his sad upbringing) to a someone I can safely say I’m immensely proud to have spent time with and helped and supported.

Danny soon moved in with his grandparent’s and got himself a job within his family’s construction business. He is now a dad himself and doing great!

Joining Compass

I then knew it was my time to move on too…. I was offered a job at the “Families for Children” home in East Sussex – now Compass Community.

Six years working in the most incredible home that changed lives for the better, consistently being graded as Excellent (often with no recommendations) at every Ofsted inspection, this home goes from strength to strength and is still changing lives everyday (What an incredible place to have worked!)

I made the move from senior support work to the recruitment team 5 years ago to offer support and guidance to potential foster carers for Compass. With fast growth, 18 months later, Compass introduced a staff recruitment team. Given my background in residential homes, I jumped at the chance to be part of the new team.  My job gives me immense satisfaction knowing that every time someone new starts working in one of our homes, they are helping change a child’s life for the better.

Wherever the rest of my working journey takes me, I will always look back with happy memories from working with such dedicated adults, all striving for the same positive outcomes for the children in our care.

If you are interested in starting your own journey with Compass, please click here 


(* name has been changed)

5 Black History Month UK Facts For Kids (and Adults!)

You may have already heard about Black History Month and its key aims. Black History Month is a significant and important time of the year, marking a time for celebration and reflection.

For most of history, the achievements and contributions of Black people to society have been disregarded. At Compass, we understand how important it is to acknowledge and celebrate Black history and the contributions the Black community have made across the globe.

In this article, we’re looking at some UK Black History Month facts, as well as answering some of the most frequently asked Black History Month questions and answers! We’d also recommend checking out our guide to teaching young people about Black History Month.

1. Black History Month Began in 1987

Black History Month celebrations in the UK first began in 1987, more than 30 years ago. The month was first organised by Akyaaba Addai-Sebo, a special projects coordinator of the Ethnic Minorities Unit at the (now defunct) Great London Council.

Addai-Sebo wanted to boost the self-esteem of Black British children and young adults by educating them on the long history and achievements of Black people living in the UK.

The first event was held on 1 October 1987 at County Hall and was attended by American historian Dr. Maulana Karenga, who founded the African American holiday of Kwanzaa; and Kenyan women’s activist Wanjiru Kihoro.

Question: Why is Black History Month celebrated at different times across the globe?
Answer: In the United States, Black History Month takes place in February to coincide with the births of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. Addai-Sebo choose to celebrate Black History Month UK in October because of the month’s importance in the African calendar, as well as is coinciding with coincided with the 150th Anniversary of Caribbean emancipation from slavery, as well as the 25th Anniversary of the Organisation of African Unity.

It's good for families to discuss their history and their own family tree. We encourage all of our foster carers to do this when they go through assessment with us, as it gets you in touch with your cultural identity.

2. The USA began observing Black History Month 61 years before the UK.

Did you know that the United States of America had already been observing their own version of Black History Month for over 61 years before the UK began their Black History Month observations?

The idea for Black History Month was first proposed by American author and historian Carter G. Woodson, who founded the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. In February 1926, Woodson launched the very first Black History heritage celebration – a week dedicated to educating others about the cultural significance and history of Black Americans.

Question: Why should we separate Black History Month celebrations in the US and UK?
Answer: When Black History Month UK started in the UK, there was a big emphasis on African American history. Over time the focus has moved to celebrating and recognising Black British history and key Black figures in the UK.

3. Britain Has a Lot of Rich Black History

When people talk about Black history in general, they often talk about Black history in the USA – especially the Civil Rights movement, and historical figures like Martin Luther King. While the USA is, of course, full of fascinating, important Black history – the UK has just as much Black history to learn from.

Black History in Britain dates all the way back to the Roman Empire, as far back as the 3rd century AD. Black communities have been present in the UK since at least 1500, helping to form and shape the development of Britain throughout history.

Question: Were there any Black Roman Emperors?
Answer: Yes! Septimius Severus was a Roman Emperor who ruled between 193-211 CE. He was an epic warrior and political mastermind, ruling over a large portion of Europe – including Britain. Severus was a hugely influential figure, founding the Severan dynasty, and his descendants continued to rule until 253 CE.

As part of black history month for kids, it's vitally important child can see themselves in the world being represented. In toys, in films and on the news.

4. The Wealthiest Person Ever to Live was a Black King

Black figures are often forgotten or overlooked in history – even figures like Mansa Musa, the richest man of all time.

Mansa Musa was the king of the Mali Empire during the 14th century in West Africa. Living between 1280-1337, Musa had unlimited access to gold, revitalizing cities in his kingdom using his wealth and enjoying the endless luxuries his wealth afforded him.

Arab writers of the period reported that Musa travelled with an entourage of tens of thousands of people at a time, alongside dozens of camels – all carrying 300 pounds of gold each. Furthermore, Musa supposedly gave away so much of his gold while visiting Cairo, that the overall value of gold in Egypt dropped for the next 12 years!

Question: Were there any Black British Monarchs?
Answer: It’s claimed that Britain has had two Black Queens throughout History. One, Queen Phillipa of Hainault, purportedly lived between 1310 – 1369, while the other, Sophie Charlotte, supposedly lived between 1744 – 1818. Both supposedly had African heritage and ruled as queen consort throughout history.

5. Black History Month is Also About the Future

Not only is Black History Month about celebrating the history of yesterday, but it’s also about looking forward – to the history of tomorrow.

Part of observing Black History Month involves ensuring we have continued action in tackling racism and ensuring that the Black community are given the proper representation and celebration going forward.

Not only is studying history interesting, but it also gives us perspective, helping inform the decisions we make moving forward. By educating ourselves and those around us during Black History Month, we can try to avoid the mistakes we have made in the past and move toward securing a fairer future for everyone.

Question: What are the aims of Black History Month in the UK?
Answer: To celebrate and recognise the achievements of African and Caribbean heritage people’s role in helping to shape UK culture, history, and economic development. Educating the UK population on how the relationships between Britain, Africa, the Caribbean, and the United States helped create modern Britain. To encourage government, institutions, and corporations to embrace and adopt equality and diversity policies.

You can read more about what we’re doing this year to celebrate Black History Month here.

‘The Chance to Give a Child a Childhood’: Julie & Neil’s Fostering Story

Fostering can be a life-changing experience for all those involved.

Neil and Julie are two of our foster carers from Wales. In this Foster Carer Feature, they sat down with us to talk about their fostering experience so far, including how it’s transformed their lives for the better. Read on to find out what they said.

How long have you been a foster carer with Compass?

“We’ve been fostering with Compass for two years. We passed panel June the 4th, 2020 – when we were still in lockdown. We’d been looking into fostering for five or six years before we actually did it.

We’d made an enquiry at one point, but our attic needed properly converting first, and Compass told us that once we had, we should come back to them – because they thought we would be ideal. So, we put it on the back burner until the time felt right, and went straight back to Compass when we felt ready again.”

How has your fostering experience been so far?

“Well, our foster child, E, came to us July the 10th – and is still with us. She’s with us in a long-term arrangement. So, we’ve only actually had one foster child. It’s turned out absolutely perfectly.

Fostering is the chance to give a child a childhood.

We’ve got two children at home, who were 14 and 9 when we first started. We told our Assessing Social Worker, who was brilliant, that we would (ideally) like someone younger and we said from the beginning that we would prefer a long-term arrangement.

We’re lucky, because we know that sometimes your preferences aren’t guaranteed, and sometimes it’s just the way it works. But she’s everything we could have hoped for.”

A young girl laughing.

What made you want to get into fostering?

“We’ve always had a lively house, with big holidays and Christmases. We wanted to give that to someone who had not had the chance to experience it, and were looking for someone who embraced our household and everything we had to give.

Fostering is the chance to give a child a childhood, really. We wanted to look after a child and give them a life they may not have had beforehand.”

What was it like when you received your first fostering match?

“Our first call was on a Wednesday night; the Family Finding Team thought they had found a good match for us. The only difference was the little girl was autistic, which is something we hadn’t considered.

They said they really think she’d thrive with us in our family environment. And so far, for all of us, it’s been a really, really good match.

We said yes – I (Neil) have got two autistic nieces, so I’m used to being around it, but not full time. When we came off the call, we thought they might look for more specialist carers.

But then we got a call on the Thursday afternoon, and they told us they’d really like to place her with us, as they thought we’d be great for her. The only thing was – could she come tomorrow? That was a bit of a surprise! But they said they really think she’d thrive with us in our family environment. And so far, for all of us, it’s been a really, really good match.”

A picture of a family walking a dog.

Did you have any initial concerns or worries?

“Well, we knew that, sometimes, fostering matches just don’t work – for whatever reason. The safety of our birth children was our priority, really; we needed clarification that our children were always going to be okay. We didn’t want to go any further if our children would be at risk.

Compass gave us plenty of reassurance. They really helped to put our minds at ease.

But our Assessing Social Worker and Compass gave us plenty of reassurance. They really helped to put our minds at ease. Helen, who was our Supervising Social Worker at the time, was fantastic and advised us all the way. She always advocated for us and worked to find a situation that would work for everyone.”

What have some of your biggest challenges been when it comes to fostering?

“Our foster child was nonverbal when she came to us. She couldn’t communicate, other than grabbing your hand or crying. She was 4 and was permanently in nappies, wouldn’t use cutlery and would drink out of a baby bottle only. So, we had a lot to learn, including finding a way of communicating with her, and her with us.

This included our two birth children as well, who have also had to make some adjustments. For example, in the evenings, I (Julie) put her to bed. That can sometimes take away two hours of my time; our kids have had to adapt to the fact I might not be around for a few hours. But they’ve adapted brilliantly to it.

A picture of a young girl playing.

Really, it’s simple little things that we’ve had to change. We knew that, because she was a child with autism, there were certain things we needed to put in place to keep her safe. There was also a lot of learning, including knowing there are certain triggers for her – that we now avoid.

Now, we have to think a bit more about where we go and what we do now to make sure it’s suitable for her. Because E has autism, she likes her routines, so our lives require a bit more organisation and planning. But now we’re aware of it all, it’s automatic.”

Have there ever been any times when you thought about giving up fostering? Why didn’t you?

“If it was just a job for us, we likely wouldn’t continue as we have. We understand that people foster for different reasons, but it just wouldn’t work for us in that way. For us, it’s so much more than that.

E is part of our family; we have three children now. We wouldn’t just be giving up fostering; we’d be giving up E.

We don’t really think of it as just fostering anymore. E is part of our family; we have three children now. We wouldn’t just be giving up fostering; we’d be giving up E. And that’s something we just couldn’t contemplate.”

A picture of siblings playing together.

What has been the most rewarding part of fostering?

“E has moved along just amazingly. As time has gone on, she’s saying more and more. Now, she’s started to put words together. There are new successes every day.

At School, she’s started calling us Mummy and Daddy, especially when they do drawings of their family. The other day, when we came back from swimming, Julie wasn’t home. As we pulled up, she said ‘Mummy no car,’ which is amazing coming from a girl who, two years ago, couldn’t say anything. We love seeing where she came from, and where she is now.

As a family, we’ve learned we’re adaptable. We can handle whatever is thrown at us and can take it in our stride.

We’ve been asked a few times whether fostering is what we wanted, and what we expected. Yes, absolutely it’s what we wanted. But what we didn’t expect is what fostering would give us in return.

When we started out, we thought that fostering would be a one-way thing. We thought a child would come in, and we would care for them, and it would be great for the child. But we never thought or considered how much the child would bring us. Our little girl is pure mischief; she’s fun, she laughs lots, and she’s got a wicked sense of humour. She’s added so much laughter to our house.

But another thing we’ve seen is how much our birth children have got out of it. To see how they have recognised her needs and learned to communicate with her, to see their progression and their understanding, and the way they’ve learned how to approach her differently – that’s been so rewarding.

As a family, we’ve learned we’re adaptable. We can handle whatever is thrown at us and can take it in our stride.”

A picture of a family on the beach.

What would you say to someone considering becoming a foster carer?

“We’ve actually spoken to a few people about this. The easy thing to say is ‘go for it, it’s brilliant!’ – but we know it’s more complicated than that. It’s been brilliant for us and has been brilliant for many other people – but there is a lot to consider.

If you do it because you really want to make a difference, then it can be incredible.

We always say that you need to make sure you have the right motivation for it. It has to be for the right reasons, and something that you really want to do. If you do it because you really want to make a difference, then it can be incredible.

If you’re thinking about it, it’s important to do your research. Get as much information as you can. Speak to people who do it (if you can). Ask questions. Research training and the role and responsibilities of a foster carer. Talk about it with your family and friends. Read other people’s stories, and find out what fostering might really mean for you. The assessment process will also help you so much in thinking why you want to do it.

If fostering works for you, it will bring you far more than you expect it to. “

Find out more about fostering with Compass here.

Alternatively, if you think you could make a difference to the life of a vulnerable child, please get in touch with us to find out more about foster care. Our team will be happy to answer any questions you may have.

Who Can Use a Food Bank in the UK?

Food banks in the UK are available to anyone in need of food assistance – regardless of your background, nationality or beliefs. You can visit a food bank without fear of discrimination. This includes the unemployed, people with a physical or mental disability, individuals experiencing homelessness, as well as people who are currently employed but are struggling to make ends meet.

Volunteers at a food bank preparing a parcel.

Can Anyone Use a Food Bank?

To access food bank services, all you need is a referral from a recognised organisation, which you can easily get from Citizens Advice. This is also known as a food bank voucher.

How to Get a Food Bank Voucher

1. Call Citizens Advice

You can get a food bank voucher by calling Citizens Advice at 0800 144 8 444. Be sure to provide your name and phone number, and let them know you require a referral. They’ll likely make an appointment with you to discuss your situation further. Be prepared to answer questions about your income, living situation and the type of support you think you need.

Keep in mind that Citizens Advice offers a call-back service that gives priority to existing food bank users. Moreover, due to the ongoing cost of living crisis in the UK, the volume of calls is currently high, so it would be wise to call a few days in advance of your food bank visit.

2. Contact other referral agencies

You may also request a food voucher from any one of the following agencies, organisations or professionals you’re already involved with:

  • Children’s centres
  • General Practitioners
  • Health visitors
  • Housing support officers
  • Local charities and churches
  • Local schools

Once you have received a food voucher, you can exchange it for food supplies at your nearest food bank.

A person retrieves tinned food from a food parcel.

Where Is My Local Food Bank?

To find a food bank near you, just search for your town, city or postcode on the Trussell Trust’s website. Often organised by local communities or charitable organisations like the Trussell Trust, it’s estimated that over 2,500 food banks are currently operating throughout the United Kingdom.

What Do Food Banks Provide?

Food banks play a vital role in providing assistance to people in need. They offer various types of emergency support:

1. Non-perishable food

Food banks provide non-perishable, in-date food that is often tinned or dried. Some examples include:

  • Beans, pulses and lentils
  • Biscuits
  • Cereal
  • Fruit Juice
  • Pasta
  • Rice
  • Soup
  • Tea/Coffee
  • Tinned meat
  • Tinned Tomatoes
  • Tinned vegetables

2. Household essentials

Food banks may also provide non-food items like toiletries or personal hygiene products. This will vary from area to area, depending on the types of donations the food bank receives.

3. Additional support

Many food banks also offer a range of additional support so that people don’t have to rely on the food bank in the future. This support varies from area to area, depending on the needs and requirements of each local community. However, it may include debt counselling, mental health support, as well as crisis intervention resources.

Volunteers at a food bank.

How Often Can You Use a Food Bank?

When relying on food banks for support, you will usually be issued a maximum of four food bank vouchers. Each voucher can be exchanged for a food parcel that aims to be as nutritious as possible and should sustain you for at least three days.

Alternatives to Food Banks

While a simple box of food can make a huge difference to families in need, food banks are never intended to be a long-term solution. This is why you should also consider some other proven ways to escape a crisis.

1. Jobseeker’s allowance

For people who are actively seeking employment, you can check if you’re eligible for Jobseeker’s Allowance and apply on the government’s website.

2. Support for people with disabilities

The government have also put together a helpful guide with all the benefits and support available to people dealing with debilitating health conditions. This includes help to find or stay in work.

3. Fostering allowances

Increasingly, people are also turning to fostering as a long-term solution, as it provides a reliable source of income throughout the cost of living crisis. While every fostering agency will have a different fostering allowance, at Compass, our carers are paid up to £82,800 per year. See our fostering allowance calculator to find out how much you could earn.

A child holds up a jar of peanut butter.

Who Can Use a Food Bank: Summarised

With more and more people wondering how to survive the cost of living crisis, demand for food banks is soaring. Between 2021 and 2022 alone, 2.17 million people used a food bank in the UK. Thankfully, with a food bank voucher from a referring organisation, you can visit your local food bank and support your family with a healthy food parcel. Alternatively, as a long-term solution, you can also consider fostering.


‘I Gained So Much and So Will You’: A Letter from A Foster Child

While important and (often) lifechanging, coming into foster care can be a stressful experience for children and young people.

Foster care may be their first time away from their family home. Regardless of whether they wanted to leave their birth family, entering a foster home for the first time is a new, unfamiliar environment for children and young people. It’s bound to bring up various mixed feelings and anxieties.

S is one our foster children. She and her brothers live with our Compass foster carer, Heidi. As a foster child herself, S knows what it feels like to enter a new foster home.

To help children in foster care settle into their homes, S wrote them a welcome letter! Every foster child at Compass will receive a copy of S’ welcome letter to foster children upon moving in with their foster family and S hopes her letter will reassure and comfort her fellow foster children.

You can read her letter to foster children below.

Hey there! Picture: A girl smiling at the camera.

I know how it feels right now, maybe you’re feeling scared and excited? Just like I was feeling. I came into care with my brothers and sister and at first, we were rushing through the door (I was 7, my sister was 11, and my brothers were both 6 at the time), but my sister went to another house.

We were so excited and thinking it was kinda cool to meet new people but then I started to think of things I missed… and about my future. I didn’t know what was gonna happen or what my future would look like.

When I met my foster carer Heidi, she was really nice and we did a load of stuff together that maybe I wouldn’t have done if I was at home.

What made a big difference to me was I had to move schools and leaving my best friends behind. BUT I made loads of new friends. They were really kind and helpful. Even though it felt like a loss, I gained so much and so will you.

I missed my mum and family and being able to spend time with her, (and I still do sometimes), and I’m sure you will miss your family too, BUT it’s not as bad as you might think it will be, and hopefully this letter will make you feel a bit better about everything- I wish I had a letter to tell me this too, because it can make a difference to hear it from someone else and to know you’re not the only one.

If you need to talk to someone, talk to your social worker- they will help you! It’s alright to feel this way… YOU WILL BE OKAY!

From S 😊

We absolutely love S’ welcome letter to a foster child and are sure her words will go a long way in reassuring her fellow foster children.

At Compass Fostering, we do everything in our power to help make the moving-in process as seamless and stress-free as possible for our children. Our brilliant foster carers are given the training and knowledge they need to provide outstanding care for our foster children, and we support them every step of the way.

If you think you could make a difference to the life of a child, get in touch with us to find out more about becoming a foster carer with Compass.

The Foster Carer Wellbeing Diary: Finding Balance & Making Positive Changes

Hello! I’m Matt. Mat Arlow

I’m a Compass foster carer from the South. I’m father to 3 beautiful grown-up daughters and married to my wonderful wife (and partner in crime) Dawn. Welcome back to the second instalment of my blog, The Foster Carer Wellbeing Diary!

I know that we, as foster carers, spend most of our time looking after others. With so much going on, it’s easy to forget to take some time for ourselves.

That’s why, this week, we’ll be looking at how you can find balance in your busy lives and make some space for positive change.

Stay tuned!

How balanced and mindful are you in your daily life?

Are you someone that has routine applied to everything you do? Or are you, like most of the population, a little chaotic and reactive to whatever the day throws at you?

One of the simplest ways to look at living a healthy and balanced life is to firstly accept that we can’t always control every aspect of our lives. It’s important to understand that there are multiple external factors that affect our routine and choices.

A diagram showing some of the factors impacting lifestyle, such as family, finance and environment.
There are many different factors that influence your lifestyle.

As foster carers we can spend the majority of our time looking after the needs and emotions of the young people we care for.  It can be very easy to forget to look after ourselves or take time for self-care and our own emotions.

But it is just as important for us to take time for ourselves! After all, if we find ourselves in poor health or mentally burnt out, our ability to fully care for the young people around us is reduced.

As a father to 3 young women, I have my hands full at times. Nevertheless, I have always wished to be a positive role model for them (harder at times than I care to admit). Part of this also means living the words I preach!

I am very blessed that they are all very much aware of their nutrition, health and how to take care of themselves properly. They not only inspire me to be better as a parent, but most importantly, they have become fantastic role models for the young foster child we have living with us.

A Quick Honesty Exercise

For this blog, I’d like to begin by exploring the idea of Balance and Moderation.  But, as I mentioned in my previous blog, Setting Yourself Up For Success, we have to start with being honest with ourselves.

A picture of some vegetables.

Find 5 minutes to yourself and look in the mirror. This may feel strange at first, but bear with me!  Now, take a moment and tell yourself 5 things you know you have control of – things that you class as your ‘positive’ habits.  As an example:

  • Do you eat enough fruit and veg each day?
  • Do you undertake some form of daily physical activity (Walking, Running, Gym, Cycling)?
  • Do you get enough sleep?

Now, think of 5 things you feel you could improve. These might be things that you keep putting off until tomorrow (remember tomorrow will have its own challenges!).

Look at yourself and say the words to yourself.  Examples are:

  • I eat too much chocolate, sweets, or cake.
  • I drive everywhere – even to the shop at the end of the street.
  • I have 3 sugars in every cup of tea.

These two lists both tell us something different about the daily choices we make.

The first list is one that we can give ourselves a high five in the mirror for, things we are already in control of. Theses habits are proof that we can succeed.

The second list might be more difficult to accept. It can be hard to admit we have negatives habits and excuses as to why the person in the mirror isn’t all that we would like them to be.  But this doesn’t mean they can’t be!

The 3 Factors of Change

Perfection isn’t our goal here, nor is it achievable. But what we can do is try to be the very best version of ourselves. Each step we take, and each little change makes a difference.

A picture of a pyramid.

One thing I have learnt of my many years of supporting change in people is that real change comes from 3 key factors:

  • Accepting change needs to happen
  • Setting the right and honest goals for what we want change to be
  • Making small and consistent changes

It can be easy to set ourselves too much change too soon.  I recommend trying to think about building a pyramid – the blocks of change and choices we make create the wide and strong base for our journey. As the layers are added, the pyramid rises towards the final block: toward success and real long-term change in our lives.

If we just stack the blocks like a tower, it can be all too easy for the wind of excuses or shaking of a bad day to topple the tower.  (This is classed as a lapse or relapse; we will discuss these and coping mechanisms along with goals in a later blog.)

Now, it’s important to note that moderation is key. We can’t only focus on the negatives and restrictions we have placed on ourselves.

Cutting out all of the things we enjoy (such as ‘forbidden foods’ or no more TV in the evenings) will only set us up for failure in the long term.  We must allow ourselves to enjoy some of these things, embrace them and accept that with hard work and commitment comes reward.

So don’t be too hard on yourselves. Have a little of your vice (maybe chocolate, glass of wine, etc) but try to use this as a reward for being good in your day.

Finding Balance: An Example

It’s the young person in your care’s birthday. You have put on a fantastic spread of sausage rolls, pineapple and cheese sticks, crisps and of course – the birthday cake.  Your first instinct might be to restrict yourself here or cut yourself off from enjoying this experience fully. Don’t!

Allow yourself to be part of the moment. Enjoy the food along with the children and other guests. Balance can be achieved by either later in the day taking an extended walk with the dog, or possibly just ensuring breakfast and lunch that day were healthy choices

Knowing Where to Start

With all of this in mind, let’s look at some key aspects to living a balanced and healthy lifestyle. This includes some of the Government guidelines and some of the key areas you can focus on to really make a difference. These areas of control are Diet & Nutrition, Sleep, and Exercise.

A diagram showing three different areas of influence: diet and nutrition, sleep and exercise.

They are well recognised as being the areas that individuals can control and importantly make small and manageable changes too that will very quickly make you feel healthier and positive about yourself.

We will discuss each of these in more detail in next month’s blog, looking at how you might fit them into your lives. We’ll explore different ways to make sure you are getting the right nutrition, how to prepare and set yoursel up for a good night’s sleep and, finally, options for exercise that might work for you.

In the meantime, try to consider these areas and how much time you dedicate to each of them in your day-to-day life.

But most importantly, try not to be too hard on yourselves when looking in the mirror!

Remember you are doing an amazing job looking after the needs of a young person whose life is already benefitting from the care and support you are giving them.

I am sure many of you already have plenty balance in their lives. Some of you maybe need a little fine tuning and others may be feeling there is a very long list of things they would like to change. As I started this blog, I mentioned how honesty in our current situation is a key part of any journey to change.

We are all unique, in person and situation – the challenges we face are varied and complicated.  You are already one step ahead if you have managed to get to the end of this blog!

Thanks for reading. I look forward to sharing with you all again next month.

The Foster Carer Wellbeing Diary: Setting Yourself Up For Success

Hello! I’m Matt. Mat Arlow

I’m a Compass foster carer from the South. I’m father to 3 beautiful grown-up daughters, and married to my wonderful wife (and partner in crime) Dawn. As a foster carer myself, I know how challenging it can be to find time for yourself.

Fortunately, I have 29 years experience delivering Health and Fitness training from my time in the army. Following my retirement, I’m now looking to share my knowledge and expertise with my fellow foster carers.

I hope that the information and advice shared in these monthly blogs will encourage foster carers to make positive changes and, most importantly, take some time to care for themselves.

Stay tuned!
Matt Arlow

As carers, we spend the majority of our time thinking about and caring for others.

But, I wonder, how much time you take looking after yourself or reflecting on your own behaviours?

Our own health and wellbeing can easily be put to the back of our minds, especially when we can be prioritising childcare, family, work and household jobs – to name but a few.

Many sectors of industry are focusing on the Workplace Health & Wellbeing of their employees, but for us carers, our workplace is our family home.

It can sometimes be hard to distinguish where home life stops, and work begins; often, it feels like there just aren’t enough hours in the day. Time to ourselves is often spent sinking into the sofa and shutting off to the world for as long as we can manage.

I’m on a mission to change that, with my new monthly blog, ‘The Foster Carer Wellbeing Diary’. These monthly blogs will focus on health behaviours and wellbeing, looking at how the choices we can make can benefit not only our own lives, but the lives of our families and the young people we look after.

Each month I will explore a new topic, sharing my experiences and knowledge along with sign posting you to resources you can access to support positive changes.

A Little About Me

A man hiking.

Before all that, though, I’d like to take a moment to introduce myself and hopefully give you an understanding of why I am writing these blogs.

My name is Matt. I am a 46 year old father to 3 beautiful grown-up daughters, and I am married to my wife (and long term partner in crime) Dawn. Just like you, we are foster carers, who are continually working to find some balance in this non-stop rollercoaster of life.

Having recently retired after 29 years in the Army, this is the first time in my adult life that I have complete freedom of choice and can truly make the choices in life that I want and importantly when I want.

For the past 25 years I have been fortunate enough to deliver Health & Fitness support to soldiers in many different capacities, from training soldiers for overseas operations, to mentoring future leaders at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst.

Throughout my last 6 years in the army, I was given the privilege of running health & wellbeing advisor training courses, alongside organising many other health training and campaigns.  A personal highlight for me was my being invited to deliver a presentation at the International Congress of Physical Performance in Quebec, Canada!

Overall, it has certainly been a journey of challenges and learning. In later blogs, I hope to reflect more on some of my own challenges and explain how I have found balance as a foster carer.

What Will We Cover?A collection of vegetables.

Over the years I have helped more than 2,000 service personnel, countless friends, and family members with their individual journeys.

I know that when it comes to health and wellbeing, there are so many sources of information that at times, it can feel like too much to take in. That, and, depending on where you are looking, there are some very contradictory opinions on what can or can’t work for you.

I am passionate about helping others and hope that you not only find these blogs interesting and informative, but also easy to follow for your own journey. Through these blogs, I hope to pass on many of the tips and education I have picked up over my career.

Some of the topics we will look at together include:

  • Nutrition
  • Diet Facts and myths
  • The benefits of being physically active
  • Building our own resilience and coping mechanisms
  • Smoking and Alcohol
  • Understanding our own Health Behaviours
  • Finding balance in life
  • Weight Management
  • Benefits of Sleep & Good Routine

Setting Yourself Up for Success with HonestyA man standing on top of a mountain.

When it comes to health and wellbeing, if I told you there is one model that fits all, I would be lying.  As individuals, we are all different – facing our own challenges and barriers to making positive choices in life.

One of the most important parts of self-care is self-reflection and being honest with ourselves about where we are in life today.  Who are you? What is important to you? What do you need? Do you accept yourself and, most importantly, are you being honest with your answers?  Self-efficacy, taking personal responsibility and owning who we are can be a very difficult thing to do.

The person we like to show others isn’t always the person we see ourselves as. I call this the “Facebook version” of ourselves – the positives often hiding the negatives, the pictures of the good times that are often only snapshots of our days, sometimes filtered or edited.

So, my first question to you all, is “Who are You?”.  When you look in the mirror, who do you truly see? Ask yourselves: do I really see me in the mirror, and what does that mean? When I personally look in the mirror and start any journey of self-exploration or change, I ask this question to myself.

Hopefully this first blog has caught your attention, I look forward to sharing with you all again next month.

If you enjoyed Matt Arlow’s foster carer health and wellbeing blog, be sure to check the ‘blog’ tag section on the Infocentre for more!

Celebrating the Positive Impact of Our Social Workers

The role of a Supervising Social Worker can be both challenging and rewarding at times.

At Compass, our social workers are an essential, valued part of our community. They embody our ethos, committed to making a lasting and lifelong difference to the lives of the children and young people in our care.

That’s why, for World Social Work Day 2022, we wanted to take the time to celebrate the positive impact that our social workers have within our community.

Throughout their fostering experience, our foster carers and foster children have access to constant support and guidance from their personal supervising social workers. Our social workers are committed to their work, helping to calm nerves, soothe anxieties, find solutions to problems and advocate for the overall wellbeing of their foster carers and children.

One of our Compass foster carers, Shani, explained to us how her supervising social worker helps her and her foster child to feel ‘very supported.’

With her supervising social worker, Shani says she feels safe to ‘discuss any issues that may arise and discuss the progress of how (she) is getting on, and how the children are getting on.’

‘It feels like there’s always somebody there that you can talk to.’

Our social workers receive a range of training to ensure they can provide holistic emotional and professional support for our carers, young people, and children.

Each of our social workers is highly skilled, possessing a variety of unique strengths, knowledge and experiences that help them in providing tailored support. This support begins from the moment our foster carers start their fostering journey with Compass.

Rehana and Peter have been fostering with Compass for some time now. Yet, when they first became foster carers, they were anxious about the impact that fostering might have on their birth children and family dynamic.

However, Rehana explained how their supervising social worker ‘put (them) at ease’, helping to ‘put aside the anxieties (they) had for (their) children,’ and aiding family in feeling settled and at ease when welcoming their first foster child.

A young boy laughing.

We know that the issues that social workers deal with are seldom straightforward or easy-going. Many of the children and young people in our care have experienced trauma and instability throughout their lives. This means they may suffer from a range of issues, including attachment trauma, complex behavioural issues, depression, or neurological conditions like Autism and ADHD.

These issues require specialised care and support from both foster carers and their social workers. An important part of being a supervising social worker is providing foster carers with the information they need, signposting carers toward the right help, training, and guidance.

One of our foster carers, Sara, describes her Supervising Social Worker, Steph, as ‘an encyclopaedia of information.’

‘Her existing database in her brain is phenomenal.’

Sara’s supervising social worker, Steph, ‘gives (her) pre-emptive advice and information’ about the challenges that Sara might face in her fostering journey, all of which is ‘bang on point, every single time.’

For foster carers and foster children, this breadth of knowledge is essential. Our social workers help our foster carers by facilitating their personal development, all while ensuring that their foster children receive high-quality, needs-specific care that caters to their individual experiences.

At Compass, we know that the work our supervising social workers do is invaluable.

For our social workers, supporting foster families through tough times and ensuring that our vulnerable young people and children are safe and well looked after requires a lot of energy, patience, and emotional resilience.

However, our social workers are always committed to providing the best support possible for our community. We are incredibly thankful to all our social workers, for the work they do.

If you’re thinking of becoming a supervising social worker with Compass, or would like to know more, you can find out How to Become a Supervising Social Worker here.

You can also read the day in the life of one of our social workers, Stephanie, here.

Alternatively, if you have more questions regarding fostering, you can get in touch with us here.

Foster Carer’s Real Life Stories: Experiences Differ

We love to share our real life foster carer’s stories. There are so many different circumstances that everyone comes from, along with varied background and rich cultural lives- it’d be a shame not to celebrate them!

At Compass we champion diversity, and we look for the positives in everyone that applies to be a foster carer with us. We always search for ways in which being a foster carer can work for people, instead of reasons why they shouldn’t be one.

That’s what our ‘Potential Not Perfection’ motto is all about. It’s important to look at the side of everyone’s experience from many points, seeing how we can help you make being a foster carer fit into your lifestyle.

Take a look at a couple of our carer’s stories, we have families from all walks of life who have provided amazing homes for vulnerable children.

Working Fulltime: Emma and Simon’s Story

Emma and Simon have been part of the Compass Central region since June 2021. When the couple entered their fostering journey, they were unsure if they would be suitable to foster as they had not had any children of their own and were working full time. They have always known that they wanted to help a child and had looked at other options such as adoption but having spoken to Compass they decided to start their journey to become foster carers.

Compass saw the potential with Emma and Simon and during the assessment process looked at the flexibility of their employment and transferrable skills they could bring to fostering. We allowed the assessment process to make the decision whether or not they should or could foster.

Just two months after their approval, Emma and Simon welcomed two children into their home, aged 5 and 7 years old, and are now a busy household of four! Both children are now settled in new schools, having joined activities outside of school, like football and swimming.

A Hectic Household: Vernon and Steve’s Story

Vernon and Steve have been fostering with Compass since January 2020. They applied after adopting 3 children, aged 11, 8, and 5 years old. The couple reached out to Compass to see if it would be possible to look after a foster child alongside their adoptive children. They wanted to continue to help other vulnerable young children.

We welcomed Vernon and Steve into the fostering assessment process, and when approved as carers, Vernon and Steve worked closely with the Family Finding and Operations team to find the right child to come and live in their home. Initially it was thought that this would be one child, however 4 months later they welcomed not one, but three children into their home! A sibling group, twins aged 7 and an 8-year-old.

All the children are settled, and Vernon and Steve now have a busy household of 8!

Compass let the assessment process (and Vernon and Steve!) determine whether they were ready to foster after going through the process of adopting their children. Having a busy household should not stand in people’s way of considering whether to foster.

Thank you, Vernon and Steve and Emma and Simon, for making a lasting difference to children’s lives.

Please get in touch with us today if you would like to find out more information about how to become a foster parent.