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.”
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.”
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.
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.”
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.”
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. “