Foster Carers

Childminding and Foster Care: Alex & Jayne’s Story

Alex & Jayne share their experiences of fostering.
Our journey to the centre of the earth and back!

Hiya, I’m Jayne, a wife to Alex, mum to three amazing birth kids, step mum to two fabulous adult kids, nutty nana to two grandsons, childminder and now foster carer.

Our journey started way back, before we even met! Alex’s sister was a foster carer up North, working as a parent and tots’ leader with my mum. His cousin is still a long serving foster carer in the Midlands, with an MBE to honour her services.

As a mum of four, my own mum had always wanted to foster but the time was never quite right, until just after I left home. Mum and dad started their fostering journey with two brothers before my dad joined the police service and moved down the country.

Those two little boys sealed my fate as wanting to foster. As the eldest of four, I always knew that if we were to ever lose our parents, I would fight to stay with my brothers.

By a twist of fate, Alex’s sister became a trusted friend of my mum’s, so it was that we went on a blind date and ended up hitting it off enough to stay together and get married.

The early fostering years, and starting our family

In 1999 we moved to Northamptonshire. Alex was a police officer in the Met, I became a careers adviser working with teenage mums.

We started our LA fostering journey, and were approved near the end of 2000, by which time I’d fallen pregnant. Our first placement was a sibling pair of brothers, their dad was in the forces, and their mum was struggling. The boys stayed for two weeks. It was a positive introduction to fostering with a home visit from the birth parents when they came to collect their boys.

In May 2001, our daughter Charlotte was born. We needed to revaluate our life circumstances, and after only four months we handed in our notice as foster carers, vowing to try again when we finished having babies.

Three years on, our second child Bronte was born, I became a childminder, started volunteer work in a school as well as being a careers adviser. I went on to stop careers work to concentrate on working as an LSA (Learning Support Advisor) in school, childminding part time.
In 2006 we had the shock arrival of our youngest, Piers. I was still childminding until 2008 when I went full time as an LSA.

In August 2012 I decided to return to childminding to prepare our birth children for fostering. Alex was a few years away from retirement from the Met still, so we started to prepare our birth family for our future. I always spoke to childminding parents about our plans to foster. I then wrote to a Social Worker in an LA who I knew, to see if we would be able to foster and childmind at that time- she said it was perfectly okay.

At that time my childminding business was so busy I had my mum assist and Alex as a part time assistant when he was home. I had a minimum of four children in during the day without after schoolers, so could not foster with the LA.
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The search begins

In 2017 when our youngest was 11 we contacted our local authority and an independent fostering agency to see if we could foster as well as childmind. Both said yes.

In 2018 our LA stated that they wanted us to only ever have 4 children in the house at any one time. We showed a social worker around to show how we could separate mindees and fosterlings, but her manager gave an arbitrary number of four (nothing in statute, just a number from a manager).

At that time my childminding business was so busy I had my mum assist and Alex as a part time assistant when he was home. I had a minimum of four children in during the day without after schoolers, so could not foster with the LA.

We had turned our four bed into a 6 bed with a separate childminding room. In the meantime, we spoke to a few IFAs who said no as we were childminding. We thought nothing of it as the original IFA made plans to come and see us, once again saying it seemed fine. We decided to get Christmas out of the way and then start our fostering applications.

In Feb 2019 we contacted the IFA who had previously said yes. It was a new social worker who advised that since we last spoke there had been a review of policy and they no longer accepted childminders.

We even wrote to the Children’s Commissioner and were once again ready to give up when we found Compass.
Could we ever be both foster carers and childminders?

We had some low times. In 2018 I had started to reduce my childminding numbers to see if we could survive financially, I had given up wrap around care from two of the schools I used to work with.

After getting this refusal and her advising us that she knew of no IFAs who would accept childminders, we contacted two other IFAs and were turned down, so we contemplated giving up.

Reasons were different with each IFA and I started to get increasingly cross when no one could point me to the legislation which stated that childminding was an incompatible vocation with fostering.

We had years of childcare experience from babies to teens, autism, speech and language delay, behavioural difficulties, and teen mums. As a childminder I knew I had the skills to support children who were not with their birth parents. Just the title ‘childminder’ meant we were never even sent paperwork to read! I argued that I could have had one baby only as a childminder, but they still said my title ruled me out.

We even wrote to the Children’s Commissioner and were once again ready to give up when we found Compass.

After months of a flat refusal on the grounds of childminding from LAs and other IFAs, Compass agreed to send out a social worker to talk to us. That SW looked at our home, our layout, and our experiences, and said she thought we could be assessed to foster. It so happened that another IFA also said yes a few days later to us starting the assessment process but their training programme didn’t look as supportive as Compass so we chose to proceed with Compass.

Our initial visit progressed to the initial paperwork but with a warning that she would need to speak to her manager about the childminding as though she could see how it could work in our home, she would need to be able to show this to her manager.
In the July that year, on holiday, we took a call from someone in Compass who booked a date for our full assessment to start.

After such a long wait, the assessment process didn’t seem too long to us. It was very thorough and delved into our lives deeper than we had ourselves. But ultimately the referral was made for us to go to panel – originally expecting panel date for February 2020. In November we were warned we might get to panel before Christmas, then in December, we were asked if we could make it to Essex the following day as a panel date had come up!

Our panel were very thorough. Again, they did not have access to a ground plan of our house, they couldn’t physically see how we could keep birth children, foster children and minded children safe if a foster child had a difficult day or meltdown. But every question they put to us, we had planned for:
• School refuser? ‘It’s OK, Alex will give up work’ (he was by now working in a school).
• ‘The foster child needs quiet time after contact – ‘OK we have built a separate childminding space.’
• ‘Minded children’s parents could be a safeguarding risk to looked after children’ – ‘We have two entrances, one for mindees, one for family.’

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We had the answers and passed panel on 18th December 2019.

We met our SSW who noted that our panel recommendation said up to 4 children. We have the space and she asked us if we thought we could honestly cope with a large sibling group. We were adamant that we could and that we did not want to fill a bed with a single child if there were siblings out there who needed to be together.

In March 2020 –three days before the first Covid lockdown, we took in our first group of foster children. They were three siblings on an emergency placement. It had been agreed that we should only take planned placements because of my childminding so that risks to both sets of children could be ascertained. However, after a pre-warning to see if we had beds, they arrived at 11pm after a traumatic removal, and our real work began.

I was still childminding Early Years and wraparound-care children. We went into lock down, took three small children on a long car journey to collect our eldest daughter from university, then started a lockdown with eight people in the house!

After a week, whilst I was able to care for key worker children as a childminder, we did choose to temporarily close the childminding business as the Covid situation was a new unknown, and we did not want to add risk to a new family dynamic.

Despite our years of battling to foster as well as childmind, under the circumstances of a national lockdown, the closure of the childminding business proved to be invaluable at that time, to give the children both physical space in the home as well as an amazing opportunity for attachment and bonding.

During the time the three children have been in our care, we have thrown ourselves into learning and training, have been asked to consider ambassador roles, and reopened our childminding business.

At a time when children were struggling to have opportunities to see other children, our business helped our foster children to form friendships in a secure environment. They have thrived and grown by seeing me work with other children and have both learned from the minded children and taught them too.

Our childminding families have supported our journey throughout, accepting our guidance to support their children and enabling their children to better understand different types of families. Our foster children have blossomed in these friendships and look forward to getting in from school to a house full of children to play with. Even when they have times of dysregulation – it has worked as we planned, Alex supports whichever child is dysregulated in our family room, whilst I continue to work and support minded children in our work room.

Our birth children have thrived, shown compassion, and understanding. Our childminded children have shown respect, fascination, and kindness.

We have learned one important lesson about childminding alongside fostering – it is exhausting!

When we went to panel the first time, we were asked how we would make time for ourselves. We didn’t know much about self-care at the time. The biggest change we have made is that we changed our childminding hours from very unsociable 5.30am starts to 8pm finishes, to a more workable day, before finally deciding to end our work in the Early Years so that we have day times to catch up with meetings, training, self-care, and housework!

Ultimately, childminders are professionals, many of us have taken lots of qualifications and training courses to work in our professional role. We are safeguarding trained, additional needs aware, first aid trained, compassionate professionals with an obvious strength to give to fostering.

Childminders bring a wealth of experience and should never be turned down without a full assessment of how we can make it work. Many of us work with assistants who can work alone for up to two hours a day when we attend meetings or appointments.

Instead of putting up barriers, Compass allowed us to offer solutions. We hope other IFAs will see the benefit in training childminders up to become foster carers.

As I ended this, I jumped onto a childminding Facebook group where a lady was asking if there are any childminders who also foster. Her LA were saying they were concerned. What I then read was a huge number of childminders who had tried and been turned down, a few who had tried both and struggled and a few who are still busy childminding and fostering.

It seems there is still a big lottery about whether childminders are accepted to start the fostering assessment or not.

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