Like everything in life, the role of a foster carer comes with its highs and lows. While incredibly rewarding, being a foster carer can also be tough at times.
Supporting young people that have experienced instability and trauma throughout their lives can take a lot of time, energy, and patience. For many foster carers, it’s easy to fall behind on things like self-care.
Alex is one of our brilliant foster carers in the South. Alex currently cares for a four-year-old foster child, G. Though very rewarding, caring for G takes up a lot of Alex’s time.
‘The little one I foster has some really complex needs. It’s very tricky to go places and do things.’
However, Alex understands the importance of taking time out to look after herself too: ‘I try to get out and do 10,000 steps a day because I think it’s really good for your health and wellbeing, to get out do a lot of walking.’
This is true – physical activity is proven to have a positive effect on your mental health, helping to increase mental alertness, energy levels, and reduce stress and anxiety. For foster carers like Alex, walking can provide an excellent opportunity for mindfulness, reflection and relaxation.
It’s this that inspired Alex and her fellow foster carers, Matt and Luisa, to begin organising ‘Walk-and-Talk’ foster carer support groups, with the help of their local Compass Fostering branch. For Alex, when it comes to the ups and downs of fostering, ‘sometimes, it’s only another foster carer that really gets what you’re going through.’
In the Walk-and-Talk groups, carers from the local area meet to catch up, share experiences and advice, and spend some quality time with likeminded people. These informal social activities are held in areas of local nature, such as by a lake or at the seafront, encouraging carers to make the most of the fresh air.
‘With Covid, and the isolation that so many of us have experienced, it makes you realise that sometimes a cup of coffee or a walk is enough to make you think “yes, I can do another week.” We’re taking time out to care about ourselves too.’
At Compass, we work hard to provide 24/7 support for all our carers, including dedicated foster care support groups that we run monthly. These groups provide a safe, relaxed environment for carers to access essential advice and support from fellow carers and Compass social workers.
However, as Alex mentioned, sometimes life can get in the way, which is why the Walk-and-Talk groups provide another opportunity for carers to access support: ‘Having a ‘pick-n-mix’ menu of available support allows carers to stay better connected, which is the most important thing. Even if you think you’re okay, it’s important to have a network of support.’
Unlike the slightly more structured monthly support groups, Walk-and-Talk doesn’t necessarily have an agenda or specific focus on fostering.
‘Sometimes, we talk more about what book someone read, or a programme they watched on television. It isn’t always about fostering; its about us, as individuals.’
Of course, when it comes to safeguarding, Alex says that she and another delegated experienced carer feedback to their own supervising social worker’s if they have any concerns, as ensuring the safety of carers and their foster children is paramount.
So far, the Walk-and-Talk groups that have run seem to have had ‘a really warm and positive response.’ Alex, Matt and Luisa believe that the positive reception of these groups comes from the sense of community and togetherness that they cultivate.
‘There were a lot of carers who said they would definitely want to do it again, so there’s definitely an appetite for it.’
They’re also hoping that other regions will get behind the idea and begin organising their own Walk-and-Talk groups across all the Compass Fostering regions. For Alex, ‘Walk-and-Talk is about trying something new and getting in the fresh air,’ and she hopes that foster carers from other regions will feel the same.
We think that Alex, Matt and Luisa’s Walk-and-Talk initiative is a brilliant idea. We can’t wait to see where it goes next!
If you think you could make a difference to the life of a young person, and are interested in becoming a foster carer, you can get in touch with us here.