I guess it would be fair to say that I didn’t choose fostering, it chose me. My ex and I had a granny annex built for my parents and when they both passed we found ourselves with plenty of spare space and in need of some extra income to cover the part of the mortgage my parents had been paying. I had a rather naive notion that we could rent the annex to someone who might otherwise struggle to find somewhere to live. Well that proved very difficult, how do you find such people? We ended up registering with the local authority to do bed and breakfast. We had a few people who stayed for just a week or so, all victims of domestic abuse. It quickly became apparent that they needed more than just a roof over their heads, and I found myself supporting them in other ways. When I was bemoaning the lack of ongoing help for these people, to a work colleague, she suggested I look into supported lodgings and that turned out to be my gradual introduction to fostering
Initially I spoke to Hampshire's Children's Team who sent someone out to speak to me. I was informed that young people, over 16, who had been in care often needed support to transition from being fully looked after to being independent. I was told the young people would all have been shown the basics of caring for themselves so my role as a supported lodgings landlady would be to offer minimal support with daily living tasks and budgeting and to be a listening ear if one was needed. This sounded manageable alongside caring for my own three children and working part time, so I agreed to give it a go. Over the next few weeks, I was visited regularly and completed a mini form F assessment, had a medical and police checks completed.
My first young person was a young lad who had been living, alongside his younger brother, with his elderly nan. He had a job locally and initially settled well. Unfortunately, he didn’t enjoy his job and, after a couple of months gave it up. He began pestering his nan for money and she eventually told him he was no longer welcome to visit. He didn't take this well and his behaviour deteriorated rapidly. Within a few weeks he was coming home drunk, was arrested for pick pocketing, and finally absconded taking his younger brother, and my sons' camping equipment, with him. When he was found he refused to come back. I was devastated. I couldn’t understand what we had done wrong. My supporting social worker told me the lad was too embarrassed to come back and reassured me it was not my fault, but I still felt bad.
My next placement was a 16-year-old girl who came home from school to find a letter from her mum saying she'd gone to live in Jersey, leaving the rent paid till the end of the week and £50 for shopping! She stayed for 5 months while she finished her exams. During that time, she was accepted into a local college and I helped her apply for a bursary and made sure she would be able to budget and fend for herself. I helped her move into a studio flat sourced by her social worker and was very proud of how well she adapted. It was a positive experience all round.
By this time, my husband and I had split up and alongside the supported lodgings I had a Canadian lodger from the local School of Navigation. We must have seemed an odd household to outsiders. Me, my three children aged 7, 10 and 11, a 20-year-old Canadian lad and a 16-year-old girl with a 4-week-old baby! Strangely it worked. Mum was a lovely, if troubled, young lady and the baby was adorable. I enjoyed supporting mum, helping her bond with her baby, and teaching her what she would need to know to live independently. It was hard work as she was emotionally very traumatised and needed a lot of TLC but when she and the baby moved to a flat of their own, I was only too happy to offer ongoing informal support.
That was 29 years ago. When the mum and baby left my supervising social worker (SSW) suggested that I considered moving to full fostering as she said she could see I had put a lot of effort into helping the young people who had lived with my family with very little support. She felt I had a lot to offer and as I had survived dipping my toes into the world of looking after troubled young people, I felt I did too.
Then came the dreaded Form F. I was appointed a lovely lady as an assessor and began the, more than a little intrusive, process of completing the Form F. I was asked about every aspect of my life, past and present and what I hoped for in the future. I can't say that there weren't times when I questioned what I was doing. Being forced to talk about your own childhood experiences, your relationships with family, friends and lovers and having to confront your biggest fears is not easy, however I can truthfully say it was done in a very sensitive and caring way and at the end I felt I knew myself better than ever before and I was ready for the next chapter in my life story.
Over the years I have transferred to two different Independent Fostering Agencies and then back to my fostering roots with Hampshire County Council. I have had a huge variety of placements. My first was for two little girls whose mother had to go into hospital and there was no family to take them on. They came for two weeks on three occasions and were a delight. Since then I have cared for many teens who have tried my patience and brought me joy and angst in equal measure. I cared for a young lady with cerebral palsy, two young lads with ADHD, a boy with undiagnosed (until he came to me) epilepsy and numerous young people who had experienced such trauma it was a wonder they remained standing much less live their lives. I have been privileged to care for a number of parent and child placements, a field I particularly enjoy. Supporting them while they learn to care for their child, not just practically but also emotionally and seeing them move to independence is amazing. When things have not worked out, I have cared for babies until adoptive parents can be found. This has sometimes taken quite a while when a child has had health issues but to be a part of helping to create a new, loving family for that child, and fulfil the parent /parent's dream, well there is hardly a better feeling.
I have been fortunate to be able to keep in touch with many of the young people I have cared for. Some with regular face to face visits, others with cards, letters or Facebook. In fact over the last few months I was able to meet with a young lady who stayed with me when she was 15 some 24 years ago, spend time with two of the little ones I saw through to adoption and several of the mums and babies who stayed together. I feel so lucky to be part of their lives.
Now I don't want anyone to think fostering is all sunshine and roses, far from it. I’ve been spat at, physically attacked, had damage done to my home, had things of sentimental value stolen and lost many, many hours of sleep wandering the streets looking for vulnerable young people who have absconded. I’ve cried myself to sleep when I’ve felt I’ve failed a young person and sometimes had to accept that I can't be the person that child needs right at that moment but, and it's a big but. If, like me, you can accept that those hurtful words and behaviours are not personal, that you are the person those damaged young people can trust enough to rail against; if you can treat the next day as though it’s a fresh start then you can begin to take pleasure in the little things. The first time a child smiles or takes your hand, the first time that teen asks to bring a friend home or rings to ask you to come get her when she realises you care enough to do just that at 3am. And it's enough. Well, for me anyway.
Start your fostering journey with us today. Hampshire County Council has an outstanding Ofsted rating, reflecting all the work that takes place to help children reach their potential. We offer good support, quality training, competitive allowances and extras for holiday, birthdays and Christmas. If you, or someone you know has the potential to start fostering please get in touch with Fostering Hampshire Children today - call 01489 587052 or visit www.hants.gov.uk/fostering