How has being a foster carer affected your life?
“For us, a lot of the experience we both have, such as the youth work I’ve done previously and what Della does as a pastoral leader at her school, has helped us to see that there a lot of diverse people out there and many misunderstood people.
Fostering enables you to see that in a completely different way, so you do see this diverse range of families, backgrounds, behaviours and all the rest of it. Fostering allows you to experience it first hand and it shapes your views and judgements. For me they change, and my views are not as hardened. It enables you to experience all those wonders.
For our grandchildren, the youngest can be more flippant and freer but the others have grown up with us being foster carers, so they are now understanding that actually there are so many different families who come from different places.
When you look back, you realise how privileged we are that we’re in a situation today to a) Be considered able to look after these young people and give them the stability they need but also, b) For our grandchildren to also see how privileged they are to be with their family, because it does mean so much.
A lot of the young people that come to us, their family, regardless of if they’re good, bad or indifferent, still mean an awful lot to them. That for me, still needs to be valued. Whether or not I agree with their parents’ views, one thing I hold onto, is that these young people really love their families. When fostering you learn, and realise, that you need to be able to put your personal values and feelings to one side to meet this young person’s priority.”
What are your highlights of fostering?
“Seeing a young person go off and fulfil want they want from life. That for us it’s the highlight and biggest reward we’ll get. Their achievements can all be different.
Some haven’t hit such grand heights, but they’ve hit the heights that are right for them and they’re now happy. We’ve had a young lady achieve degree here. Another has gone off to become an absolutely brilliant parent. One young person asked us to be godparents and that’s just brilliant. That breaks that myth and stereotype that its generational – just because they were in care, doesn’t mean their children will be. They can attach to their kids, just as well as anybody else.”
What do you find the most challenging part of fostering?
“It’s interesting because we all find different things challenging. I find teenagers nowhere near as challenging as 5-year-olds.
The biggest challenge we’ve found in fostering is knowing this young person in your house is not going anywhere quickly – you can’t say pack your bags and get out because I can’t handle the situation. It can be difficult to manage behaviour as well as your home, so you need to adapt yourself so you can learn to deescalate any potential situation that may arise. We understand challenging behaviour to be a form of communication and it’s our challenge to find out what is driving the behaviour. It could be a problem with a parent, school, friend or something we are doing, but if we find out what’s causing the behaviour we can usually de-escalate the situation and move things forward.
When I was working as a youth worker, you’d come across some people who would vent their frustration in very challenging ways. You can manage that in as much as you are managing solely their behaviour as well as trying to protect what and who is in your home. Prevention is better than cure and so having that open dialogue is really important. I tell them that if they think what I’m doing or saying is unreasonable, please let me know and we can see what we can do. I can’t always promise change, but I will promise a young person I will listen and whatever reasonable adjustments I can make, I will make. Early intervention prevents big scenarios so that’s why we have an open dialogue. I don’t doubt that we’re unreasonable at times, we’re all human.”
What advice would you give to people considering fostering?
“Give it a go. Go through the process because your assessment will help you know if you are ready for it. The Form F can be challenging; it’s intrusive but actually quite cathartic and therapeutic. Some of the things being raised in my past has allowed a space for me to openly speak about it. You will, during your journey, learn if fostering is right for you or not, so try it. You have nothing to lose, but everything to gain.”