Assessment and panel
Our journey to become foster carers for Hampshire started maybe 7 years ago. We never did have our own children and we felt this made our family incomplete, after all trips to Alton Towers are great but without kids you kind of stand out. Looking after nieces and nephews or borrowing other people’s kids just didn’t meet our desire to parent.
We approached Hampshire in late 2014 with an idea to just be respite carers, just dip our toes in a bit. At the time we were both working. We had a telephone call from someone in recruitment to ask some very basic questions about our house and my wife and I, the next thing we knew was an appointment with an assessing social worker had been made.
Anne our assessing social worker came round to see us within a few weeks, and we began to complete our application. We both worked and this made it difficult to meet regularly so our assessment process was spread out over 6 months, this is much longer than usual and we saw other carers making it to panel much quicker than us. What we did find out during this period was that respite care wasn’t for us and we really wanted to be “all in”. After examining our finances, we decided that I would continue to work, and my wife would resign from her job to be a full time carer.
The assessment process took us right back to birth and explored nearly every aspect of our lives right up to the present day. We explored our attitudes to care, parenting styles, upbringing, lifestyle, and many other topics that came up from time to time. Some of this was close to home and could be very personal but all this was treated sensitively and with compassion.
We had to make changes in our home to make sure it was safe but none of these was massive. It was more about making our home child friendly.
At the same time, we began to attend training held by Hampshire and met with some experienced foster carers. We made some good and long-lasting friends here as well.
All this training was tailored for new foster carers and informed, equipped and encouraged us that we could look after vulnerable children. It managed our expectations of what this would like practically and how we could manage our home to keep everyone within it safe. These courses were run at various times so we could fit these sessions in with our work.
Finally, the training was over, all our documentation was in place and we were ready for panel!
Panel was scary – I won’t hold back about this. We had to go in front of a group of six people who had read through all our files and would make the decision as to whether we would be approved as foster carers. My wife and I found this hard. The thing is though our assessing social worker helped us to answer all the hard questions when we got stuck or tongue tied. In fact, Anne had done most of the hard work before we were even called in. A foster carer sat with us and chatted whilst we were waiting so throughout this day, we felt supported… even if a little fearful. After all we had committed six months to this and made so many changes to our house. The members of the panel were kind and gave us the time we needed to answer. Turns out it wasn’t all that bad after all.
Yes!!! We were approved, I can’t tell you how happy we were. We both cried as the relief and pressure vanished. After six months we had done it! We were approved foster carers.
We met our new social worker after this and transferred from the assessing phase to the waiting phase. Our social worker is amazing – Jia has been with us for the last five years and has always had our back. The support she and Hampshire has given us is amazing!
Our first placement
After panel it took a few weeks for formal confirmation of our status to come through, but once it did, we were ready to go.
Looking back, we were frustrated as Kelly had now given up work and it had been four weeks without a placement. We now recognise that this was because no one wanted to place just any child with us. It had to be a child we could parent, within our approval range and be a good match to us. It wouldn’t help anyone if the placement failed due to a poor match.
A young person did arrive. We had met them a few times with their then foster parents and over a couple of weeks they gradually moved in. Hooray, we had finally done it! Our first child.
We quickly discovered that despite our fears we were actually well equipped, and our training helped us immensely. We also had been assigned a buddy who stood beside us and visited regularly over the next few months as we built confidence and capability. This young person lived with us for several years before moving on to another placement better able to meet their needs. We learnt so much during this period and watched as our skills level increased. Over the two years we were awarded the privilege of being skills level 3 carers and being able to share our new found skills with other carers. We now mentor new carers as well as looking after our own children.
Five years later
After five years we have found how much fun you can have fostering and just how much a young person has to offer. As we grew in capability and confidence, we went from just having one child placed with us to having two. We also saw the age range we look after expand. We always saw ourselves as looking after very young children but now we almost exclusively look after teens. Teens have so much to offer – it’s not always plain sailing but when you make a small difference in their lives it’s a great feeling.
We have taught kids how to tell the time, got them back on track at school, taught practical skills like shopping and cooking, built self-esteem and confidence to enable the child to use public transport and to begin to make good decisions for themselves.
Most of all we have provided a safe home and if nothing else, gathered the information to find the right family for these kids to live with.
OK, sometimes things have gone wrong. We have experienced traumatised kids that hurt themselves deliberately, had property damaged and items stolen. I would ask you not to focus on these things though. Our successes far outstrip the problems we have faced. Our social work team and support network has always rallied when we needed help. They did so fast and effectively.
Funnily enough some of the most challenging young people have been our biggest successes. We have several young people who have moved on to independent living after turning 18 and are thriving. One young person will soon be going to university with an aim of becoming a probation officer – not bad for a kid who didn’t want to go to school.
Since approval we have seen 17 children come to live with us. Some have stayed overnight and some for years. We have gained from every single one of them and would like to think we have made a difference in all their lives. We continue to love what we do; every single child brings with them a new challenge and new hope for what we can provide for them.
Our training didn’t end at approval, it is ongoing and further equips us to look after children with challenging and complex needs that we can now meet.
We currently have two teens in placement and are loving spending time with them and watching how they are developing into young, capable adults.