5 Things I Wish I Had Known Before Becoming A Foster Carer
When I became a foster carer I wasn’t a mum at that time but I was involved for years in youth work so I, naively, thought I had all that it would take to be a foster carer. I envisioned being the rock for someone who just needed to be supported. And whilst that was a good foundation and a good intent to have, the reality of foster caring blew all my preconceived ideas out of the water. I did have great times and I also had not so great times.
I was asked recently what would I have liked to have known, before I went in to the role and I came up with 5 core, 'I wish I had known’s' to share with you. Although if you ever meet me, you will learn that there is always more advice to be given.
1. You will go through way too many toilet seats for it to be normal
I don’t know why, but we have replaced toilets seats regularly during our time as carers. They always went loose no matter how many times you would tighten them or how much you would invest in a toilet seat. So don’t worry, it’s normal for this abnormal to happen. Apparently it’s the same for childminders so don’t lose too much sleep over having to always maintain the porcelain throne. Deciding to not worry too much about your home can make sure your not adding more stress and pressure. As long as everything works and is clean you are keeping your home well. I still walk around my house and have memories of kids when I look at the dents in doors and walls. You will drive yourself mad if you are too house proud. So put away your expensive pieces or anything that you treasure to avoid getting upset when something happens.
2. Get those digits
I would highly advise swapping details with those you do training with. The agencies that recruit foster carers have a team of people to support new carers whereas the trust relies on the link worker to try to fulfil that role. Therefore I would always recommend connecting with others that foster so that you can touch base, swap stories, swap strategies and have a safe place to vent, obviously after you have built that relationship. Try not to vent to a stranger. Fostering is hard, and it is frustrating! In fact a stronger word than frustrating is needed. Your family can be your support and get involved but be aware that if an allegation happens involving a family member that does not live in your home, they will not be covered by the insurance that The Fostering Network provides to pay for legal representation and practical support. Every foster carer automatically gets this cover whether you are with an agency or the trust. Safeguard your family in every way you can.
3. Your link worker is not your friend
We didn’t work for an agency, (although I hear fostering through an agency is an extremely good idea, considering the support they offer,) and it was only as time went on that I realised that the relationship you have with your link worker is double barreled. Link workers had two purposes when we fostered. They were to support the carer by coming out and making sure everyone was alive, but also they were in charge of putting kids in foster placements. When you told them you were having a hard time, I don’t think they heard your request for help or guidance, I think they were thinking, ‘I have to find somewhere else now.’ Or ‘I have nowhere else to put this child.’ This is the reality that social workers in the placement teams face and there is a real need for foster carers in our communities so if you put yourself in their shoes you gain some understanding why suddenly they are panicked. It doesn’t help you get training though. And it dones encourage you in your placement either. Although if you have a link worker that presents training opportunities and resources for self-development or strategies to help, they are a diamond and you should treasure them.
I would have liked someone at the start, to tell me how to handle the relationship better. I discovered I was way too open about my thoughts and feelings. I treated my link workers like part of my family, whereas treating them like a co-worker probably would have enabled me to avoid strife and disappointment. When speaking with them stick to the facts, make your requests known and scan that report they complete would be my advice. I remember just signing anything they put under my nose and it didn't end well.
Let your best friend be the one your pour out your feelings to and for them to be the one to hand you a tissue and offer you a hug.
4. Set your cost
I was certainly all about saving the children when I came in to fostering. I didn’t foresee the challenges and the things that I would lose or miss out on because of my new mission in life. This was mainly because I didn’t think about them. I thought about how the children would slide in to my life but not how I would slide in to theirs.
With each child you had to be careful with different things, for example;
Could you take them to church or would you have to take them to a different church for their faith and culture to be recognised?
Can you ask your Mum to look after them as you nip out to the shops for groceries or will you be met with a very angry parent who wasn’t happy you left their child with another person? And if they aren’t happy with their child being babysat does that mean you can never have a date night without having to get respite which is near impossible to get?
Is it ok to go to that restaurant that has a pub attached or will your child think that you have a drinking problem?
Sometimes in fostering you will need to say no to your normal. Those things you did and those places you went might not be doable for a season or for the duration of the child’s stay. And I am sorry to tell you this, but you are likely to lose friends when you become a foster carer. You won’t be able to go out as much, you may experience difficult behaviours with your foster children that your friends start to distance from you and suddenly your aren't invited around as much. But then maybe these are friends you can do without?
You may also have to be careful when you invite others to your home because maybe the child gets upset meeting new females or males and so inviting them over causes the little one stress.
Your own child may also get mixed up and hurt as a result of some behaviours no matter how much and how precisely you follow safeguarding measures.
I recommend sitting down with whoever you are living with or whoever your support network is and discuss the potential challenging things that could happen and identify what will be your ‘deal-breakers.’
If your fostering experience goes well and resembles something like the connections made in the movie 'The Sound of Music' then that’s great, and honestly I am quite jealous, but I didn't experience that. And I am not the only one. I certainly wasn’t realistic or prepared for the bad days and it was something I regretted not thinking about.
Every child is different and children develop, so holding on and holding out for bad days to pass is part of the vocation.
When I talk about 'deal-breakers' I am talking about things like the following;
>If you are so strung out over everything and end up making yourself seriously sick.
>If members of your family don’t feel safe at home.
>If you are being accused of horrible things and receiving or having threats from a family acted upon. Family members who are deeply upset, confused and capable of anything because of the hurt and loss they are experiencing.
>If someone within you family gets physically hurt or abused.
You can reduce the possibility of these things by setting yourself with a ‘niche’ of a certain age group for example but you are working with kids that have trauma and things will happen and triggers happen, so there is always a risk.
Setting your cost can help signify a line in the sand. If it is crossed then you can discuss when you get there, to see about how to move forward. I wouldn’t recommend making it too harsh or too narrow and make sure your lines in the sand demonstrate some grace for the little ones that will come to your home. Stand up for them as well as yourself by being a stable environment.
When we decided to end our fostering journey we waited until after the child that was with us, returned home then we discussed the future. Finishing well is important. The children in your home should be the first priority, whether they are fostered or whether they are your own kids. They should be wrapped up in your plan for exit or continuation in fostering. But knowing your limitations is healthy.
5. You cannot be everything to everybody.
You are built a certain way and you have certain skills in parenting, and every child has different needs. It is up to the person who places the child with you to determine that you are a good fit for the little one. Please, please never beat yourself up over being honest and saying I am not the right person to help this kid. You will get judged by people when a little one moves on, but it will probably only be by the people who don’t foster. I remember we had a little one who was struggling. Research and outside practitioners identified that the child needed to be the baby of the family to thrive but our set up at the time didn’t allow for that. The child was the oldest in our family and it didn’t cause major issues but there were problems in what it was doing to the child emotionally, and it was clear he wasn’t getting all he needed. When we broke the news to people in our circle we were met with a mixed bag of reactions. Some had taken the time to know what we were experiencing and the pain that was involved in caring for and then having the child move on. They seemed supportive and gave gifts etc. which was lovely. Others were bare faced outraged and expressed their outrage very openly. And you guessed it, these people were people that did not foster.
You will brush up against these people from time to time but just because you say you’re not the right fit doesn’t mean that you are not fit to care for others. They don’t understand and it’s not personal the things they say to you. Remember this very important thing, they didn’t apply to fostering you did. They didn’t go to training, you did. They don’t have sleepless nights or wipe brown stains, but you do. If they are that outraged then they are very welcome to step up and apply to foster?
You may feel like a failure but all you are trying to do is get the child what they need and what they deserve. You need to remind yourself of your intentions and your heart for the situation, everyone else are just people looking in. They aren’t experiencing what you are.
Its important to let you know that the little one moved on but they placed him in an environment that was similar to ours but as the middle child this time and unfortunately it didn’t last. But the next foster family was a success! And I am happy to report the child is excelling in all areas of his life and it makes me so happy to hear of how well he is doing. This shows the power of finding the right foster family to support a child. The right fit makes the difference.
What can I do?
There are many ways to support families and the fostering mission. You could be a respite carer who simply enables kinship carers and foster carers to take some time to rest and recuperate which makes a difference to both the carers and the children’s lives. You could be an emergency carer who jumps in to action when they get a call. Or long term carers or who could look after a child or children from as little as a couple of days to a number of years. Specialist foster carers are professional carers who receive a fee for opening their home. It is called specialist for a reason and requires a great deal of sacrifice. If you go specialist I would advice setting yourself you with counselling. You will need an appropriate outlet for your thoughts and feelings.
Really its a shame that counselling time isn't an automatic service. Counsellors have to acquire and visit a counsellor every so often to look after their own wellbeing and I believe that a carer should be supplied with the same avenue for self care.
I have actually brought this up to a person in a high up position in fostering. It was first of all met with, 'no one has asked for it.' But luckily I had a member of a support body for fostering with me and she gave statistics for calls and requests to finding counselling for carers that she received. His response then changed to, 'If it's needed then it should be done. Money is an issue though.' Unfortunately that member of staff then moved on and it went no further but I can hope that I will be in front of the right people in the future to speak out and make a difference for carers nationwide.
There are several agencies that you can find in your area via a search engine search or you can connect with your local trust to establish your interest.
You can also volunteer for Safe Families, (who I am not affiliated with), either in a befriending role or as a family supporter. Being a family supporter you may offer overnight stays or longer to help out but you will also be like a member of the extended family too. You support the whole family unit more closely and less intensely than in fostering. I think supporting the parent(s) as well as the child, is just lovely although you would have to be careful you didn’t overstep or give advice that isn’t needed or wanted but the training should help with that.
So, would I do fostering all over again? Yes. Would I do it differently? Oh yes. Foster carers are needed and the job isn’t always stressful. I am sure other jobs are similar in challenges; like nursing, where you are celebrating one day and holding a grieving family in your arms the next.
Being called to caring roles in our communities is a big deal and those that dedicate their lives to it I respect you so much. We stepped up for a season and gave what we could. Be encouraged to do what feels right for your family and for your life. That may be a life-long commitment to fostering, (which is usually because of long term stays), or it may be for 9 years.
I would like to thank any foster carer than puts on their work boots to show up for vulnerable children in our community. Even if you don’t feel appreciated, know that I appreciate you. You are doing something amazing.
I hope that I have encouraged you today. If you need support do reach out to someone or an organisation that can help. If you would like to share your story or contact me please feel free to private message me on our Facebook page, or on Instagram. You can also email me using email@example.com address. Be sure to check out our next article here on ‘The Encouragers Life.’
Article written by J. Bingham