5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Becoming a Foster Carer
Looking back on my time fostering there are a few things I wish I had of known before becoming one.
When I became a foster carer I wasn’t a mum.
However, I felt my years of experience in youth work would hold me in good stead.
And in some instances it did.
But it didn't prepare me for the next nine years of my life fully.
I am often asked by those thinking about going in to serve as a foster carer should know and so, I have put a list of the top five that would have made my life easier.
1. Your house is your partner.
I would advise coming to terms with the fact that your home will be a vessel to be maintained, and not be perfect.
It is your silent partner, offering cover and safety.
How it looks will take a back seat for a while.
Also, 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.
Fake tan is also a toilet seat killer.
Deciding to not worry too much about your home can make sure you're not adding more stress and pressure to a busy and complex life as a carer.
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 tantrums and rambunctious playtimes when I look at the dents in doors and walls.
If you are too house proud you will never be happy with this new lifestyle.
Put away your expensive pieces.
Store your sentimental items or anything that you treasure to avoid getting upset when something happens.
2. Friendship circles will change.
I would highly advise swapping details with those you do training with.
It is unfortunate to say, but foster carers lose friends.
You can make plans to visit or go out with a friend.
However if your foster child is triggered then you are not going anywhere.
And, the child comes first.
You will suddenly become an unreliable friend because sometimes you will have to cancel, and that is through no fault of your own or the child.
Triggers are triggers.
And you leaving when they feel unsafe or abandoned isn't helpful.
You might get the opportunity to help a child that has a whole bunch of behaviours to unlearn and then destroys your friends house during a playdate or catchup, which may see you off the invite list in the future.
The people on the same path as you.
Having the same struggles.
And putting int he same work and scarfices will be a great support network.
But once training is over you wont be able to ask for their details, so making bonds during training is important.
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 be the first port of call and they are not your friend.
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.
And boy, you will need to vent sometimes because the care system isn't perfect.
Try to avoid venting to a stranger who has caught you in the throws of chaos or a trigger.
They just wont get it.
In fact, anyone who doesn't foster won't understand.
Fostering is hard.
It is frustrating.
And it is messy.
But it is also rewarding.
And when you achieve success it is a sweet victory knowing you have improved someone's life.
You may be asking yourself, "what about family?"
Family can be a big part of your support and they might love getting 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.
Believe me, you can do everything right and someone still say that you did something wrong.
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.
Through my rose tinted glasses, I saw the link worker as my support.
My right arm.
The one who would fight for me.
The one who would do everything to protect me and my family.
And if you are extremely fortunate, you might get that.
For me it was a shock.
Because as time went on, I realised that the relationship you have with your Link Worker is double barreled.
Link Workers have an important role.
I am sure they have several other facets to their job but what I physically saw and experienced was:
They were to support the carer by coming out to visit.
They asked for updates.
They identified training.
Spoke for you when you weren't there.
Organised rest when you needed it
And they were in charge of putting kids in foster placements.
Whether we had a bad run or a tired, overworked and checked out Link Worker, I found them difficult and dismissive.
When everything was sunshine and rainbows and your answer to their questions and requests were yes, then the relationship was easy.
When you told them you were having a hard time, we suffered sternness and contempt.
Social workers naturally will panic.
They will wonder where they will place the child if the placement breaks down.
So that pressure is partially to blame for their behviuor sometimes.
Foster carers are desperately needed in the community.
But my fear is that interactions between carers and social workers has caused this shortage due to the treatment that some face.
This is why loads of trust foster carers have crossed over to agency to secure extra support.
If you have a Link Worker that presents training opportunities and resources for self-development or strategies to help, along with meaningful dialogue that leaves you feeling heard and responded to, 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.
Do not sign anything you haven't read and take copies.
I remember just signing anything they put under my nose and it didn't end well.
And I remember requesting paperwork through the Freedom of Information Act to be told that the paper I was seeking has been lost.
Maintain a paper trail wherever you can.
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 desire to change lives.
I can look back and remember thinking about how the children would slide in to my life but not how I would slide in to theirs.
I didn't think about the hurt parents and how another family raising their child would make them hostile.
I didn't think about how angry children, who were confused, hurt and just trying to figure their own mess out, would assault my own child.
I didn't think about the reality because I didn't know the reality.
And you cant be fully prepared to know who you are going to greet at the door at 1:00am when they have been lifted out of their lives and everything they have known.
Even if it is dysfunctional or unsafe at the time of intervention.
Foster kids are not bad kids.
They are kids programed to react, stress manage and adapt the only way they know how and sometimes that is mess and aggressive and destructive.
But it is not their fault.
Setting your cost is your out.
And when we started fostering we never drew a line in the sand and said, "this far and no further."
As we saw success in our placements our cases got more complex and suddenly it cost us our safe home.
Instead of reassessing and changing what we were willing to do, we left fostering; burnt out, hurt and forever changed.
We decided to power through instead of realising we were had reached our ceiling.
And powering through wasn't the answer.
Allow yourself to have a limit.
To value your family.
To value your safety and wellbeing.
Set your cost.
And when the price is too much to bear, begin to make your exit strategy.
Make appropriate plans to end things well.
5. Every placement will not be a success.
Those that do not foster will say the words that makes every foster carer speechless.
"I couldn't give them up."
In my nine years as a foster carer I never figutred out how to respond to that question well.
I didn't get in to fostering to give children up.
I didn't get in to fostering to have placements break down.
I wanted to help every child that came through our doors and in to our home.
But some children do not want your help.
And they are loyal to their parents and past lifestyle that they are resistant to the opportunity of living a different way.
They may not enjoy living in the country.
Or cant stand a busy street.
Plus, hormones can make any child wrestle with their emotions, let alone a child that has suffered neglect, attachment issues or abuse.
Sometimes you will not be the right fit.
And as they move on, you hope that they will find the right person to help them.
To bond with them.
To be everything they need to feel settled, safe and steady.
Just like children don't get to choose their parents.
They don't get to choose their foster parents either.
And sometimes the bonds, personality or home life is not what they need.
But that is okay.
The harsh reality is that you will be judged by everyone when a child moves on from your care, showing us that who your surround yourself is important.
It is unfair.
They have no idea what you are living in and through.
But yet they will speak with such authority something they know noting about.
That is were the fostering community can help support and reassure you.
Counselling is also important and gives you a safe place to be raw and honest hopefully enabling your to adopt methods to help navigate stress and avoid crumbling under the pressure which is too heavy for you to carry.
Fostering is about carrying each others load for a time.
It's about building on the good.
And allowing space for development in a safe and welcoming environment.
And foster carers need that too.
Surround yourself with those that know what it is like.
And make sure that you are doing everything you need to do in order to live a healthy life.
It will aid your fostering.
Ending a placement is a big deal and something that foster carers do not land on lightly, but it is important to not beat yourself up over being honest and saying I am not the right person to help the child.
I have seen the power of the right fit.
And you could be that for someone.
But you won't be for everyone.
And that is completely normal.
It doesn't make you a bad foster carer.
Or a bad person.
It means you know that the child deserves the right fit and you wont stand in the way of them getting the right person in their life.
I also want to use this fifth and final point to make you aware of a little bit of jargon that social workers use that is extremely misleading.
When I child moves on and is placed with another foster carer(s) they will tell you that they are "thriving in their new placement.
While this statement can bring some comfortable it also can be a huge blow to the face and makes you question if you have what it takes to be a good human being, let alone a parent.
I had one placement that was extremely heartbreaking for me to end but it was a safety issue.
My Link Worker told me they were the thriving but their social worker, who I met when delivering some stuff that they left behind, told me they were no different to when they were with me.
It turns out they say it to everyone.
And the fact that is allowed to this day angers me.
The truth is that 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 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 advise setting yourself up with counselling. You will need an appropriate outlet for your thoughts and feelings.
Really it's a shame that counselling isn't an element to serving as a foster carer.
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 only hope that I, or someone else, will be in front of the right people in the future to speak out and make a difference for carers nationwide.
If you wish to foster 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.
So, would I do fostering all over again?
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, deserve a great deal of respect.
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 or it may be 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 firstname.lastname@example.org address. Be sure to check out our next article here on ‘The Encouragers Life.’
Article written by J. Bingham