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Fostering children with disabilities

Foster Care Fortnight 2016

We’re celebrating Foster Care Fortnight from 16-29 May and the theme for 2016 is Time to Foster, Time to Care. Every 20 minutes across the UK a child comes into care in need of a foster family.

Connie has been fostering in our Eastern Region for about eight years. She shares her favourite fostering memories and explains why it’s such a rewarding career.

Why did you decide to become a carer?

I had always wanted to foster. My sister, who lives in Ireland, is a carer and was the childminder who looked after my kids when they were younger.

St Christopher’s was actually the first organisation I saw an advert for so I just went ahead and phoned instead of waiting around for any longer. And I’m so glad I did!

How do you help young people settle into their new home?

For me it’s important not to make a huge deal of their arrival by not putting the spotlight on them. It’s a big move and they might be feeling anxious so I just welcome them in and invite them to have a chat. I’ll show them round the house, introduce them to the people they’ll be living with and talk to them about the area.

What are the biggest challenges of fostering?

I have always fostered teenagers with disabilities. I didn’t go into it with the idea of specifically fostering young people like this but the first boy I looked after had autism and it just grew from there. When he arrived I knew nothing about autism but St Christopher’s sent me on training courses to learn about different behaviours and how I could support him.

Sometimes young people with disabilities can totally switch their behaviour with no warning, which can be challenging at first. The training prepared me for these occasions and I really like that St Christopher’s gave me the opportunity to develop my skills and knowledge. It shows that they put the child’s needs first.

How do you juggle your job alongside the commitments of fostering?

I was so grateful that I could keep my job when I began fostering as lots of agencies don’t let you. Luckily my role is really flexible – for example, if there’s a problem at the school I’m able to go and sort things out. I can also take leave for fostering training days.

In my opinion it’s great for the children to be looked after by someone with a good work ethic. If they come into your home and see you going out to work they will learn that they’ll have to do the same when they’re adults.

Do you have a favourite fostering memory?

One child I looked after couldn’t read at 12 years old and was receiving no support from his school when he first came to live with me. He left that school and had help from a tutor and me so that he could learn to read, and he ended up winning an award for his achievement. It was a really proud moment!

Other things that stick in my mind are when foster children say “I love you” for the first time. You know then that they respect you and appreciate everything you’ve done. I’ve learnt an awful lot from the children that I foster, it’s a two-way thing.

I’m lucky enough to have good relationships with my foster children’s own families. We can all spend time together and have Christmas and birthday meals as a group. I feel like an extension of their birth family, which I’m so grateful for.

Being a carer does wonders for your own self-esteem too – you see a young person doing well and you know that you’ve had a positive hand in helping them get there.

What difference do you think you can make in 20 minutes as a foster carer?

Foster children often have low self-esteem so they need to be reminded that they’re part of your family and that they have a welcome place in your life. They want to know that you love them just as much as your birth children and can need more reassurance.

I remember when one boy first came to live with us he was sometimes aggressive towards my son. I realised that he was acting out because he was jealous so I took some time to make him understand that I love him just as much as my birth children. His behaviour really changed from this point onwards.

Showing you care and that you’re interested in what they have to say is so important. I always try to look at the positives in their development instead of focussing on the negatives, and talk to them a lot about this.

What do you like about fostering with St Christopher’s?

I love that it’s a small agency so you really feel like part of the family. Everyone is so friendly and they really care about you – you’re never left alone if you have a problem and there’s always somebody at the end of the phone who you can talk it through with. At first I didn’t know there was a difference between fostering with a Local Authority or a charity, but I am glad I ended up with a not-for-profit.

When new carers start, I always remind them not to be put off by the first hurdle because the outcomes are so rewarding. It can be challenging but you soon fall into your stride and seeing the difference in the child from when they first arrived is really worthwhile.

What would you say to someone who is thinking about fostering?

Do it! You can be a really positive influence in a young person’s life. Fostering is so, so rewarding and I would recommend it to anyone who wanted to make a difference.