“She would never have made it without St Christopher’s”
Keith and his wife foster with St Christopher’s in our Eastern Region, which covers Essex and Cambridgeshire. He shares some of his experiences from the past few years and how they have helped a number of young people to grow into happy, confident adults.
Why did you want to become a foster carer?
I’m one of 12 whereas my wife was adopted, so we both wanted to have a big family. Our daughters kept speaking about foster care so we decided to do it, but it took us a while to get round to it!
The first time we looked into it was in the 1990s but because of work commitments we halted it. We managed a pub, which wasn’t conducive to fostering, but once we left there we decided that it was the right time for us to foster. I thought it would be a more gentile way of life (which it turns out isn’t completely true!) but I definitely prefer where our life is at now.
I used to visit some foster carers and their house was always so warm. They had looked after many foster children and even when they left their care they would still come back. It inspired me and made me see what a difference fostering can make.
What’s your favourite thing about fostering?
Those little moments. The other day I looked after our three year old placement and I watched him walk around pretending to be on the phone. When he came to us ten months ago he couldn’t talk or string a sentence together and now he’s chattering away – it’s just those times when you watch them being happy and enjoying their childhood. If someone could experience what that is like just once then they would realise how rewarding fostering is.
What would you say to someone who is thinking about fostering?
Thinking gets you nowhere! Obviously you’ve got to think but sometimes you just have to put your feet in the water to experience it.
When you’re a foster carer everybody tells you what a fantastic person you are and how amazing you are, but actually we aren’t. We’re just doing what anyone could do! As long as you’ve got a nurturing nature, foster care could be perfect for you. It’s all the things you would do naturally with your own children.
If you remember all the good things that have ever happened to you, a happy occasion in your life like getting married, then the feeling you get from fostering is as good as that. When a child comes to live with you, then leaves in a much better state of mind there’s nothing better than that. It’s amazing!
You grow in confidence and skill as you spend time as a foster carer and you can look after all types of children and young people – all backgrounds, all religions, sometimes even from other countries.
None of the young people who left us did so on a sour note. One girl left us after three and a half years – she had major problems at the time but now she calls us every week to tell us about her progress. She’s just got her own place so we sent her some housewarming gifts.
What impact has fostering had on your life?
One huge benefit is that your family can see that you’re doing something nice in life. It sometimes takes time for them to adjust and understand, but my children and grandchildren all share and try their hardest. We are just normal people with the same problems as any other families.
Fostering is not just constantly giving – you’re taking things from it too. My family have learnt so much and we’ve learnt how to be better parents too. We go to training sessions and meet different professionals (like psychologists) and learn a lot. If you have the basic skills and throw yourself into it then you can learn new tricks for dealing with situations that you would otherwise spend a fortune on managing.
What impact has fostering had on the lives of the children you look after?
It’s obviously really important to give someone a roof over their head, but we like to be there for the more challenging problems. One parent wrote a lovely letter saying we had done such a good job as foster carers to her children, which is so nice.
You would go the extra mile for your own family but when you do it for someone who used to lash out and hurt themselves it’s even more rewarding. Watching them become stronger and happier is the best thing we could ask for.
Another young woman writes us letters all the time and said that she never would have made it without us and St Christopher’s. She passed all of her GCSEs when nobody had expected her to before, and she thinks that we saved her – and that definitely makes fostering and all the challenges worth it.
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