“You get a lot of rewards from helping a child to blossom”
At St Christopher’s we encourage people from all backgrounds and life experiences to foster with us. That includes men who want to foster, as many young people have missed out on a positive male role model in their life.
Chris has been fostering for almost five years in Wolverhampton, West Midlands. He is the main foster carer in his home and explains what you can expect when you join St Christopher’s.
Why did you become a foster carer?
I’m lucky in that I had a good upbringing and I wish every kid could have the same. I grew up on a farm, had my own family and enjoyed my jobs and businesses I’ve had. But I wanted to do something more meaningful, that gave something back to people and was not all about earning money.
When people ask what I do, I always say I’m retired but my social worker reminds me I’m actually a professional foster carer! It’s one of the best jobs I’ve ever had.
Did you always want to foster?
It wasn’t something I’d always considered. It was actually a friend of mine who had fostered for quite a while and they suggested I would be a really good foster carer because of my experience running after school clubs for kids. Starting to foster was an extension of that really – it’s about having that capacity inside of you to want the best for the child and see through their behaviour. And you need to remember that whatever you think you know, you don’t!
Why did you choose to foster with St Christopher’s?
I’m a big believer in recommendation so I checked two or three agencies out, then I looked at their inspection ratings. St Christopher’s had a good reputation for offering a personal touch, which I liked. The social workers all have good hearts and that counts for a lot.
Many people think foster carers are always women, but we know that is not the case. What do you think discourages men from being foster carers?
I don’t think it’s about gender, it’s about your personality. Just because you’re a woman it doesn’t naturally make you a better carer. You have to have the right qualities and a good sense of humour!
One young person I fostered saw me putting the laundry on and he said that it was a woman’s job. I explained to him that it’s just a job that needs doing, not one for women or one for men, and that life doesn’t work that way anymore.
What has been your favourite moment so far of being a foster carer?
The good times – going on holidays, helping a young person go to school, things like that. If you go out for a meal or to a birthday party, everybody goes. They are part of your family. You get a lot of rewards from helping a child to blossom.
One stand-out moment for me was when our foster daughter walked past and dropped a Father’s Day card into my lap. It showed me that we were making progress and that I was having an impact.
What is the hardest part of being a foster carer?
The hardest bit is trying to find out where the young person’s emotions are at and where they’ve come from. You’ve got to be good at meeting them on their level and thinking in the same way that they’re thinking. I always think, ‘How would I react if I was a child and that happened to me?’
It’s about teaching kids things that your own parents would teach you. Even if a young person acts like they don’t want to get to know you or do anything with you, you have to try anyway as it does make them feel better, even if they don’t show it. Sometimes the kids have learnt their own ways of avoiding facing up to situations so you have to understand what might trigger them and prevent them pulling the shutters down.
When someone moves out it’s like losing a member of your family. It’s not your child but when they have been with you for so long and you know them, it’s still hard. We miss them and send letters to make sure they’re okay. You have to rein your emotions in sometimes.
How does St Christopher’s support you?
When you’re a parent you do it all yourself, but when you’re fostering you get loads of support. There are all these people to help you think of new things that you can do. My social worker has a good heart, you can tell she really cares. There’s loads of training on different things too. There are all these people to help you think of new things that you can do.
And I’ve had support from St Christopher’s therapeutic team too. There was a time when I needed to have an outlet and talk to someone about how fostering was having an impact on me. It was hard because there is still that taboo for men of my age group not letting your feelings out. The therapist gave me insights and things to try which I hadn’t thought about. She is outstanding and so understanding.
What have you learnt from fostering?
Patience! And to never take anything for granted – you always have to be vigilant and on the ball.
Being a foster carer is a very personal job because someone is living in your home with your family. You’ve got to have the mind-set for it. You need to have a thick skin – like any teenager, sometimes they are just doing things to get a reaction from you or get away with what they want to do.
You have to be an advocate for the child and listen to what they are saying, rather than what other adults say about them. If things get tough and the young person shuts down then you need to be a voice for them if they can’t speak.
Also sometimes there is a communication gap as I don’t have a clue what the kids are on about when we’re talking!
What would you say to someone thinking of fostering?
It will be brilliant, fun and life changing but it will also be hard. You have to put the effort in and commit to it. I would recommend speaking to people who already foster and finding out what it’s like from them so you can see the reality.
When you have a good day out together, it’s the best job in the world. It’s a little bit of spark in your life. Your chest enlarges and you think, ‘Yep, I’ve made a difference there.’
Could you be like Chris and take on an important role in a young person’s life? Request a call back or ring 0800 234 6282 today to start your fostering journey.