Monday, 16 May 2011

Why I've fostered for 26 years

As we enter Foster Care Fortnight, we chat to Andy Hider, an extraordinary woman who has fostered over 80 teenagers across 26 years. Here, she tells us what fostering means to her.

After my marriage broke down, I was in a situation where I was struggling financially – but I thought that if I went out to work 9-5, my youngest son probably wouldn’t be able to cope. He needed me to be a full-time mum, so I needed to find something where I could work from home. I have to say that this was it – I really did just fall into fostering.

Following my initial enquiry, I got sent to one of these big meetings where anyone who is interested turns up. I think that out of 100 initial enquiries, there were only two of us that came through in the end as foster carers.

To begin with, I wasn’t sure about fostering, but my sons encouraged me to think again and the social worker must have seen something in me because he called me again. From there, it was about six months of training, and then my first placement walked through the door. After that, I never stopped!

I actually found that I was good at it, and even at the grand age that I am now, being a teenager is the one age group that I can identify with still – I remember feeling that no-one understood me, the whole world was against me...all of that stuff! I absolutely love teenagers.

My heart always went out to the birth parents – if I had time, I would have set up a support group for all the birth parents where they could come together and support each other. I think it must be so difficult to watch somebody else bring up your child.

One thing that people always ask about is the effect on my birth children, and what I say to them is that I didn’t foster alone; we were a family that fostered. There were times when I felt guilty that my sons had to share me, but I believe that the fostering has turned them into much more rounded and caring adults.

I’m 66 now and still fostering. I did try to retire once when I was 60. I had a big party, but then the agency I was with asked if I would continue with a little bit of respite care and also recruit and train new foster carers. But the inevitable happened and a young person whose foster carer had called an end to the placement wanted to stay on with me, and I was back to full time foster care again.

Over the 26 years I’ve been doing this, I look back at times and think, ‘How did I do that?!’ but it’s lovely when the kids (now adults!) ring me up and say, ‘Oh I’d give anything to come back and live at yours!’ Or they tell me it was the happiest time of their life – and that’s when you really know you’ve made a difference.

I think I’ve fostered about 80 teenagers in total, and I’m still very passionate about it. To anyone thinking about foster care: maybe you’ve thought about it for years and are still sitting on the fence – it’s that initial phone call that can be a difficult first step. But do pick up the phone – you’re not committing yourself straight away and you’ve got to start somewhere! My best advice is to speak to another foster carer and hear about their experiences. Fostering has enhanced my life beyond anything else I’ve done and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

For more info and advice on fostering, please visit the BAAF website. If you are considering becoming a foster carer, check out Fostering.net's Could You Foster? website.







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