Monday, 28 May 2012

15 years in fostering: Our story

Vaughan and Sian Jenkins from west Wales have been fostering for 15 years and are both full-time carers. They work for a local authority scheme doing task-focused work with children with challenging behaviour, who are often at risk of going into custody or secure units.

Declan was a lovely lad. He had a lot of problems – and still has – but there was something about him that you took to…The thing about fostering is you don’t know what is round the corner, what problems children are going to bring to you, so if you can latch onto something likeable in the child’s personality, it makes it easier to care for them. With Declan, you went not just that extra mile for him but 50 times round the block! He had endearing characteristics and infuriating habits. I drove him for a contact visit once and he sang "Roses are red, violets are blue" non-stop for 120 miles. By the time I got there I was starting to foam at the mouth a little!

Not long after he came to us, Declan went to a neurologist as he had a tremor and problems with motor skills. The neurologist was very dismissive, saying Declan would never be able to do anything. But we bought Declan a bike and stabilisers. As I went outside to fit the stabilisers, Declan came past riding the bike! He'd learnt to ride in 20 minutes. Declan achieved all sorts of things while he was with us. He got a Royal Yachting Association Qualification and was competent to take a small dinghy out on his own. When he came to us he could not write his name; 12 months later he was reading the Goosebumps book series.

With a child like Declan you have a list of the things that you have to change. You start by working on something very small and move towards bigger things. Declan really wanted to please, and if a child wants to be well regarded, you are on to a winner! What you try to do is establish the behaviour you want and cut across negative behaviour. You then reward children for the positive behaviour. These are children who have never succeeded, never been praised. All of a sudden they are making discoveries about themselves, finding out what they can do. Declan could see himself as someone who could steer a dinghy and ride a bike. He was not just someone with a learning disability but someone who could do things. It gives the child a sense of self-worth.

It was incredibly hard work caring for Declan. It was probably one of the most difficult pieces of work we’ve ever done, but also one of the best. There were negatives, but there were more positives. Declan made a lot of progress while he was with us. The rewards of fostering aren't what you achieve but what the young people achieve for themselves and knowing you’ve been part of that.

You can read more of Vaughan and Sian's story, as well as the experiences of 11 other foster carers, in the BAAF book 'If you don’t stick with me who will?'

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Looking back: diary of a foster child

(c) Alan Mezzomo
Last week we heard from Niki, a foster carer who contributed to our BBC video series. As Foster Care Fortnight continues we hear from Leila Stroud, who looks back on her experience as a fostered child.

I think that my story starts in much the same place as other children in care. Young parents, both with difficult early experiences, their families did not approve, they got pregnant. When I was born, neither of my parents could look after me without causing me harm, and I was removed by the local authority and placed in foster care. I had a few foster placements, some good, some not so.

This is where my story becomes different from many other. The council began to search for a long term placement for me, and after what I like to think was much searching, they found my foster parents, my mum and dad.

Although not my birth family, they always made it clear that although I hadn't been born to them, I was meant for them. They swiftly became, and still are, my parents. Living in a long term foster placement was not without its difficulties, my foster sister (their birth daughter) and I did not always see eye to eye. She was 5 years older than me; had always done everything first, and was definitely "always right". The fact that we were not related did not stop us doing everything that sisters will do including many interesting disagreements, much 'borrowing' of all her clothes and make up and general little sister annoyance. I often wonder what it must have been like for her to have lived 7 years of your life being an only child then to one day arrive home and find yourself a big sister to this child from outside of your family, with all the social services involvement that being 'looked after' brings.

When I first arrived, apparently I would acknowledge nobody apart from my foster mum, regardless of cajoling and kindness. The bond was immediate for us and that strength of relationship is something which carried us through some really tough time along the way. Contact with birth family; fall out from my early experiences; the usual teenage things (involving much black clothes wearing and a penchant for heavy metal), dislike of one of the many social workers that came along; all these thing came and passed during my placement. But something which never changed was my parents love and commitment to me. I never doubted my place in their home, never worried that if I were naughty I would have to leave, never feared that they did not want me. Knowing all these things meant that I had the experience growing up that I should have had from the start – the experience every child should have.

As an adult, I now have contact with my birth family - my birth mother, sisters, grandparents. I enjoy these relationships, I am related to them, but as I have grown older I have realised it is much less about blood and so much more about love and caring.

For my sisters, they have not had the chances and opportunities I had. For them, the situation begins to repeat itself with their children, and this worries me. I have grown up, gone to a good school, got some decent qualifications, been to University, trained as a Social Worker, met my partner and have a family. I am happy, well adjusted and so grateful for the life and childhood that I had. My sisters? They had foster placements and time with my birth mother. For them, things aren't so simple.

I don’t even know where to start when I talk to people about what a difference the right people can make as foster carers. My parents are amazing people, and I know that there are so many other amazing people out there who could make massive differences to children and young people who have had such a poor start, so they can have all the chances and happiness they deserve.

For more information about fostering, please visit the main BAAF website. To hear more about Foster Care Fortnight, head to Fostering Network's 22 Minutes site.

Monday, 14 May 2012

What does it mean to be a foster carer?

To celebrate the start of Foster Care Fortnight (14-27 May), we have teamed with the BBC to produce an inspirational video highlighting the amazing work that foster carers do. Today on the blog, we hear from one of our contributors, Niki, who reveals what it means to her to be a foster carer.

A day in my life is never dull, one minute I could be playing on a trampoline, the next picking daisies or perhaps visiting a museum or zoo. Recently I took part in a film for BAAF on what it means to be a foster carer – never in my wildest dreams did I expect to spend part of the day in my dressing gown reading stories on camera! Like all experiences related to foster care this was incredibly rewarding and offered me the opportunity to share the love and commitment I have for my job and my fellow human beings. Somehow describing foster caring as a ‘job’ feels fundamentally wrong, it is more of a vocation. Nothing else quite measures up.

It is not a run of the mill nine to five occupation; it is unlike any other profession. There are no set hours, no two days are ever the same and no two placements are ever the same because all children and young people are individuals. One minute I may be changing nappies, the next perhaps completing documents to submit to the courts – this of course is the serious side of foster caring. You have a responsibility to keep records, a need to keep up to date with training, you are accountable for the children in your care and as such must ensure that you are performing to the best of your ability – this takes time, it takes energy and it takes tenacity. Foster caring is not for the faint hearted!

A foster carer is to all intents and purposes a substitute parent – we raise the children in our care as if they are our own, we love them, worry about them, rejoice in their achievements, hurt when they hurt, laugh when they laugh, they belong to our family. We also share them with their own birth families. Most foster children still have contact with their families and it is part of our role to encourage this special relationship. Contact of course is not always an easy arrangement, family circumstances can be complex; relationships difficult and when contact is no longer feasible the foster carer will be there to continue to offer love and support unconditionally. When the time comes for a child to move on, it is the foster carer that ensures a smooth transition.

Each child or young person needs the space and time to make sense of their previous life experiences whilst also being encouraged to take those vital steps forwards; either back to their families or onto another life. Of course we will be left behind with our tissues and our memories but a piece of our heart always goes along side each and every child or young person; we will never forget them or the joy they have brought to our lives and we can rejoice in another job well done.

That is the essence of why I feel foster caring is so special, once in the role, very few decide to leave for no other job offers the hope, the happiness and the pleasure of fostering caring. Ultimately I am a foster carer because unlike every other profession I have experienced, this is the only one to ever give love back and in abundance.

Click 'play' below to watch BAAF's Foster Care Film.

If you would like more information on fostering or are considering becoming a foster carer, please visit the main BAAF website. For more stories from foster carers, why not visit our online bookstore?

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

A Love Less Ordinary

(c) E>mar
A little over a year ago, David and Lisa Chandler adopted twin boys. Fourteen months into their 'happy ever after', David reflects on their very first days as a new family.

It's around 7pm on a Tuesday in late February, or 'Day 1', and there are two small boys in our bathroom, dressed in robot pyjamas, brushing their teeth. They are, more or less, complete strangers to me. And they'll be here forever.

This is the prickly paradox at the heart of the adoption process. They are 'your' children, you have been trusted with caring for them indefinitely and they look upon you with the expectation any child might have of his or her parent – yet you are aliens to one another.

Just a fortnight before, after the kind people of our Matching Panel had given it all the green light, the four-year-olds were handed two little books containing photos of their new mum and dad and their future home, far away. They were told by grown-ups that the dreams the boys didn't know they had would soon be coming true, that this lady and man would be their 'new mummy and daddy' and that they’d be meeting them soon. The boys, of course, as kids do, just accepted this as fact even though, by and large, grown-ups have done nothing but let them down the whole of their remarkable little lives.

And, then, before anyone really has time to do anything, they're here. Don't think that this shock, this reality check, was due to any lack of preparation. It is not always the case, I'm sure, but our agency and the boys' social care team seemed to miss nothing in preparing us for the adoption. No stone was left unturned. The reality, however, is something that no other experience in life can ready you for. We studied, we read, we listened and talked and talked. Then we decorated two bedrooms and bought a few toys. We invested emotionally and physically.

As the lads brushed their teeth that night, on the mantelpiece downstairs sat a half-dozen kind (and very welcome) cards carrying heartfelt and well-intended messages of love and excitement. 'You've got your family now!', 'You all must be soooo excited!!'. The truth is, we hadn't got our family yet. We had four people and some cards.

There are many touching tales of love-at-first-sight adoptions and I don't doubt their veracity for a moment but, for us, it wasn't like this. We liked the boys straight away, of course, and felt confident that love would inevitably follow, as it has. But, in those early days, there was just function and regulation – management, really. No one likes to speak in those terms but, if you're readying yourself for adoption, be prepared.

Long after those robot pyjamas have been replaced (they grow so quickly) these boys, our boys, are loved perhaps more than they have ever been by anyone. It is a happy ending of sorts but the penultimate chapter was by far the hardest. Just make sure you read to the end.

For more information about adoption, please visit the main BAAF website. For more stories about adoption, check out our online bookstore.

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