Debbie and Peter* live in Romsey and have been fostering since 1999. They provide all types of fostering including respite, short and long term, parent and child and have had over 70 children in their care.
Debbie and Peter had always wanted to do fostering and so were introduced to an Independent Fostering Agency by a friend who fostered. After 10 years, they decided to approach Southampton City Council as they came highly recommended, and could provide better training and support. Since joining they haven't looked back!
They run a busy household; currently they are fostering three non-related girls, aged 11, 13 and 14.
"I love the variety of fostering. It keeps me very busy; I like working in a job that doesn't involve sitting down! It means I can work hard whilst also doing things I enjoy," comments Debbie. "Of course, it's not all been easy. The biggest challenge for me is having teenagers who run away. I worry about them, and this impacts everyone in the house. I have had teenage girls who self-harm which is difficult emotionally but we've got through it."
"Fostering has changed massively since we started," adds Peter. "As foster carers we are now included much more as part of the team around the child which is a real positive. The training is also much better now as you can pitch it to your needs. Children however remain the same and need the same things!"
Debbie and Peter are both clear on their advice to foster carers - do it! "You need to be flexible, open -minded and organised - however the rewards are huge! My life is interesting, challenging and certainly never boring" finishes Debbie.
*Names have been changed.
As Gail and Adrian's birth child reached the age of 10 and was becoming more independent, they decided that there was a space to fill in their lives and that fostering would give a challenge which they had the time and enthusiasm to do.
After a six month assessment period, they were delighted to be approved in March 2013 to foster and their first placement arrived in July 2013.
Initially Gail and Adrian were going to do short term fostering but after their foster child was made subject to a full care order, they were asked if they wanted to take them on long term which they accepted and the child has now been with them for four years.
Gail said "The child we are looking after has special needs and it's been a real joy seeing the improvements in their behaviour and their learning and understanding of social situations. I enjoy feeling that we are helping another family, as well as broadening our families understanding of how others live."
Adrian added "There have been a few challenges along the way including learning new parenting skills which are different to how you parent your birth children, and coping with behaviour issues but we've had lots of support from our social worker, and there's plenty of training on offer. We also use a support group held fortnightly through Behaviour Resource Service (BRS) for carers where we can discuss and help each other in confidence about any issues or problems we have."
"We thoroughly enjoy being foster carers," said Gail. "I'd say to any potential carer, be honest with yourself about your capabilities and limits and be open with all the people involved in the assessment. Use the training on offer and choose courses that appeal to you and that will be of most benefit."
Amanda and Mike have been fostering for two and a half years: "The children are set boundaries, just like our own children, while giving them freedom to explore and be themselves. We've looked after a little boy for a while now. When he came to live with us he was struggling with his speech and had never played outside.
He now speaks in clear sentences, and we will never forget the look on his face the first time he went out into our garden and stood on the grass. We take things like going outside and standing on grass for granted, but he stood for ages, just contemplating it. It was a special moment for all of us."
Gillian White (60) has been fostering for 36 years: "I became a foster carer because I wanted to make a difference to the lives of children who had difficulties at home. It’s wonderful being able to offer children a safe environment in which to grow.
"Being part of a good social network of foster carers is really beneficial. We support each other and sometimes take our children out together and share experiences. I enjoy the fostering social evenings and events - it's a great way to make new friends."
Kinga and Tomasz do what no other Polish family do in Southampton; they foster. We spoke to them about why they decided to contact Southampton City Council’s fostering service early in 2015.
Kinga recalls, "Opening our home was the toughest decision we’ve ever made. We have two boys of our own and have a child orientated home but felt there was still extra space in our life to be able to foster. We enjoy parenting our own two boys and thought we might make a difference to a child in need of a stable home."
"By September 2015 we were approved as foster carers. Shortly after this we were asked if we would consider a long-term placement, which we accepted and who is still with us today."
"The support and training that’s available is excellent and there’s a weekly allowance that covers the cost of the placements. There’s also a skills based payment scheme that rewards you with further payments as your experience grows, and for undertaking relevant training."
"We're so glad we rose to the challenge. After the initial settling period, although it is still hard work, the successes make it very rewarding."
Southampton City Council Foster carer, Margaret, was delighted to receive her ‘30 Years of Fostering Award’ at the Foster Carer Awards Gala Dinner 2016. Margaret, who lives on the Isle of Wight, was inspired to foster as her aunt and sister had children come from London to stay on holiday for many years.
Margaret was introduced to fostering through an organisation called ‘International Help for Children’ who arranged holidays for deprived children. After meeting a Social Worker from Southampton, Margaret had a four year old boy come to stay every summer until he was 15. He still keeps in touch with Margaret today!
Margaret and her late husband have provided short term placements and respite care for over 70 children, with many of the children coming back year after year. She currently has an 11 year old stay for monthly respite and a 16 year old girl who stays four times a year. She has been coming since she was five years old, and will be spending Christmas and New Year with Margaret.
On receiving the award, Margaret said “We have met some fabulous children over the years and gained some wonderful memories.
When we first started fostering, some children came in almost what they stood up in and nothing else. I always had plenty of spare clothes. Now they have so much more and plenty of material things as well, but I still have a spare clothes drawer, just in case! The children’s needs are still the same though, they just want some love, care and boundaries.
Of course, fostering comes with its challenges. We had a boy with A.D.H.D. live with us for three years; that was quite hard work but very rewarding. Fairly recently a carer support group was set up on the Island which I attend; it is good to chat with other carers to gain support or ask opinions about a worry you might have.
My advice to people thinking about becoming foster carers is to ‘go for it, think about it and do it!'”
Adilah has been fostering two children, a boy and a girl aged 3 and 6 since August 2016. This is her first placement and is short term until a permanent care plan is confirmed. Adilah previously worked as an interpreter for a private agency for Muslim families whose children were going into the care of the Local Authority and it inspired her to move into fostering as she felt she had lots to offer families in difficulty, both Muslim and non-Muslim.
"I'm really enjoying fostering. I love having the children here, there’s always lots going on and I give them all the time I can. As I’ve set routines in place for the children I’ve noticed they’ve really developed, it’s so rewarding to see my hard work paying off! I will be sad when the children leave for their next placement but at the same time, I’ll be happy knowing I’ve done my best for them," said Adilah.
Although Adilah is Muslim she has taken on board the cultural interests of the children, for example Christmas. "It’s not something I would normally celebrate as we have our own festival, Eid, but I’ve bought presents for the children and taken them to the Foster Care Association Christmas Party which they loved! I’ve also adapted my usual cooking recipes to cater for the children’s tastes," said Adilah.
Single mum Adilah's four grown up children enjoy seeing the foster children when they visit her Southampton home and have warmly welcomed them into their family.
Fostering of course comes with its testing times, but Adilah has embraced them all. "Life always has challenges, I’ve come across many myself, both here and in Pakistan, so I thought why not take on the challenge of fostering? The rewards have far outweighed the down times. I’ve had lots of encouragement from the foster support group I go to fortnightly in Shirley as well. We meet up to chat about how we are getting on and to give advice and share ideas. That, and the support of my Social Worker and the excellent training I have received, has been invaluable to me."
Julia has been a Parent and Child foster carer since 2014, joining Southampton City Council in April 2016. She decided to become a foster carer after her children had grown up and had their own children. Fostering had always been an idea of Julia’s and once she made the decision to pursue it, she brought with her a great deal of experience of working with children as she was previously an art teacher, working with children of all ages and those with social and emotional difficulties, and she had completed one year of a Social Work Masters degree.
Julia, a single carer, has fostered two mothers and their babies in her Southsea home. Being a Parent and Child foster carer is a real challenge says Julia, but one that she thoroughly enjoys. “Being a Parent and Child foster carer is completely different to mainstream fostering. Basically what you’re doing is setting up a learning experience for the parent. My role is to empower them and help them look after, and provide for, their child.
"The parent has almost complete freedom of my house (not my bedroom), with a shelf in the fridge and cupboards for food. With my encouragement and guidance, they plan and make their own meals and do their own washing and baby care. I encourage them to go to parent and baby groups, such as those at the library and Community Centres. Of course, at the beginning it can be difficult but you learn to live alongside each other. I have to be on hand 24 hours a day, it is certainly a full-time job and can be very intense! There are lots of meetings at my home with professionals; I work as part of a team in supporting the parent and child.”
Although both placements have ended with the mother and baby being separated, Julia feels positive about her role. She says “The aim of the placement is to find out what is best for the child, and sometimes that is to be with an adoptive family. It’s not my job to judge a parent’s lifestyles or ability. I enjoy making a difference to a child’s life, and giving a parent an opportunity to be with their child.”
Julia added “Southampton City Council offer several Parent and Child training courses which I’ve found very informative, and I have confidence in the fostering team and my Supervising Social Worker. You definitely need a good support network to do this role.”
Liz Oldfield, Fostering Team Manager, Southampton City Council, said “We are very grateful to Julia for the good work she is doing. We are looking to grow our numbers of Parent and Child foster carers as the Courts are increasingly looking to give parents a chance to prove they can look after their child rather than taking the child into care from the outset which I feel is really positive. Coming to a home environment offers a more realistic setting than a residential unit for a parent and their child, and can be more cost-effective. We are really pleased with how our Parent and Child fostering is working and are keen to see this area develop.”
Care leavers' stories
Masters graduate Robyn told us about her experience of being fostered: "My foster carers' support made me want to better myself and make them proud. I definitely would not have achieved my goals without them. I recently gained a degree in English Literature and remember when they encouraged me to 'go for it' when I was making the decision about whether to go to university. They always showed a genuine interest in my education and knowing that I could turn to them for love and encouragement was like a safety net that helped me through my studies."
Air hostess Sarah told us: "I am living my dream of being an air hostess and seeing the world, but I never would have got there without the support of my foster carer... There is no way that I would be as happy and confident as I am now without my foster carers. I would encourage anybody who is thinking about fostering to find out more. Your support could quite literally be life changing."
The Children in Care Council (CICC) and the Young People in Care Council (YPICC)
The CICC and the YPICC Southampton meet regularly to discuss their ideas, hopes and plans for the future. They decided to make up shoe boxes which included letters and presents to give to children coming into care to tell them the opportunities it could bring, and to help them feel less scared of the unknown. The letters were also used in the compilation of the Children in Care Guide. One of the letters said:
"Hi. My name is Sarah*. I am 11 years old. I bet you're feeling really scared. Trust me, it's scary at first but it will be ok. I went into foster care at the age of 8. Your foster carer will be there to: love you, protect you, care for you, and be there when you need her. Here's a secret between you and me, foster care isn't that bad, it's actually really fun. Especially when you go out places with them."
The YPICC has also put together a short film about three real life stories from young people in care titled 'The road is darkest before dawn', which you can watch on YouTube.