Thursday, 6 October 2016

What’s it like to be a male foster carer?

When you’re thinking of fostering, there are lots of things that won’t affect your eligibility – your age, your sexuality, your marital status or your religion. But why are there so few male foster carers in the job?

Keith and his wife Carol foster with us in Essex. He wants more men to step up as foster carers and realise that they can make just as much difference to a young person’s life as women can.

I was at a training session on equality and diversity recently and it made me think about the misconceptions people have when you’re a male foster carer.

When my wife and I first thought about fostering, she had to give me an extra push to make me recognise that I could do it. The hardest thing you have to overcome as a male carer is the stereotype that you won’t be as caring as your female equivalent. It’s simply not the case – people ask what I do in fostering and expect to receive a different answer than the one my wife gives, but I do exactly the same.

Some people have suggested to me that men aren’t as trustworthy as foster carers and shouldn’t be allowed to do all the tasks involved, but I don’t think that’s fair. They don’t mean to be rude or upset me, it’s just a challenge for people to understand that gender doesn’t make a difference in fostering. Men don’t want to feel like the spare wheel in fostering – they want to feel like they’re an essential part of the car.

Often people have the impression that men should be checked out more thoroughly than women during the fostering application process, but the checks for everybody are really rigorous. You’ll be sussed out long before any young people move in with you and the staff are on-hand to provide any additional training or support that you might need.

I’m trying to encourage two of my brothers to start fostering too but they always ask whether I worry about looking after other people’s children. They have concerns about the risks and possible volatile situations they might be in, and think that women are better placed to handle these issues. I always ask them what makes me any different? Just because I’m a man doesn’t mean I can’t manage these challenges in a professional and caring way.

Valuing male foster carers’ input is really important. One of my previous foster children couldn’t have got where she was today without my support.

Children in care are all totally different – that’s why we need a mixture of foster carers to look after them. I want other men to realise how rewarding it can be and know that they’re capable of changing a young person’s life too.

Watch Keith talk about his fostering journey on our YouTube channel now or visit our website to find out more.

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Sons and Daughters Month - Jackie's story

Sons and Daughters Month celebrates the difference that birth children make in fostering. Whether they're still young and living at home or have already flown the nest, having an extended family that care about your foster children makes a massive difference to their well-being and sense of belonging.

Jackie has been fostering with St Christopher's in the West Midlands for four and a half years. Her youngest son, Josh, still lives at home with Jackie and her foster daughter.

I’ve been fostering for four and a half years and have looked after the same young person, A, for the entire time. It’s gone really quickly and A has now started college.

My son Josh is 19 and still lives at home – my other children are older and have moved out. some even have children of their own now. He’s always been very laidback and never had any worries about fostering as my sister had been doing it for many years. He knew children that she had previously fostered and understood what it would be like.

I had a few discussions with all of my children, not just Josh, throughout the application process. They knew they could tell me if they had any doubts and that I wouldn’t go ahead with fostering unless they were completely happy.

A was challenging at the start. Everyone thought that she would be eager to leave as soon as she turned 16 but it hasn’t been like that at all, and I think that’s down to making her feel included in our lives.

At first it was hard for me and Josh to adjust. There are lots of new rules when you start fostering about not going in other children’s rooms and they must be stuck to. A had made a few allegations in the past against boys so safeguarding my son was a main priority.

When she moved in with me it was the first time A had lived with just one foster carer instead of a couple. It’s made her realise that not every child lives with both their parents. She saw that my son Josh relies on only me and I think it’s made her think differently about foster care.

My older son is a teacher and always advises A on problems at school and helps her with homework. I think she really benefits from knowing our whole family is behind her and gets a lot out of the extra support.

A always refers to Josh and my other children as her brothers and sisters. She is part of our family, she comes out for meals with us and goes to all our events. My birth children involve A in everything – and why wouldn’t they? I don’t think she would’ve minded being the only child in the house, but when she is treated like all of the others it does help her to feel more at home.

Fostering hasn’t changed my relationships with my children, but it has opened our eyes. When you have your own children you think you’ve seen it all but you really haven’t. It’s a learning experience.

Josh is thinking of moving out now so another foster child might be coming to live with me. I’m treating the topic with A the same way I did with my birth children – asking her if she would be OK with it and not going ahead with it if she has concerns. She was set against it at first but she’s starting to ask more questions now about what the person would be like and how old they would be, so she might come round when she’s older!

Would you like to make a difference to a child's life? Visit our website today to find out about fostering in your area.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Sons and Daughters Month - Linda's story

Sons and Daughters Month celebrates the difference that birth children make in fostering. Whether they're still young and living at home or have already flown the nest, having an extended family that care about your foster children makes a massive difference to their well-being and sense of belonging.

Linda fosters with St Christopher's in the West Midlands. The support she's received from her own children has had a great impact on the young people she fosters.

Linda with St Christopher's Trustee Bert

I’ve been fostering for three and half years and for most of this time I’ve been looking after a sibling group of three. 

My birth children are all grown up aged 30, 33 and 35 and they’ve all got children of their own too. When we told them we were thinking about fostering they were all for it and thought it was a great idea.

Initially we were a bit worried about how our grandchildren would react but they totally accepted it and call our foster children their cousins. They spend every Saturday together as they’re roughly the same age and the two oldest ones both go to the same school.

I am particularly close to my oldest granddaughter who I had looked after a lot since she was a baby so I did wonder how she would behave when she saw me caring for another child. We discussed the idea of fostering with her throughout the whole application process and brought her along to buy all the things we’d need.

She was staying with us when our very first foster children arrived and instantly put the them at ease by giving them a tour of our house. Having someone there on their level definitely made a difference!

The first time my son met our current foster children was on a big family day out. They all got on really well and it was a completely natural transition.

Our middle foster child has had a really difficult time, but our oldest daughter has really taken her under her wing and tells her she will help as much as possible.

I think that having my family on board gives my foster children a feeling of acceptance. They send them birthday cards saying “brother” or “sister” on the front without us asking them to.

Fostering is normal for the whole family. I think if you can be relaxed about it then that’s half the battle – children can sense when you’re not being genuine and they’ll call you out on it.

That doesn’t mean it hasn’t been a learning experience. Children’s needs change all the time when they’re growing up so all of us have to adapt too. I learn something new every day and it’s really important for foster carers to be able to take constructive criticism on board and take direction if you’re doing something wrong.

Since we started fostering my family has knitted together and become more of a unit. They've adapted really well to the changes we've had to make to become a foster family and have never wavered in their support.

If my own children were a bit younger I would probably have worried about jealousy. However, we treat them all on an equal keel. There’s no “us versus them” because we’re all part of the “us”, in spite of the big age difference. We want everyone in our family to feel valued because they truly are.

Are you interested in fostering? Visit our website now to find out more.

Monday, 16 May 2016

Foster Care Fortnight 2016 – Connie’s story

We’re celebrating Foster Care Fortnight from 16-29 May and the theme for 2016 is Time to Foster, Time to Care. Every 20 minutes across the UK a child comes into care in need of a foster family.

Connie lives in Essex and has been fostering for about eight years. She shares her favourite fostering memories and explains why it’s such a rewarding career.

Why did you decide to become a carer?

I had always wanted to foster. My sister, who lives in Ireland, is a carer and so was the childminder who looked after my kids when they were younger.

St Christopher’s was actually the first organisation I saw an advert for so I just went ahead and phoned instead of waiting around for any longer. And I’m so glad I did!

How do you help young people settle into their new home?

For me it’s important not to make a huge deal of their arrival by not putting the spotlight on them. It’s a big move and they might be feeling anxious so I just welcome them in and invite them to have a chat. I’ll show them round the house, introduce them to the people they’ll be living with and talk to them about the area.

What are the biggest challenges of fostering?

I have always fostered teenagers with disabilities. I didn’t go into it with the idea of specifically fostering young people like this but the first boy I looked after had autism and it just grew from there. When he arrived I knew nothing about autism but St Christopher’s sent me on training courses to learn about different behaviours and how I could support him.

Sometimes young people with disabilities can totally switch their behaviour with no warning, which can be challenging at first. The training prepared me for these occasions and I really like that St Christopher’s gave me the opportunity to develop my skills and knowledge. It shows that they put the child’s needs first.

How do you juggle your job alongside the commitments of fostering?

I was so grateful that I could keep my job when I began fostering as lots of agencies don’t let you. Luckily my role is really flexible – for example, if there’s a problem at the school I’m able to go and sort things out. I can also take leave for fostering training days.

In my opinion it’s great for the children to be looked after by someone with a good work ethic. If they come into your home and see you going out to work they will learn that they’ll have to do the same when they’re adults.

Do you have a favourite fostering memory?

One child I looked after couldn’t read at 12 years old and was receiving no support from his school when he first came to live with me. He left that school and had help from a tutor and me so that he could learn to read, and he ended up winning an award for his achievement. It was a really proud moment!

Other things that stick in my mind are when foster children say “I love you” for the first time. You know then that they respect you and appreciate everything you’ve done. I’ve learnt an awful lot from the children that I foster, it’s a two-way thing. 

I’m lucky enough to have good relationships with my foster children’s own families. We can all spend time together and have Christmas and birthday meals as a group. I feel like an extension of their birth family, which I’m so grateful for.

Being a carer does wonders for your own self-esteem too – you see a young person doing well and you know that you’ve had a positive hand in helping them get there.

What difference do you think you can make in 20 minutes as a foster carer?

Foster children often have low self-esteem so they need to be reminded that they’re part of your family and that they have a welcome place in your life. They want to know that you love them just as much as your birth children and can need more reassurance.

I remember when one boy first came to live with us he was sometimes aggressive towards my son. I realised that he was acting out because he was jealous so I took some time to make him understand that I love him just as much as my birth children. His behaviour really changed from this point onwards.

Showing you care and that you’re interested in what they have to say is so important. I always try to look at the positives in their development instead of focussing on the negatives, and talk to them a lot about this.

What do you like about fostering with St Christopher’s?

I love that it’s a small agency so you really feel like part of the family. Everyone is so friendly and they really care about you – you’re never left alone if you have a problem and there’s always somebody at the end of the phone who you can talk it through with. At first I didn’t know there was a difference between fostering with a Local Authority or a charity, but I am glad I ended up with a not-for-profit.

When new carers start, I always remind them not to be put off by the first hurdle because the outcomes are so rewarding. It can be challenging but you soon fall into your stride and seeing the difference in the child from when they first arrived is really worthwhile.

What would you say to someone who is thinking about fostering?

Do it! You can be a really positive influence in a young person’s life. Fostering is so, so rewarding and I would recommend it to anyone who wanted to make a difference.

We’re recruiting carers in the Eastern Region and the West Midlands. Find out more about fostering on our website today or call 0800 234 6282 for a no-obligation chat.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Foster Care Fortnight 2016 – Dean’s story

We’re celebrating Foster Care Fortnight from 16-29 May and the theme for 2016 is Time to Foster, Time to Care.

Every 20 minutes across the UK a child comes into care in need of a foster family. This year over 9,000 new carers are needed to provide safe, loving homes for vulnerable young people.

Dean is from Essex and has been a carer for about seven years. He spoke to us about why he wanted to get involved and shared some of his favourite fostering memories.

Why did you want to start fostering?

My mum was a carer so I grew up around fostering. It was something my wife and I had always wanted to do. We waited until our own children had grown up and left home before starting our application. Initially we thought we would give fostering a try for six months but the first young person we looked after came from such a chaotic background that we realised we had to see it through for their sake.

There are different types of fostering like short-term and respite, but we were more interested in looking after someone long-term because you see greater results. It’s so important to provide a stable home as it can take a young person a while to trust you if they have had bad experiences with adults before. You have to build up that relationship – that’s one of the main things that carers do.

You can have good intentions about how it will go but you never know until that first young person moves into your home.

How do you help young people to settle into their new home?

Moving into a new home is a really big thing for young people and we want them to feel as comfortable as possible. We let them choose their own bedding to personalise their room and we’re happy for them to put their own pictures on the walls. We ask what they like to eat so we can cook their favourite meals. It’s about empowering them to make responsible choices and showing them that we care right from the start.

Often the people we care for have been victims of neglect or abuse. They’ve been let down by the people who were meant to look after them and keep them safe. We acknowledge the past and the young person’s feelings, and give them space and time to talk about what’s happened. Through this we encourage them to think about the future and where they’re heading instead. We hope that they can begin to view life more positively.

How do you measure success when you’re fostering?

Young people who have been neglected, abused or have come from difficult circumstances often expect you to fail or let them down as this is often how adults have behaved around them before. They can be justifiably angry, upset or confused about their past and it might take some time for them to trust their foster carer. Sometimes they’ll ask if I’ve read their file but I always make it clear that we don’t make any assumptions based on the information we’ve been given and will deal with situations as they arise.

To begin with they might spend most of their time in their bedroom and will be reluctant to spend time with the family but then something changes. They’ll want to spend more time with you and to get involved in the household. They’ll even ask if you’re OK and start thinking about the people around them. When they do that you know things are beginning to progress well.

After a while you start to see their fear and anxiety drop away. They start to understand that you’re not going to give up on them and that they can stay in their new home. They realise how you can help.

Sometimes you can be fostering someone for 18 months or more and reflect back with them to see how far they’ve come. It just makes you realise how far they can go in the future.

What difference do you think you can make in 20 minutes as a foster carer?

Little conversations might seem inconsequential at the time but when you reflect afterwards you realise that it could be really important. Chats about school, friends and anxieties happen in short bursts but can give you a real insight into how a young person is feeling. We have the conversation on their terms and I give them positive affirmations whenever I get the opportunity.

When short-term interventions like these are repeated again and again they have a really powerful impact. The foster children get to know that you’re consistent and you can build up a strong relationship that will lead to good outcomes.

Why did you choose St Christopher’s?

I started fostering with my Local Authority before transferring to St Christopher’s for two main reasons. Firstly, they are a registered charity so their motive is to help children in care rather than to make money. All their income goes straight back into the young people.

Secondly, St Christopher’s were running a specialist fostering scheme at the time for carers who wanted more challenging placements. We were really interested in this type of fostering as we had both worked with teenagers for over 25 years, whether they were self-harmers, homeless or involved in the criminal justice system.

Since then we’ve fostered people with emotional difficulties, people with electronic tags and people who try to hurt themselves. They usually lack self-confidence which is understandable as they’ve been treated like they don’t matter.

What would you say to someone who is thinking about fostering?

Fostering is a real, tangible opportunity to make a positive impact on a young person’s life. You can be the first person to show them respect, provide a safe home, provide them with care and give them positive attention. It’s a really powerful thing and it’s so rewarding. We’ve got no plans to stop any time soon!

We’re recruiting carers in Essex and the West Midlands. Find out more about fostering on our website today.