The Journey of a Foster Carer – Our Weekly Blog Diary

School, Socialising and Summer Holidays

31st May – 5th June

(N.B. – Please note the child’s name has not been disclosed in this article, we have used a false name throughout to protect the child’s identity)

Alex has continued to settle in really well, and everything is all good in the Edwards’ household!

Alex has been busy with Army Cadets and football training, which we are really pleased about. Alex hasn’t got a proper friend base yet, and only knows people through school, but these aren’t friends as such. Alex’s school isn’t local to us which makes it hard to socialise and keep the continuity of friendships. My son has his own group of friends, so I do feel for Alex, who wants to join in, but I feel it’s important to build up your own friendship circle rather than relying on someone else’s. They also have different interests, Alex likes bike riding and football, so it’s important to find like-minded people and build friendships on a common interest. At the Army Cadets group there are several other foster children, which is really good for Alex as the children know how each other feel and can offer each other comfort and develop friendships.

On the whole, Alex is happy and thriving, and has been working really well at school (that’s not say there isn’t the odd moment!). Overall Alex is making good progress and attends all lessons, which is a positive (and encouraging) sign. As a result, Alex’s grades are improving which is fantastic!

We’ve been out and enjoyed the sun the past couple of weekends (with lots of bike rides of course), making us all excited for our summer holiday. We’re going to Cornwall for a week in August, and thought we would try this out first to see how Alex settles in a different environment. We are staying in an isolated wood lodge, with a special viewing platform on-site with telescopes to see the Milky Way. The sky is supposed to be beautiful, so we are all looking forward to this. We are excited to go exploring, visit national trusts attractions, and trips to the beach with lots of ice creams of course!

I will be taking a bit of a break from the blog over the next few months. I have enjoyed sharing my fostering journey with you all, and discussing the processes we went through step by step, from the enquiry stage right through to Alex being placed with us. Fostering can seem quite daunting, but I hope that sharing my experience through the blog has been helpful to you. I’ll be back soon to keep you updated on how we are getting on over the next couple of months!

Week 8 - Football fun and foster care fortnight - 9th May - 15th May 2016

Well it’s been a busy few weeks, but everything has been going really well and we’re all very happy. Alex has continued to settled in brilliantly, and the children have all found their feet with one another and aren’t in each other’s pockets, which is a good thing. Alex has made friends and developed interests, especially in football, and is due to start playing with a local team next week. Alex is desperate to be a goal keeper, a position that the local team are looking for, which is perfect!

Russell and Alex attended a foster carer forum together on Saturday, which was great for the both of them. The forum allows foster carers to get together and exchanges views, ideas and experiences, whilst the children get to know each other and enjoy different activities. This time Options had organised for a fire engine to come and visit, and the children got to sit inside and ask lots of questions, which was good fun for them. Alex had been hesitant to go at first, but actually really enjoyed it and didn’t stop talking about it when they got home! We’re now all looking forward to the Options family activity day this summer, which is always a great event. Last year’s event was on a glorious summer day and was brilliant, they had bouncy castles, face painting and games for the children to enjoy. I took four children on my own, and everyone commented that it was a brave move, but we all had a great time!

Next week is Foster Care Fortnight, which is a great opportunity for those who have thought about fostering to find out more. I have met so many people who don’t think they can foster, whether this be because they don’t own a house, aren’t married, have young children or are single, but this is really not the case. There are lots of children who need care and support in many different ways, so it is important to have a diverse range of carers to help children find a suitable family. I have spoken to several couples who have made enquiries to Options, and have talked openly and honestly about our fostering experiences. I think it is so important to be able to speak to someone who has experienced fostering, as it makes such a difference and shows a different perspective. I don’t think people quite understand that fostering comes in all sorts of shapes and forms, from long term placement to emergency and respite care. We first began fostering with respite care, which I personally think is a great place to start, especially if you have your own children as it helps them to get used to it. If you’re thinking about fostering, or have done in the past, then don’t believe the rumours or myths you may have heard and use Foster Care Fortnight as an opportunity to find out more. Fostering with Options was undoubtedly the right choice for us, and they’ve helped us achieve what we wanted for so long. We couldn’t be happier.

Week 7 - Knowledge is Power - 25th April - 1st May 2016

The children have settled nicely back into the school routine, which means we are back to a busy household. But instead of making the most of the peace and quiet at home whilst they’re at school, I’ve filled my diary up with lots of training sessions over the next couple of weeks. Options offer a wide variety of ongoing training sessions, and I take full advantage as I really enjoy them! The training sessions run throughout the year, and are very popular. I want to be up to speed with everything as soon as possible, for Alex’s benefit.

Training is such an important part of fostering, and is something I feel passionately about.

My initial training with Options was Skills to Foster, which took place over a five day period, and included a variety of sessions including evenings and weekends. The training was extremely comprehensive, and very well laid out. The sessions were interactive, and involved group work, rather than you just being talked at. The one session involved meeting existing foster carers with their children, which was a fantastic experience. You get the opportunity to talk to different foster carers, and ask all sort of questions you have running through your mind. It’s okay the social workers talking you through it all, but these carers live that life, and can tell you what the experience has been like for them. The training took us out of our comfort zone, but was a great way to get to know other foster carers. I found it really interesting to hear why other people went into fostering, and I took a lot away from this. The skills to foster was great preparation, and includes all of the finer details you need to know. It helps you appreciate the kind of children who will come through your door, and it prepares you very well.

Once approved as foster carers, we began our mandatory training, which reinforces the Skills to Foster training. The mandatory training covers a wide variety of topics, including first aid, safeguarding, child sexual exploitation and positive behaviour support sessions. You come away from the sessions with a wealth of information, which is very important to do the job on a daily basis. Without this training you wouldn’t understand the child’s behaviour and how to effectively respond. You are given a guide outlining all of the additional training that is available to you which includes stress management, bullying awareness and grief and loss (which I thought was a fantastic session). The training is invaluable to me, and is well worth investing in, it doesn’t cost anything, all you have to do is dedicate your time.

It sounds quite technical, which can be daunting, but it all makes sense when you do the training. All of the training has been great, and I can’t praise Options enough for this. The sessions are comprehensive, and run by social workers, members of the therapeutic team, and high quality outside sources. Options are supportive in your training and development, and will assist you with any courses you may wish to attend that they currently don’t offer.

After the mandatory training, you are given a document called TDS, which you have 12 months to complete. It’s experienced based, and you complete each section throughout the different stages of foster care, with seven sections to complete in total. It’s self-explanatory and is a compulsory part of becoming a foster carer. I am coming towards the end of mine now, I can’t say I am going to miss it. Despite looking forward to finishing, it has been very beneficial, and it’s a good way of you evaluating your experiences.

The training sessions are a great way to meet other carers, and it really makes you feel part of the Options community. It’s a good opportunity to catch up, and it allows you to share your experiences confidentially and see how other people handle different situations. Training for me is invaluable as knowledge is power, and it allows you to apply what you’ve learnt and become more effective in practice when dealing with people in your care. I can’t thank Options enough for the on-going training available!

Week 6 - The Importance of communication - 11th - 17th April

We’ve had another busy week, especially with Russell’s 40th party, which was a great success!
It was Russell’s birthday on Monday, so we had a fun family day out to the Black Country Museum. The children absolutely loved it, and there was lots for them to do. The children enjoyed exploring the Black Country village, and going underground in the mines. On the evening we had a family get together, for food and cake. As with Mother’s Day, I wasn’t sure how Alex would react on Russell’s birthday, or how our children would react to having another child spend a special day with us. But the children weren’t fazed at all, and Alex is very much a part of the family now.

Throughout the fostering process, communication has been key, and it is extremely important to talk things through. Our children have been part of the process from the outset, and we had a long conversation with them, which was important to us as it is their home too. If the children had been unhappy at any point of the matching process, then we would have reassessed the situation, and possibly continued with respite. For prospective foster parents with children, we would highly recommend respite care, as it was good preparation for the children, especially as you look after a diverse range of children from different families. Options were fantastic in involving the children through every stage of the fostering process. They spoke with the children to help them prepare, and get their thoughts and feelings. The social workers held a craft session for the children, which they really enjoyed, and allowed them to talk openly and honestly about the fostering process. The children had their apprehensions, which is completely normal, but they were involved every stop of the way. Our children worried that Alex may not like them, and it was important for them to be accepted by Alex. The whole process has worked really well for us, and I put this down to strong communication. We talk with the children frequently, including Alex, to check they are all happy.

Since Alex has come to live with us, we haven’t had any real challenges, it’s just about settling in and getting used to our routine. Alex would have previously had a regimented routine, with everyday tasks having a set time. Of course we have a routine at home, it would be complete chaos otherwise, but it is much more relaxed than Alex would have been previously used to. Alex has adapted to living with us really well, but needs little reminders about silly little things, like leaving gadgets lying around on the sofa. Our youngest is only three, so we have to keep things out of reach! Alex also needs little reminders about where the laundry basket is, but I have do the same with my own, so it’s nothing new.
The children returned to school this week, so we’ve been back to our normal busy routine after a lovely Easter break. Although the children aren’t too happy about returning to their usual bedtime!

Week 5 - Not bored with the board games this holiday - 4th - 10th April

Well this Easter holidays we’ve had a poorly household. All of the children have been bunged-up with colds, and I think it’s coming to me next, which is not ideal with Russell’s 40th birthday party this weekend!

To pass the time being stuck indoors poorly, the children have really got into playing Monopoly. I thought they would soon get bored, but they get quite competitive and it could go on for hours. I must admit, I do find it very amusing to watch, especially the bartering!
The children are all getting on really well, and the relationships feel much more natural, as opposed to having to make an effort with one another. That’s not to say the children are going to get on perfectly all of the time, we expect the normal sibling bickering.

The support from Options has been fantastic, and I know that they are just a phone call away should I need them. They know us well, and trust us, so they aren’t overbearing and let us take care of Alex. It’s a healthy relationship, where strong communication is key.

Fostering with Options feels very much like being part of a family, and I know that I have a great support network around us. You get to meet other foster carers at the training sessions, and regular carer support groups. As this is our first placement, we haven’t been to a carer support group yet, but I’ve met other carers at training and everyone is really friendly and down to earth. Whilst the foster carers get together, the social workers run an activity club for the children, which Alex has attended previously and loved. Options organise activities and days out to get the whole family involved, which is nice. We can’t wait to get involved with all of the activities and feel even more part of the community.

The whole family will be getting together Saturday for Russell’s party, which we are all really looking forward to. We aren’t a quiet family, so it is a good job that Alex isn’t shy! Alex likes the banter when we are all together, and loves to get involved. The older children are off on a bike ride, so I better get back to party planning before the next intense game of monopoly begins!

Week 4 - Easter Greetings - 28th March - 3rd April

Well, it’s been another lovely week in the Edwards’ household.Alex has been busy helping me around the house, and in the garden, where we’ve got to dig up the roots of a tree that we had felled last year. It’s a big job but someone’s got to do it!

Alex has also joined a couple of weekly clubs which could potentially lead to a Duke of Edinburgh award in the future, which would be a great opportunity.

We’re all settling into our ‘new’ family life so well – things feel very relaxed and it’s just all kind of exactly how we hoped it would be. Things are really panning out well.

That’s not to say that we’re not expecting the normal, everyday trials and tribulations that come with family life. We know it won’t be tickety-boo all the time, and that there probably will be the occasional disagreements – but it’s all about how you handle them.

Part of the success has to do with the matching process we went through with Options before we found Alex, which has worked really well and has ensured that we were the right family for Alex, and that Alex was the right child for us. Part of it also has to do with the ongoing network of support we have been surrounded with.

We have weekly contact with Alex’s social worker and our supporting social worker at the minute, just to see how everything is settling down. We also have contact with Alex’s school on a daily basis to ensure everything is going well there. Then there’s the therapists and psychologists that help us and Alex whenever we need them. They share their knowledge with us, which in turn allows us to have a greater understanding of how to deal with things if and when they arise. Between them all, we’ve got a fantastic team who all know us and Alex really well.

It’s so reassuring for us all to know that, should we need support at any time, we have someone to turn to 24 hours a day. A problem shared is a problem halved and all that!
Not that there’s any problems at the minute, apart from how to prevent the kids from eating too much Easter chocolate in one go. Oh, and how to get rid of those tree roots! Better get back to the digging with Alex.

Week 3 - Our First Week as Foster Carers - 21st - 27th March

I can’t believe Alex has already been with us for a week tomorrow, it’s gone so fast!

The four week matching process involved a lot of meetings and paperwork, but it seems to have worked really well as Alex is settling in brilliantly with the whole family. It already feels like Alex has always been part of our family. During the matching process we were slowly introduced to Alex, and each time the visits would be for longer periods of time, working up to a two night stay. I feel this definitely helped Alex to settle in so easily.

As a leaving gift from the residential home, Alex was kindly given a bike, which has been used every day so far! Alex practically spent all weekend on the bike with our son Harry, and it has really helped them to bond. They have been out together on the bike every day after school until dinner time, they just can’t get enough of it. It is really lovely to watch Alex on the bike, as it is something new and exciting.
It was my mother and father in-laws foster child’s birthday last week, so we all got together as a family for some food and games, which the kids all enjoyed, especially Alex. We also spent time with my mum this week, and they got on really well, Alex was so open and chatty, and not lacking in any confidence!

It has been school as normal this week, and Alex was especially excited this morning as the children all got to wear red for Sports Relief. The school has organised lots of sporting activities and a bake sale, so I am sure Alex will walk out of school with a big smile. I can’t wait to hear all about it.

We have been on a shopping trip this week for new schools clothes, shoes and jeans, which Alex was very impressed by! We have a family engagement party tonight, and at 8am this morning Alex insisted on laying out an outfit on the bed ready for this evening. Alex is also getting a haircut tonight, and can’t wait to get dressed up for the occasion. Although I think Alex is most excited about the buffet!
There have been no issues at all and we couldn’t be happier with how our first week has gone. Alex has settled in very quickly, and our own children have been great. At the moment, everything is totally different for Alex, but in a positive way. Alex now has free time, and has spent time with Russell over the weekend learning some basic mechanics and helping out.

I hope we have another great week, and I will keep you updated!

Week 2 - Exciting News - 14th - 20th March

Well a lot has happened since last week, and we have some exciting news to share with you. We have come to the end of the matching process, and we have a child moving in with us tomorrow! Alex came to drop some belongings off in the week, and will return tomorrow morning with the rest of their stuff, and then Alex will officially become part of our family.

The matching process has taken about four weeks in total, with a clear plan in place for the child’s best interest. It has involved a lot of meetings, and paperwork, but I didn’t want to mention anything last week as anything could still have happened. But thankfully, the matching process has gone smoothly and Alex will join us tomorrow, which we are all extremely excited about. This week we have been busy preparing the spare room and getting everything ready. I don’t feel nervous at all, it’s just excitement now. We are in a really good place at the moment and we are 110 per cent ready for this move!

We got to spend some quality family time together at the beginning of March, as Alex came to stay with us overnight which was lovely. I wasn’t quite sure how Alex would react to spending Mother’s Day with us, as we are all still getting to know each other, but we all had a great day. We went to Pizza Hut for lunch, which certainly kept the kids happy! I didn’t know how our own children would react to having another child spend Mother’s Day with us, but it didn’t cause a problem at all. The day went really well and it felt very natural. They are all very excited by Alex coming to live with us. It will take time to start with, to find your footing with everyone, but each time Alex has stayed with us for a longer period of time it has felt more relaxed.

Alex has told us how excited they are to move in with us, and has been ticking off the days on a calendar which is a lovely feeling. The most important thing for us now is to make sure Alex feels settled and secure, so I want to get into a routine quickly. We have already done things such as the school-run together, which felt natural.

We have a family birthday this Sunday, so we will be getting together for food and celebrations. Alex has met some of our extended family briefly, including Russell’s parents and sisters, but will meet more on Sunday. It may be a little daunting, but Alex has been asking a lot about our family, and is really keen to meet everyone, which is sweet. They are all just as excited to meet Alex.

It may be a little nerve-wrecking on Saturday when the social workers first leave, but I know that we will be very well supported by the whole team. I will now have monthly supervisions with my social worker to assess how things are going, as will the child with their own social worker. I am really looking forward to attending the support meetings for foster carers and activity days for the children. It will be a great opportunity for us both, and Alex will get to meet all of the other children and become part of the Options family.

I will let you know next week how our first week goes!

Week 1 - Our Family - 7th - 13th March

Hi, my name is Sherese, and I am a 43-year-old mom of three. I am going through the process of opening my heart and home to a foster child on a permanent basis, and over the coming weeks I will be sharing our journey.

Fostering is something that had never even entered my head at all, until I met my husband, Russell. Russell’s parents had fostered throughout his childhood, so it’s something he grew up with. When I met Russell and his family, I was really intrigued by the fostering. I watched his parents engage with the foster children, and how they would make each child feel part of the family. I got to see first-hand the changes of the child, and how they would grow in confidence and get to experience new things, as well as embrace you. I came into Russell’s family at the same time as a foster child, and we formed a strong bond straight away, probably because we were both going into the unknown together! At the time, Russell and his three sisters all lived at home, so it was a very busy household and I would often wonder how his mother is coped. His parents were always busy, but the family thrived from this and the children loved it, which is what I really took away from it.

As our relationship moved on, Russell and I had a chat and decided to become respite carers for his parents. The foster child already knew us like family, and felt comfortable in our home, so it seemed like a very natural thing for us to do. I was about 25 when we started fostering. I remember my age because we actually had a foster child as a pageboy at our wedding.

We first heard of Options Fostering through a leaflet my mother-in-law had picked up. We decided to call Options for a chat, and straightaway we really liked the sound of the agency so we arranged for an informal visit. After speaking with the agency manager, we felt like we would be well supported, so it really wasn’t a difficult decision for us to make. It was not a case of if we fostered, but when.

We first began offering respite care, but we are now going through the pathway process to be matched with a child on a long-term basis. We are really excited to be going through the process, although I think there’s an element of mixed feelings too. We are slightly apprehensive, but mainly excited by it all, I think. The children are really happy about it, and they can’t wait. They have already had a lot of experience of respite care, so when they found out we will be having a child live with us for a longer duration they were really happy.

Routine is extremely important to me, I have three children of my own, so I am already doing the school run, dinner time and bed time so it comes naturally to us. We are a busy household, and it is loud and hectic, but we wouldn’t have it any other way. Family time is really important to us, and we can’t wait to have an extra person to accommodate and be there for. We thrive off a busy house, and once the respite children have gone the house feels very quiet. We love having another dynamic in the house, and a new personality to get to know. Once all the children are in bed at about 9pm, we collapse together on the sofa and chat about our day.

Fostering is incredibly rewarding but it is hard work, and it is a difficult career path to take. I previously worked as a healthcare assistant, so fostering was a change of career for me, but it is something I am passionate about and really enjoy. Yes it is time consuming, but fostering is like a job that involves meetings, papers and reviews, which falls in the remit of a 9-5 job.

At the moment we are still having lots of meetings regarding our pathway process, and hope to have a foster child with us in the very near future. I will keep you updated next week!

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