Friday, 24 May 2013

The Future

Since I’ve become a foster carer it’s given me a positive prospective to fostering removing doubt and the stereotype I previously had. It has enriched our lives in so many ways. It’s helped my children and wider family members to appreciate the immense responsibility undertaken. The care, security and attachments these vulnerable children need to develop well. It has drawn awareness and understanding of various religions, cultures, heritage and most importantly, that universally we all are the same in our needs for security, love and care. We all need opportunities for a better start in life.

I consider my future very much in foster caring. This is what I love best. I draw immense fulfillment and satisfaction by showing compassion and empathy to other lives that have been deprived of their basic needs; which we all so often take for granted. Despite the challenges I sometimes face, it’s rewarding to know that I’ve instilled a positive difference in a child that will hopefully carry throughout their lives. This is what makes it all so worth it.

I hope you have all been enlightened and enjoyed reading about my life as a foster carer over the last 10 days. I have certainly enjoyed sharing it with you.      

Thursday, 23 May 2013

My First Placement

Getting the call for my first ever placement was a momentous occasion for me. I had been waiting for it to happen and it was hugely exciting when I was told a baby would be placed in my care.

I was given a briefing over the phone on his condition, his age and the reasons surrounding his placement.

I was told that he would arrive at my home with the child’s social worker by early evening. That gave me enough time to put things in place for example, the bedding in the cot, buying formula milk, bottles, clothing and setting out the room.

Most of the baby equipment and safety items were already in place so I was ready and waiting for this placement.

I was so excited to hear that our first child was coming and I can’t explain the joy we were experiencing as well the apprehension of what was to come. I spoke with my children again about what was about to happen and explained that our job was to give this child as much care and love we could and help him through this difficult time.

Once the baby arrived the child’s social worker ran through the “placement plan” informing me of the details.  There was a lot to go through and the procedure is very detailed.

It was all very new to us, the information and jargon used was a little overwhelming at first. My support worker helped me through understanding the procedure and introduced me to other experienced carers through a “buddying” system, enabling me to have immediate assistance and advice. I found this really reassuring and throughout my first placement my ‘buddys’ did provide a lot of support and help. I know enjoy being able to do the same thing for other new carers.

The experience with my first placement cemented my love for fostering and inspired me to continue with my passion.

Four years down the track I remember the butterflies from that first ever phone call, and can still say that with each new placement there is still a sense of excitement and intrigue into what each new child will bring to my family, and what we can do to help them.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Why I chose Ealing Council for Fostering

My decision was finally made following considerable insight to fostering, witnessing at first hand the role of a foster carer and its responsibilities that my sister in law undertook.

At that time my brother and his wife were in the process of adopting a little girl through Ealing Council and informed me that an ‘open talk day’ was being held. They said it would be a great opportunity for me to find out more about what Ealing Council was offering.

They had recommended Ealing to me as they had a positive experience with their adoption process and found the staff very helpful and supportive during their assessment. 

I decided to take their offer and attended the talk. I found the discourse most inspiring and informative. I knew I could do this.  The staff explained at length the assessment period and procedure to become a carer.

Following the talk I signed up for an induction course. The induction team were friendly and helpful, explaining in detail what was expected of a foster carer. I really enjoyed the course and found it interesting listening to different people from various backgrounds sharing their thoughts and reasons to foster. The course took place over 4 days where we worked independently as well as engaging in role play group exercises.

Once I was accepted, a lengthy home assessment was undertaken over a period of several months. This was quite intensive and our past and present personal lives were examined and references were taken. I then met with a panel and was successfully accepted.

My experience with Ealing Council has been a positive one, as it has been for my brother and his wife during their adoption period.

Four years into fostering I can confidently say that I’ve had good relations with my support workers and found them most helpful and understanding when faced with any fostering concerns or in my personal matters.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

My children and fostering

Although my children have always supported us to do fostering it can become challenging for them too. There was a time when a child in our care had been very disruptive. She would misplace their belongings from their rooms and play tantrum in the middle of the night upsetting their sleep. My children, as would any other teenagers, would get very upset and found it a very testing time to keep calm, not to get irritated and annoyed by her behaviour.

I would explain to my children and help them to understand that the child had come from an unsettled home and needed our physical and emotional support to help channel her frustrations and fear.

Despite the challenges my children face dealing with some foster children, they do draw attachments to them. When the children move on to their new homes it is always upsetting for them. They are very much part of that child’s life and treat them like their own sibling.

To help manage my children’s emotions, I always draw their attention from the onset that the child will eventually move on to their new homes. Also that we will provide them with the best possible care for the time they are with us. I always organise a leaving party for every child that eventually leaves. I invite all my family members and their children to say their farewells and take pictures for the foster child’s photo ‘life story’ album. Not only does it help my children and my wider family to have some sort of closure but also celebrating the foster child’s time with us, remembering it in a positive way.

After every sadness, follows happiness and we all look forward to the next child that comes in our care. They are just as exciting as the previous. The opportunity to start all over again doing what we love best in providing care and security to these vulnerable children and give them a better chance in life is what makes it worth it for my family.

Monday, 20 May 2013

First goodbye

Four years of fostering and I still remember my very first foster child, a lovely little boy named Ben*. Ben was 4 months old when he came to my home, and I remember him being a very bright and happy child, he was very responsive for his age.  As my first fostering experience it has been the most memorable and special.

Ben was with me for about 1 ½ years until he was adopted. When you have been caring for a child for that length of time the love and bond becomes great, Ben and I became very attached to one another and he was an important part of our family.

However, as a foster carer it is inevitable that the time will come when the child has to move on to their new home. Even though you are aware that this will eventually happen it was a new and difficult experience for me and it was a very sad and emotional time for my family.  As my first foster child saying goodbye to Ben was heart breaking.

I had to tell myself that Ben was going to a good family. Part of the process was to set our emotions aside and think about what was in his best interest and prepare him to bond and draw attachments to his new adoptive parents.

There is a procedure involved when moving a child between fostering and adoption to ensure that it is as easy on the child as possible. Ben’s transition period took 9 days, and was very intensive. During the transition period I tried to give the adoptive parents full priority to establish bonding and attachment.

The adoptive parents came to my home each day between 8am and 9pm. I was lucky to have a really good relationship with them and they stayed for dinner each night. Initially I carried out the daily routine showing them his needs and requirements. This was quickly handed over to the parents and I remained only in the background for support. This allowed Ben to quickly bond and allowed the parents to take control with confidence.

At the end of each day session, we would have a discussion on how the day went, any concerns they had and how best to improve and implement the next day. I wanted to do anything that would help my foster child to have a smooth transition. I supported the adoptive parents with a photo “life story” album showing the stages of his development, events, day trips and our time spent with him. I also made a list of his routine to help assist them when they left.

I cried for days after saying goodbye and had to visit my mother for reassurance and support. It was quite a stressful time for me and I actually lost weight during the transition period.

I still cry each time I say goodbye to a child, but am now more mentally prepared for it. Having a good rapport with the adoptive parents helps me to feel comfortable with them leaving, and I remind myself each time that they are going to a loving home.

My support worker, knowing how upset we all were during Ben’s transition, recommended that we turn Bens leaving day into a ‘positive memorable day’. She advised for us as a family to go out for the day, as soon as he left. I didn’t think it would work but I took her advice and we all went off to London for a boat ride on the Thames from Westminster to Greenwich. It worked out to be a great day and till this day we always remember that his leaving was a memorable and a happy day.

This weekend I was very happy to receive a call from Ben’s adoptive parents. It’s been nearly 3 years since he moved on to his new home and since then, we have been fortunate enough to keep in touch and meet up regularly. It’s sometimes not always possible to have contact with the adoptive parents depending on their circumstances. With Ben it’s been great to be able to hear about how well he is doing and learn about his achievements. Ben refers to me as ‘Aunty’ and I still have a special relationship with him.

Its very satisfying to know that you have been part of his story.

Friday, 17 May 2013

A foster family

At my support meeting yesterday one of the foster carers asked whether I could look after her foster child for a few days respite, while she had to go away on a personal matter. After discussing with my support worker I was happy to accept.

It’s great to have a good network of carers, so we can help each other when urgent matters arise. It also gives you great experience of looking after children from different backgrounds and heritage.

I have cared for a number of children from different backgrounds including  African-Caribbean heritage, Asian, British and Eastern European. This is given me greater exposure to different cultures and I have learnt lots of new skills from how to care for different hair and skin types, preparing various foods and even learnt a little about the different religions.

When looking after children from different cultures you realise that there are so many similarities and like all children, they ultimately need the same love, care and security.

Sometimes when I am out shopping and most recently at a wedding I attended, people assumed and questioned whether the child was my own, particularly when they are of a different race. At first this situation was awkward but as I got used to explaining that I am a foster carer people would be really impressed and inspired.

I realised that people were really interested in foster care, and that when they asked these questions it was a good opportunity to talk more about becoming a foster carer and the rewards it brings.

 I take great pride in being a foster carer and being able to provide a child with a better start in life and to treat them like my own, is truly a blessing.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Contact arrangements

Part of Jacks normal day is going to his contact arrangement with his parents; this takes place in a specialised contact centre.

Most children in foster care will have some contact with their birth families. Contact arrangements vary depending on the child’s circumstances.  I previously had a foster child whose contact took place at my home with his prospective adoptive parents. Sometimes the contact is supervised and other times not necessary.

Contact is especially important for younger children and babies, so their parents can maintain their relationship if the child goes home. As a 14 month old baby Jack has contact every weekday.

It can be challenging on occasions when dealing with parents but, on the same token, I have had some lovely experiences with most of my foster children’s parents.

It is important to try to understand the parent’s prospective and their feelings of having their child placed in care.

Today I had an appointment with my support worker who makes regular home visits. She is very helpful and advises me on any concerns I may have. She discusses what courses to take and keeps me up to date with information. It’s a very good time to discuss Jack’s development and his current situation and how long he’ll stay in care.

My support worker also ran through a number of courses that I would benefit from, to enhance my fostering skills. I will be taking a First Aid course this weekend.

This course is very worthwhile and important for me, as I look after children under the age of 3. The great thing about these courses is that they are all free and funded by the council, which would otherwise be very costly to attend regularly.  Some courses I have re-attended as refreshers.

The courses are run in a friendly environment and with other foster carers. Some of the courses I have really benefitted from and have helped me to understand and manage young children are: The Early Years, Toddler Tantrum, Understanding Heritage, Moving on young babies and children and preparing a Life Story for when they leave.

Jack also had his LAC Medical appointment today. This appointment was to see Jack’s general development and assess his wellbeing. The nurse interacted with him through play and assessing his physical abilities. He was weighed and his height measured and recorded. I was glad to hear that he was developing well and there were no reasons for concern.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

The daily routine

I’ve mentioned before that I believe part of being a successful foster parent is having a well structured home, providing structure for the child. Like all children, Jack needs and enjoys his routine, his normal day looks something like this:

7.30am: Jack is up for his morning milk feed as usual. I use the time while he is having his feed to prepare my daughters lunch for school.

8.15am: Jack is washed and changed ready to come with me to drop off my daughter at school.

9am: We are back home and time for Jack’s breakfast.

9.30am: I prepare Jack’s lunch which he takes for contact and make sure his baby bag has all the essential items needed for that day.

10am: Jack goes for 'contact’ to visit his parents at the contact centre. He has a daily three hour contact time.

Between 10am to 1pm I arrange my personal appointments and errands. Today was my dentist appointment. It’s better for me to do these things while Jacks away as I can get from one place to another faster; it’s also less disruptive for Jack when he returns.

1.45pm: Jack returns from contact and is tired and fast asleep. I put him straight in the cot so he can rest until we leave for school runs.

2.50pm: We both make our way to school to pick up my daughter. Jack enjoys the car ride to school and gets very excited to see her.

3.20pm: Jack has snack time with the kids. He likes sitting on his high chair and joining them at the table when he eats. He’s very much part of the family.

4pm: Jack loves to play on the floor with his blocks, staking them up, then to push them all down. His other favourite toy is the shape sorter. He tries to put them in the slots.
As he is crawling, I have to keep a watchful eye on him. He’s into everything he can see. So safety is crucial at this adventurous age. 

Safeguarding and promoting his welfare is paramount. I have ensured that all safety equipment is in place for example a fire guide, plugs in the socket, locks on cupboards, age appropriate toys and to ensure the area he plays is free from harm.

5.30pm: Jack has his dinner. While I prepare our evening dinner, Jack enjoys listening to my daughter read to him.

6.30pm: Jack has play time with my husband and children. He enjoys this quality time. They interact with him through play, talking, laughing with him and praise him when he responds.
It’s a good time for all of us to get together with Jack before his bath and bedtime.

7.30pm: Jack is ready to take his bath. It seems he already knows that it’s time to unwind after a busy day. He loves bath time and very playful in the water. After his bath, Jack has his last milk feed, he is more than happy to take his milk feed before bed as it aids him to sleep well, throughout night.

Good night Jack!

From 7.30pm until our bedtime, I am able to enjoy quality time with my husband and children. My children are revising for their exams due next week, so it’s a stressful time for them. I try and ensure that there is minimum disruption in the household and support them fully in what they need.

I check with my son and daughter of any up coming events or meeting that I need to attend at school. I also make some preparations for the next day.

Once all that was done I can relax for the rest of the evening- ready to do it all again tomorrow.  

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Baby Jack*

At present I am caring for a baby Jack* who is 14 months old. When he arrived at 8 months, he could barely sit up independently, he needed help to stimulate his muscle movement, and strengthen his arms and legs.I have helped him stimulate his muscles with toys, allowing him to play on the floor where he is able to stretch and roll about. Within weeks he was able to hold objects, stretching and kicking his arms and legs.  Jack is now crawling and learning to walk by pulling himself up, holding onto the sofa and standing up in his cot.

Jack is settled and in a good routine. He goes to bed around 7.30pm and up the following morning around the same time. This is very good for his wellbeing as he has 12 hour sleep and wakes up happy and recharged.

This weekend Jack had didnt have a contact arrangement to visit his parents, so it was lovely to wake up and not have to rush around as I do during the weekdays.

Jack was up at his usual time of 7.30am for his morning milk feed today. My husband’s great because he always makes the morning feeds before he goes to work and at the weekends too. Jack is pretty much clock work with nappy changing just after his feed. He likes playing with his cuddly toys as he babbles away playing in his cot in the mornings.

We try to keep to his daily routine even at weekends, so he always feels confident and content. When I’m getting him ready for ‘contact’ or to take him out, I always talk to him letting him know where he’s going in simple words. So he is always aware of what’s happening next. This gives him security, confidence and avoids unnecessary anxiety.

Later in the afternoon after his nap, I took Jack out with my girls, shopping, and later to the park. I always ensure that the bare essentials are packed in his baby bag before leaving the house. ie. nappies, change of clothing, a drink and a snack. I also ensured I placed his buggy in the car.  Jack loves the outdoors and gets all excited when we go out. There is a beautiful lake nearby, where Jack loves seeing the swans, ducks and the birds.

In the evening we had family over, visiting. My family love the babies and young children I foster. They all get excited every time a new child comes in my care and are always sad to see them leave. They have been very supportive in what I do. Some have been CRB checked so they are able to help out and look after Jack should I need it. My young nephew and nieces love Jack and play with him whenever they come. They love all the children that have been placed with me and remember them often. When I prepare the “Life Story” album for my foster children, they like to have their pictures added in the album too, each child leaves with a memento of their time with us.

Jack is very much a centre of attention in our household, being so young and my kids enjoy playing with him. I get a lot of help from my husband and my children and we work very much as a team. I really couldn’t do it well, without them.

By 8pm Jack had had his bath and was ready for bed. He had his milk feed before bed which helps him sleep well throughout the night.

It's always a busy day with a baby but once Jack is sleeping, it leaves me plenty of quality time to spend with my family.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Making the decision to foster

Hi, I'm Alveina, married and a mother of three. My eldest daughter, who is 18, is at university studying towards her psychology degree. My son who has just turned 16 is taking his GCSE this year and my youngest daughter, of 12 years, started high school this September. As you can see, they are all at crucial stages of their academic life, and like most, our household can be very busy.

For the past four years I have also been a foster carer.

It's a tough job being a mother, as any mother would agree, and being a foster carer is no different. I believe the secret of success is having a good structure in the home, a loving environment and communication.

The decision to become a foster carer was not taken lightly. After having a successful banking career I decided to take some time out from the working world to raise my family, and I thought I could do more.

My sister in law was a foster carer and I watched her care for her foster family. I saw the considerable amount of care and attention that was needed to look after these vulnerable children, but what struck me most was the joy and fulfilment that was being reaped. They gave the children stability, love and care, making a positive difference to their lives.

My decision to foster was precisely to make a positive difference in a child’s life.

At times it's a tough job to fulfil, but I have been committed and dedicated in providing a safe, caring and loving home with stability, structure and set boundaries, to enable the child to develop and gain confidence, to become a well-rounded individual.

Just like raising your own children, there are both highs and lows.

The rewards

· Fostering is a very rewarding job. It's a great feeling when you see a child you are caring for develop well, gain confidence and strengths to help them move on to the next stages of life. You know you have instilled those qualities that will hopefully benefit them in the future.
· It's great when you have good relationships with the parents or adoptive parents, this helps immensely during transition time.
· Sometimes you are able to keep in touch with the children after they leave.
· Having access to a good network of foster carers so you don’t feel overburdened and know help is always available.
· The support you receive from support workers and by attending fostering support meetings is a great help in understanding how to deal with vulnerable children.
The challenges

· When a child leaves your home it can be very emotional and sad, knowing you may never see them again.
· Remaining professional when dealing with the childrens parents can be challenging.
· Some days juggling a busy day, your own children and fostering duties can be difficult.
· Trying to manage a child who’s upset and has had a difficult start in life can be a challenge.

Despite the low points, at the end of the day you know you are giving a child in need a helping hand, and building a positive future for them, and that is what makes it all worth it.

I hope you will join me for the next fortnight as I continue to post my experiences of being a foster carer and balancing my life around it.