Fostering: can you step up to the challenge?
Tuesday, 21 May 2013
"A good foster carer is like a safety net. I knew that if I messed up someone would be there to catch me. Good carers don't judge you and you can tell them anything."
Powerful words from a young person who knows the very real and positive difference a foster carer can make to a vulnerable young person's life.
Nikki is 18 now and living independently in supported lodgings but to mark Fostercare Fortnight , 13- 27 May, she is helping Hampshire County Council to raise awareness of Fostering in a bid to recruit more carers.
Nikki, who is one of Hampshire's Care Ambassadors supporting other young people in care, spent around ten years in foster care. She still has contact with the family she lived with prior to living independently. "Penny was everything I could have wanted in a foster carer," said Nikki. "She made me feel at home in her family, she understood the difficult things I was dealing with. When I made mistakes she was there to help me but she never judged me. A good foster placement helps you feel safe and secure and for me it enabled me to be a child again."
Security and stability are very important for vulnerable children coming into foster care. Emma, 19, who is studying Philosophy at university with the aim of becoming a teacher has lived with foster carers for the past five years. She said the ability to give and take is key to the success of a placement. "Sometimes carers need to stick with it," she said. "When you come into care you may have a range of feelings, there may be upset, stress and some conflict. It's really important for carers to be willing to work through the hiccups. My carers are lovely people, supportive, consistent, and reflective. I can talk things through with them and they don't let problems escalate."
Like Nikki and Emma, children and young people are looked after by the local authority in foster placements when their own family, for whatever reason, is unable to care for them. It is often a time of turmoil and the one thing they need is someone who will be there for them, listen to them and support them with whatever challenges they are facing.
Nicky from Waterlooville is one of Hampshire's dedicated team of foster carers. She and her husband Steve have looked after around 25 children in the five years they have been fostering. They currently have four boys living with them and their own teenage son. "It certainly makes for a full house," said Nicky, "but I can't remember it being any different. It's the little things which make it so rewarding. I had one little boy and no-one had ever sat and read a book with him. He was so happy to do that and his enjoyment was great to see."
Nicky mainly fosters older boys now and it is not without its challenges: "It's not always easy," she said "but when you see a young person who may have come to you troubled or quiet and withdrawn, gain in confidence, smile and succeed at things they didn't think they could do, it is worth it."
It is not just the child who benefits. Nicky is in touch with one mum of two boys she cared for. "Mum really turned her life round so she could have her boys back. She and the boys are doing well. That's when fostering really works and it is a pleasure to see."
The County Council is always on the lookout for more people, like Nicky, who can rise to the challenge and make a real difference to a vulnerable young person's life by being a foster carer. Right now the County Council is especially keen to hear from people who can offer a stable and caring home environment to a teenager, sibling groups, or children with complex needs. Opportunities exist which range from long-term caring roles to respite and short break care. Carers are also needed to support parents and babies.
Anyone can be a foster carer as long as they have what it takes to care for children. To help foster carers Hampshire County Council has a range of training courses and comprehensive support recognised by Ofsted who judged the Fostering Service to be good with outstanding features. The Council also offers a competitive package of fees and allowances according to skills and experience.
John Coughlan, Hampshire County Council's Director of Children's Services said: "Foster carers like Nicky are vital to us - without them our job of ensuring good outcomes for vulnerable children would be much harder. It can be challenging at times as all parenting can be, but carers tell us it is a very rewarding role and as we can see from the testimony of Nikki and Emma being a foster carer is a chance to make a real difference to children's lives."
To find out more about how you can make a difference, call the Foster Care team on 0845 603 5620 or log on to the website.