Janet’s story

I have been single for over 15 years. I used to work as a flight attendant but originally trained as a hairdresser. When my marriage ended, I carried on flying for a while and living in my flat, but my when my parents passed away, I inherited their home and for the first time I felt I had the opportunity to foster a child, something I had wanted to do for years. My friend is a foster carer and she inspired me to look into it. I now have been fostering for just over 12 years and no two days are the same.

I have fostered some lovely young people, of all ages. My last young person T left me 5 years ago as a nineteen-year-old and is now a nurse. We catch up every so often, but it’s enough to know that she is happy and settled, I am so proud of her.

She was in shock when she arrived

The lovely young girl living with me now, arrived 4 days after I had said goodbye to T. A was a little 11 year old, tiny for her age and terrified. She was brought to my house by her social worker, but had been at the police station for several hours. All she had, was what she stood up in. Her dad had been sectioned and taken into hospital, but the police had to break down the door first and that was all I knew about her initially. She was in shock when she arrived, with no idea what was happening to her dad and it was dark and she looked like she hadn’t slept, eaten or washed for days. I had had time to buy her some new pyjamas and I warmed them up with the hair dryer so she could get into something warm whilst she drank a hot chocolate. I have a cat and a little dog, and before long she was encouraging them to sit with her.

I was going nowhere, when she seemed convinced that she was un-loveable

Working in the airlines, has prepared me for sleeping when I can, I always wake early though! Even at the weekend when I don’t need to wake early. Once awake I am full of energy. Luckily the young people I have had live with me have all appreciated a high energy household. I have learnt a lot over the 12 years of fostering, especially about the impact of trauma on young people and the need to prove to young people that you can be trusted. It’s not as easy as I had first thought it would be. A couple of young people I had living with me, had been with quite a few foster families before coming to me and they automatically assumed that they would be moving on again and I had to prove that I really cared about them even when their behaviour was testing me. My supervising social worker helped me to understand that they were simply getting in their rejection of me before I might possibly reject them. One of them was T. I remember sitting outside her room for ages reassuring her that I cared about her and that I was going nowhere, when she seemed convinced that she was un-loveable. T used to self-harm and for a while I had to live with unpredictability and show calm when inside I was feeling sad and scared too sometimes.

It’s not as easy as I had first thought it would be.

I work hard to support contact between children and their parents

I am wide awake by 6.30 and I like to make sure that Bobbie and Gem my dog and cat are fed and in Bobbie’s case, walked and ready for whatever the day may later bring. Gem is a house cat so rarely goes out. She instinctively knows when to stay out of the way too. I always have fully stocked food cupboards and initially encourage children to share with me what they like best to eat. I take them shopping with me so that they can choose, within reason, what they like and then help me put it away, so they see that there is plenty of food available. It can be hard for children coming to terms with not living with their parents, and regardless of what has happened to them, they love their parents and I know that they would generally choose to live with them over being in foster care with me. I work hard to support contact between children and their parents. It can be difficult for children living away from their mum and dad and I want to make it as easy as I can for them.   

Being in a car or washing dishes together opens up good discussions

I usually wait for my young person to wake so I can have breakfast with them. It’s often a good time to chat about what’s going on and what might be a challenge for them. Our best conversations though usually happen in the car, or when we are washing dishes. During challenging times, children can find it difficult to say how they feel. I find its best to not be face to face in these conversations, side by side is often good, which is why I think being in a car or washing dishes together opens up good discussion and helps children feel easier to share their feelings and thoughts. My young person is really in to TikTok at the moment, and we watch videos and then practice dances together, or we style each other’s hair. She is 15 and can present younger than her age, but she likes to meet her friends like any teenager and prefers to spend time with them than with me. She helps with cooking and cleaning her room and I give her a little bit more pocket money. She finds school very challenging. She gets extra help, and she is doing so much better this year than last year. She missed a lot of school in the early years and struggles with some academic things, but she is great with practical things and loves animals. I work closely with the school, to ensure that A is supported, and this takes a bit of my time, because it’s important to advocate for her. She will need to get a college place or an apprenticeship next year and I am helping her to think about where would be best for her.

They make it special for her so that she feels like she has had a holiday too

She has heard nothing from her dad for a long time. He was living in a hostel for a little while and she used to meet him at Macdonalds, but A’s social worker has had no contact with him for ages. It’s hard for A as she is left wondering how he is and worries about him. She had no birthday card or message from him which really hurt her and no matter how much I do, I can’t take away that disappointment, I just try and help her understand her feelings. When A is in school, I help out at a friend’s café, usually just with the morning breakfast rush and delivery of sandwiches. I can work flexibly so I am always home for when A gets back from school and I can go to the variety of meetings about A. I must be organised. Working in the café is good fun and when I can manage it alongside fostering I do it, but I can stop if I need to. It’s handy to be able to work though if I am between placements, not that that has been an issue for me. We usually have an evening meal together about 7.00pm. I try and encourage A with her homework, so that she can get it done out of the way. She has two friends who spend time at our house, often eating with us 2 or 3 times a week. They like to play music together and luckily, we live next door to someone who is hard of hearing, so it doesn’t affect her. She has been my neighbour since I moved in and she knew my parents too, so she is part of our family. I have lots of friends and A gets on well with them. They are all formally checked so that they can help me with A. I have had a couple of holidays without my young person. It’s nice to be able to have some time out and recharge my batteries knowing that my young person is having a great time without me with someone she has got to know and feels safe with. They make it special for her, so she feels like she has had a holiday too.  

She inspires me every day and I am proud of her resilience and tenacity

I complete my daily records at the end of the day, usually around 9.00pm and I am now asking A if she wants to contribute to them because it is good for her voice to be heard in everything that is happening. A is really good company, I like hearing her views and she is very kind and wants to do good things. She had a tough start in life, her mum left her dad when she was 4 and her aunt looked after her, but she sadly died when she was 7 years old. She has experienced a great deal of loss. She inspires me every day and I am proud of her resilience and tenacity. We have one rule in the house and that is that we don’t have phones/tablets in our bedrooms after 9.00pm. The WiFi goes off too. I can monitor the use of devices and do it very openly. I am very open with young people about the dangers faced by vulnerable young people from exploitation particularly through the variety of online programmes they use.

I am not perfect and I am willing to see what I can do to make things better

By 10.00pm I am winding down. I always check before I go to bed, that school uniform is available for the following morning, saves on last minute rushes and panics. I poke my head around the bedroom door and check A is sleeping and if she isn’t, I make sure she is ok. Last week I made a little book with A, of all the photos we have had taken together. I realised there were so many with Gem and Bobbie. They have been good for A, I hear her talking to them all the time and she is always willing to take Bobbie out for his walk. Bobbie will sleep on A’s bed if I let him, so part of my routine before bed is to make sure he is downstairs. I get to sleep easily usually, although I am a light sleeper and hear movement around the house, although it is usually Bobbie moving to sleep outside A’s door. My time fostering has flown by, I am not perfect, and I am willing to see what I can do to make things better. I read at night, but it takes generally only a couple of pages before it’s lights out and I am asleep.

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