Sarah’s fostering story

My days are pretty varied and never dull. Profession wise, I say I am a foster carer and I consider my work is fostering. However, I have other varied roles which I incorporate into my day, and I feel I have good balance in my life. Alongside fostering young people, I foster dogs too via Dogs Trust. I volunteer for Essex police, and I am involved in the local neighbourhood watch as well as being a restorative justice facilitator. During lockdown, I also volunteered for my local vaccination centre, and will continue to squeeze a shift in when I can. My days, therefore, are pretty varied, and rarely dull.

It is wonderful to hear how well they are doing

I like fostering teenagers. I have worked with mostly male teenagers so far and I enjoy enabling them to make good choices in their life going forward. I often remain in contact with the young people I have fostered, and it is wonderful to hear how well they are doing.  I like supporting young people to find their talents and what they enjoy and working locally with education and voluntary organisations to create opportunities for them. I have built some fabulous networks over the years and it’s great when we can give a young person the chance to do something that they later go on to enjoy or to show real talent in.

Independence is something that comes early for young people in care

A normal day would start with me waking around 6am. If I have any younger children with me, they quite often wake around this time. If I hear that the house is still silent, I will take 15 minutes to do some Spanish on my Duolingo app, followed by coffee and yoga looking out onto my beautiful garden. I guess this is all sounding pretty calm and idyllic so far.

My mornings usually involve making sure that my young person is out of bed and ready for college. Sometimes I will offer to make her breakfast, but I am slowly stretching her to look after herself. She will be 18 soon and it’s a huge part of our role as foster carers to enable young people to be able to care for themselves, preparing them for independence. Independence is something that comes early for young people in care, so it is important that they learn amongst other things, about budgeting, shopping, cooking, and washing their clothes as well as the way the world is sometimes.  Right now, this is a stress-free task, but in the past, it has sometimes taken 2 hours of cajoling just to get a young person to go to school, which was far from stress free!

There is no “one size fits all”

Each young person is different and no matter what I have seen or experienced before; I work to connect individually to find out what will work best for each young person. There is no one size fits all and it’s important to sometimes try things and see how it goes, adjusting to improve the outcome. Young people have opinions too and it’s important that I involve them and engage them with making decisions that affect their life. Part of my role is to ensure that their voice is heard in the decisions that are made about them.

When the young person has left for school, I will check my emails, reply to WhatsApp messages, and take the dog out for a walk.

I love working as part of a team

Some days are more work focussed. This may involve attending a training session, an online meeting about the young person in my care, or I may have to be in court to support my young person. Depending on the needs of the young person that I have living with me, I may have up to 12 professionals to communicate with regularly. Currently I have a good working relationship with my young person’s family, and they may check in to see how she is doing, or I may call her support worker at college to get an update. I love working as part of a team, especially when all the parties are equally passionate about supporting the same positive development of the young person. I am seen as a significant part of the team, around the young person.

I love working as part of a team, especially when all the parties are equally passionate

Looking after my wellbeing

I try to fit in sociable and active meet ups with my friends. This helps to maintain my own mental health and is a positive example that I set for those in my care, role modelling the importance of having positive relationships in my life, taking exercise, and looking after my wellbeing. This might involve an afternoon chat in a friend’s hot tub, a walk and talk, or going to a modern art gallery. I’m so glad that in lockdown I had some local friends to meet up with outside. Being a foster carer is a responsible role and I know it’s important to look after myself, so that I can be the best I can be for the young people I care for.

I will cook dinner, always aiming for at least 3 veg to be included in the meal, then I can sit down and whilst eating, discuss the day with my young person. We may then watch a film or a soap. Occasionally I may cook dinner for my young person,  and then I may have a friend over for dinner later. I manage to balance my social life with having young people living with me. It would be different if I fostered very young children, and this is one of the many reasons why fostering older children works so well for me.

They are still children and therefore vulnerable

Depending on the young person I have with me, the evening could well end with a police officer visit at 2am. I have worked a lot with teenagers who have been exploited and subsequently find themselves involved in activity that is seen as criminal. This may lead to me having to report them as missing to the police and the police then returning them to my home or coming to check on them once they have returned themselves, so that the police can check that they are ok and unharmed. The police have been great when this has happened and there are so many protocols in place to try to keep the young people safe. Obviously, it is a serious concern when young people are involved with adults who are recruiting them into the world of crime. At the core of this, they are still children and therefore vulnerable. I have discussions with them about the risks and consequences of their choices and try to influence their making of better choices. I support them and listen to their views too and often find myself fully appreciating the situation they are in and the way that they see things, because we have had very different experiences and the world is very different now, to when I was young(er).

My role is to engage and connect with them and support them to trust me and see that I have their best interests at the centre of what I do. They may sometimes think that they can outwit the system, or the police, but I can try to encourage them to see things differently.

Fostering is about nurturing children and young people, but it is also about providing clarity of boundaries and role modelling a different way of life to what they might have previously experienced. It’s a fine line sometimes, but children come in to care through no fault of their own, regardless of their age, it’s important for us to remember that.

I am always learning

I love the variety; my days are rarely the same. That is why “a day in the life” is hard to write. There is not a standard day. I do try to get a good balance and fit in work, fitness, good food and friends. This gives me the space and the desire to be curious and reflective about how things are going for both myself and my young person. I’m not perfect by any means and I am always learning, but I know that I want good things for my young person and that is why they are encouraged, listened to, respected, and cared for.

It takes energy and determination to foster, and I hope that I continue to be strong enough to do this role in years to come. I do this as a single carer but maybe one day there will be a partner with whom I can share some of these fostering experiences, adventures, and successes in the future.

I sleep well usually and look forward to the next day and what it might bring.

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