Meet our carers Lucy and Tommy (names changed), who will soon be celebrating their 14th year of fostering children for Falkirk Council. They have cared for around 50 children and young people, for all lengths of time ranging from emergency overnight placements to having children for 4 years. They are now fostering 2 young girls who live with them permanently. They have two children aged 26 and 20, and Tommy also has a son, 36.
Lucy, why did you and Tommy decide to start fostering?
Tommy grew up in care in his adolescence and that was the catalyst, our driving force. There was a boy in Tommy’s children’s home that didn’t have anywhere to go for Christmas, he didn’t have a home and so Tommy persuaded the masters that this boy could go to Tommy’s home for Christmas. That’s always stuck with him, that we wanted to help children and give them a warm home and a family life.
At 12 years old, I was running play schemes during the summer holidays. I studied nursery nursing and worked in training for a long time, then I just wanted to be at home with my own children so I became a registered childminder. Fostering seemed like the next step and I did both side by side for about 2 or 3 years. I then decided to give fostering everything, so gave up the childminding and continued to foster.
What was the process you went through to choose Falkirk Council to foster with?
We chose to foster because we wanted to help children, and we live in Falkirk, so Falkirk Council was our first port of call and we didn’t look anywhere else.
How have you found the support from Falkirk Council?
We feel very supported by Falkirk Council. We’ve had a number of different social workers over the years, and we’ve felt really well supported by every one of them. Also by the wider team, if our worker is on leave, there is always someone to talk to, there’s always someone available. They’re there when we need them.
How have your family supported you and your foster children?
Our family were all really supportive from the start, and they said if there was anybody that was made to do this it was you two. They are all honorary Aunties, Uncles, cousins, our children are their sisters and brothers; everyone has really bought into that enveloped family.
The family treat our foster children just like their own nieces, nephews and grandchildren, and they’ve always been like that for every child that’s come through the door.
Now our own children are adults they are a fantastic support to us.
Your children were young when you started fostering. How did you balance caring for foster children and raising your own children?
For myself and Tommy, fostering children while having our own children at home has taught us to tell our tiger stripes to settle down. In your own house and when you’re the champion for every child, you have to be insightful, considered and balanced. The considered approach helps you to understand why the kids at school are maybe not being the nicest children to your children, when you imagine what might be going on in their lives.
For our children it was enlightening for them that the world isn’t like their world. There was a lot for them to take in and a lot for them to understand, that not everyone had the life that they had. So being around foster children has given them a bigger picture of the world.
Fostering has given both our daughter and son emotional intelligence way beyond their years. At high school our son would get brought in for counselling other children if they’d approached their teachers with problems, he had the ability to look at the big picture and encourage his friends to do the same.
Our daughter now would run a mile from anything to do with childcare! She had some difficulties along the way with other children at school not understanding what fostering was, so that was quite hard for her defending what her parents do. Bringing our own kids up in a Fostering household has definitely taught them to be insightful.
What do you think is the most challenging thing about being a foster carer?
The constant thinking. You stop taking things at face value, especially around behaviours and relationships. You’re always thinking this is going on for that person, and that’s going on for this person, and that’s a challenge. You’re always thinking ahead and second guessing about what’s going on in any given situation.
It can be a challenge to manage relationships for the children with their families. It takes flexibility and compromise even if you might not agree with it yourself or be feeling supportive inside.
On the flipside the most rewarding thing, why have you continued to foster?
You might not always feel it in the moment, and it might take time for it to show, but you know you make a difference.
The children come back to you as well. We’ve had children who’ve left home and have come on holiday with us abroad. We’ve had one boy who lived with us for four years and behaved like he hated us the entire time. He came back to see us on his 18th birthday, saying ‘nobody’s made me pancakes on my birthday since I’ve left’. If that’s the one thing that he remembers that I’ve done right by him, it’s that I’ve made him pancakes on his birthday. So I made him pancakes on his 18th.
It’s the little things like that where you know you’ve had an influence and you’ve helped someone on their journey, that’s rewarding.
We had one girl for a short break, only once in an emergency situation, and she then went to a longer term carer. She’s now in her 20’s, settled with her partner and she’s recently had a baby. She messaged us the morning that she had the baby and sent us his photos. She came up to visit me when they registered the baby. Even though we didn’t look after her for long, we know we are relevant people to her, someone as a grandparent figure that she can really trust.
When you are going through a tough time how do you look after yourself?
We get in trouble all the time for this because we don’t really take time to look after ourselves. But we talk to our family, we are really close. Also Lucy quite likes boxing and so gets the boxing gloves on which helps. She enjoys doing crafts too. Tommy is all about his DIY and creativity so is usually in the garage! We’re learning and teaching the girls about mindfulness and meditation at the moment too.
If you stopped fostering tomorrow, what would be your fondest memory?
Taking the children abroad. Once we went on holiday and we had a young boy with Global Development Delay. His confidence blossomed so much from that holiday. We taught him to swim, by the end of the week he was backflipping off inflatable assault course. He had a ball. There were 23 of us on that holiday, our whole family were there. He loved being involved in that massive family group and being supported by each and every one of them. We pretty much celebrated that boy every day because he just achieved something every day. Everyone loved him, and he knew he was being loved.
How did you manage through the pandemic and various lockdowns?
Dealing with school, life and work 24/7, I took it as an opportunity to strengthen attachments in the home with the children. There was a real benefit to lockdown in that way that we were able to strengthen relationships and spending time with old fashioned connections – playing guess who, going out for a walk. Doing that together strengthened our attachments and bonds.
The difficulties were not being able to give the children the experiences we would normally, day trips and swimming for example. There was a level of guilt associated with that, as we have a responsibility to give them these experiences and broaden their horizons, and we weren’t able to do that. We did loads in the community though, the girls did rainbow pictures for our isolating neighbours and waved to them on our walks.
What would you say to anyone thinking about fostering?
Contact Falkirk Council, ask questions, go along to the open evenings. Try and speak to existing Foster Carers, because they will give you the true representation. They will give you the good, bad and the ugly, because it’s not all pretty and it can be a rough ride sometimes!
What tips do you have for new foster carers?
My top tips would be:
- Keep a sense of humour
- Don’t take things personally
- Seek support from the right places
- Don’t expect it to be all hearts and flowers
- Expect the unexpected. It’s been a long journey, we always wanted to be permanent carers but it never really worked out and we almost handed our notice in a few years back. The two girls we have just now came to us in an emergency, they’ve been here for two years, and we’re weeks away from securing their permanency. We are absolutely in love with these girls, they’re in love with us – this is the future we all want, and even their parents want them to live with us so it’s really lovely, even though we never expected this to happen.