Our first Guest Blog for National Share A Story Month is from Foster Carer, Anna Edwards.
Anna has fostered for 7 years now and could probably write a blog a day with the varied experiences she has had. Here she gives us a whistle stop tour of her journey so far…
Keep Calm and Foster On! by Anna Edwards
It was with butterflies of fear and excitement in my belly when I opened the door to my first placement, (two gorgeous little girls staring at me with wide eyes!) I had no idea how much my life was going to change from that moment on. It’s been seven years and eight placements since that day and although it’s probably been the most challenging job I’ve ever had it is has certainly been the most rewarding.
Not having any children of my own, I worried that I lacked the necessary parenting skills and experience to be a foster carer so before applying I did some research. I read anything & everything I could get my hands on about fostering, I spoke to people who fostered and then I researched some more. I finally decided to apply through an Independent Fostering Agency and have never regretted it.
I was allocated a supervising social worker (SSW) on submission of my application and she re-assured me that I was more than capable of fostering with the right training and support. Seven years on she’s still re-assuring me. I have learnt over the years that a good relationship with your SSW is not something you can put a price on, it’s kept the men in white coats away from my door on a few occasions!
As a single carer with no birth children, one of the first questions I get asked is; ”why do you do it?” Certainly, there have been a few dark moments over the last seven years when I have asked myself the very same question! This job is relentless, its 24/7, you don’t get to ‘clock off’ and go home at the end of a challenging day, at times it’s both physically and emotionally draining and to be honest there are easier ways to make money (you definitely don’t go into fostering for the financial benefits). The simple answer is I was lucky enough to have been given an incredible opportunity to make a difference to young people who through no fault of their own have not experienced the loving happy childhood that so many of us have.
The whole application process took approximately eight months and throughout I remained adamant that I was only going to foster children between the ages of 3-10 years. My reasoning was changing dirty nappies was just not for me and I was downright terrified of teenage hormones. To date, I have never fostered a child within that age bracket! Once I conquered my fear, I found that I rubbed along quite well with the teens and it’s with a real sense of pride and admiration that I watch these scrawny, spotty kids develop and mature into young adults eager to go out into world and conquer their own fears.
Over the last four years I’ve undertaken a different type of fostering, opening my home to unaccompanied asylum seeking children (UASC). All looked after children have a pretty poor start to life and have experienced and witnessed things we wouldn’t wish on ourselves, let alone our own children.
However, UASC’s journeys involve sacrifices and hardships most adults wouldn’t survive. I am constantly amazed and humbled by these young people. Fostering UASC has been such an incredible opportunity for me to educate myself, embracing a diversity of cultures, customs, religions, food and languages. By far the biggest challenge is communication, currently I have one English speaker, one Farsi speaker and one Kurdish speaker all under one roof.
The first UASC placement I had taught me so much. He was very new to the country, his age was difficult to determine and he didn’t speak any English (and was also illiterate in his own language). Very early on he had appeared unwell, I had taken him to the doctors but it was obviously difficult to determine the problem… it later transpired that he was suffering with Malaria, which was a total shock and quite scary.
This experience has led to several other health related adventures… the next young person came, same difficulties with language, and after 3 days in he was behaving like there was something wrong. So, I asked if he needed to see a doctor and after the last scare I wasted no time getting him straight there. We spent a few hours waiting to get seen only to find out he hadn’t understood the word ‘doctor’ and he was fine… telling the doctor ‘she crazy’.
My favourite has to be when he poked his ear with a cotton bud… you’d have thought he’d chewed his ear off by his response. 5 hours later sat in a walk-in centre he buggered off to the gym and left me there! It can be challenging, but on the plus side I’ve gotten really good at charades so roll on the next family party!
As with parenting birth children, a lot of the skills you need are learnt by trial and error and what techniques work with one child won’t guarantee success with another… although one thing I’ve learnt is that teenagers and their hormones are all the same, not matter where in the world they are from!
There are however, a few fundamental attributes that all foster carers seem to have in common; empathy, resilience, patience, active listening, and above all else a strong sense of humour!