I was fostered, so now I foster

Jenna shares her story of taking the brave step to help other children who need a home.

Jenna grew up in care. From age five to age eight, she experienced 10 placement moves and six school changes in three years. Her days were filled with inconsistency, uncertainty and confusion until, aged nine, she met foster carer Sharon. Jenna was placed with Sharon, and thankfully, there she found a loving and lasting home, building up her sense of belonging. Now, married with two birth children, Jenna shares her story of taking the brave step to help other children who need a home.

What made you decide to foster?

“From the age of 5 I came into care, with multiple placement and school moves there was a lack of security when I was growing up. I changed schools six times – if I joined a club, I would have to move, if I made friends, I would have to leave them. It was a very difficult time.

I found a long term placement and I was just so grateful for the stability and security. They gave me a home and a sense of belonging. I always had and still have, a great connection with my birth Mum and Mum respected that, she knew the importance for me to have that relationship. I can honestly say I was just so grateful for the home that I found.

From my own experience and knowing the difference that it made on my life, it was always something me and my husband wanted to do. My Mum continued to foster and so we became significant support for her. This experience made me think that this really is something we can be doing now. I knew there was a need and I knew how much it could change a life. We had the time and space and thought we could be doing this now. I remember thinking, we are going to the park, zoo or cinema with our kids, we’ve got the space, so why not! And I know it’s not that straightforward, but for me there were more reasons to do it than to not.”

You decided to join a Home for Good Foundations Course, did you find that helpful?

“Yes definitely! It was great exploring ‘What is a Family’ and the different answers that were given. I especially enjoyed listening to others and the different experiences that were in the room. It was something that helped solidify the decision to move forward with fostering. And even as we went through that process, it was great to have that continued support from the group.”

What was the next step for you?

“We wanted to make sure our birth kids were involved so we chatted a lot with them so they understood. I wanted to ensure that they had a voice in it all and a chance to ask any questions. They were on board and wanted to have their own role in caring for any child that came into our home. We made the phone call and process then started.

Although it is initially quite scary to open up your whole life, I actually found it an enjoyable experience. For me it was a reflective piece of work and I learnt a lot about myself! I remember one of the questions that was repeated from the social worker, friends and family ‘Why now?’ I used to answer ‘You don’t need to be a certain age or stage of life. I knew the struggles of fostering but also the importance of it.’ After completing our assessment, we were approved as foster carers and it wasn’t long before we had our first placement.”

Can you tell me what your experience as foster carers has been like?

“It’s been quite difficult for the kids to understand when a child that leaves, and I guess that is something we are still working on. We then had a child placed with us at the start of lockdown. There was a heightened sense of a challenge for us all as we had to get to know and understand the child and their behaviours, their contact arrangements, and establish a new routine together in what was a very strange time for us all. But through that time, we learnt to appreciate the simple things in life and one of the most favourite things we loved to do was go to the beach and paint stones. So simple yet we bonded as a family. He also received his very own family nickname during lockdown and all those simple things can help with that feeling of belonging. When supporting a child I always ask ‘What’s the reason for the behaviour?’ as it’s always communicating something and showing a need, but what is it? This can help to manage undesirable behaviours at times, to ask why rather than place blame. Otherwise, this can impact the relationship that I am trying to build with a child.”

So when times are tough, especially during lockdown, what keeps you going?

“One of things that I remember during training and the Foundations course is the importance of having a strong support network. Those people around you who understand and who you can vent to. It can become invaluable to help you process the complexities. I also think it’s great to do training if you can, it was been useful for me to help understand behaviour and give me practical tips which are more tools to use. And definitely try and find time for yourself, I know this can be difficult at times if life is full on but it’s too important not to. It takes you to be self aware and to know to take that time for a phone call or a coffee with friends as it can make a huge difference.

Seeing small victories in a child’s life can make a huge difference. From a child who doesn’t eat vegetables, doesn’t know how to use cutlery or even have a shower to all of a sudden having all this within their daily routine. To anyone else this may be nothing, but actually these were all the small victories that we worked towards.

I remember during lockdown when we were playing out the back one day, not doing anything in particularly, and the child we were caring for looked at me and said “Do you know what I really love about you? You make me lunch.” That moment felt so fragile. So warming and sad at the same time. And it made me realise, we are his safe place and to be someone’s safe place is invaluable.”

And lastly, what would you say to anyone who is thinking about fostering?

“Well if you think you could provide a safe and loving home and offer stability for a child then this could be for you. It’s definitely not a fairy tale where you ‘rescue’ a child but instead an incredible opportunity to walk with a child as they build up their sense of worth. Expect a challenge but it will be one of the most rewarding things you could do. It requires stickability to ensure a child knows you are a safe place, but I remember a phrase in my training that has stuck with me: ‘I foster because I can.’

I am in the unique position to have both perspectives, from a child in care to a foster carer. For a child who needs a loving home, to stay at a club and do activities, develop foundations, make friends, stay at school for a long period of time, to have consistency for a long period of time is all invaluable. It’s a lifeline. If you’ve room in your heart and your life, go for it!”

Author:
Written by Julie Burgess


Date published:
Monday 16 November 2020


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