Megan* and her husband have been fostering for nearly 8 years. Here, she shares their story.
"We have two girls of our own, who are now 24 and 21. My eldest no longer lives here and my youngest is away at university.
"We started thinking about fostering when our girls were about eight or nine. We had such a lovely experience being parents and as they grew up, we looked back at what a wonderful time it was and how sad it was that that part of our lives was coming to an end.
"I was only in my early twenties when I had my children and I wasn’t ready for that to end just yet. I had never been a “baby” person as such so when my husband and I discussed fostering, we were keen to have a school age child. We did consider adoption but were not keen to go down that route as it was very permanent and we still had to ensure we were meeting the needs of our daughters.
"I suppose it was the old cliché of wanting to make a difference which made us take the leap. Seeing children who were less fortunate than my own and that feeling of wanting to help. So, we firstly approached the local authority and after going through the process, we were approved for our first foster placement, a nine year old boy with multiple health conditions. This placement lasted nearly two years and I think that having a challenging child as the first one really set us up for the future. It was a good grounding for us as we really went in at the deep end.
"We had a number of placements after that and each presented with different challenges. What we have learnt is that you shouldn’t take these children on face value. There is a reason why they act the way they do and say the things they say and once you have understood that, it’s so much easier.
"My eldest daughter got married and so we took a year off from fostering. We also felt we needed to recharge our batteries and take a holiday – with short term fostering you don’t have that spontaneity. It was during this time that we decided we would like to try long term fostering, to have a young person who we could see all the way through and make a real difference.
"The local authority didn’t have the right placement for us and this is where Barnardo’s came in. The person who came to see us was lovely and we were matched straight away with a ten year old girl. This was her fifth foster placement as her previous placements had broken down. We knew it would be tough, but we had met her a number of times during settling in sessions, and knew she would fit in well with our family.
The main issue she had was with her sleeping – and this is why her previous placements had broken down. We had a year of struggling to get her to go to bed at night. As bedtime got nearer she would get anxious and tearful and this would progress to hysterical screaming and crying which would go on until the early hours of the morning. She couldn’t tell us why this was happening and we tried all manner of ways to solve the problem. We tried sitting at the bottom of her bed and then moving further away each week until we were downstairs. We thought we had cracked it as this process had taken months but then it started all over again. It was incredibly draining, she was exhausted, we were exhausted and we were at our wits end about what to do.
We then decided that enough was enough and when bedtime came, we said we would not go to her room as we wanted to be in the living room and if she wanted to join us then she could come down with a book – which she did. While this stopped all the screaming, she was still incredibly tired and we were in regular discussions with the school.
The breakthrough came when she wanted a mobile phone and she was due to go to secondary school. We explained that we felt that she wasn’t ready for a phone as going to bed was still an issue and we wanted her to be able to demonstrate she could manage bedtime well like a majority of her peers first. She was genuinely surprised that other children, were not experiencing the same feelings at bedtime as her and that they would just go to bed with no problems.
She said that she really wanted the mobile phone and we agreed that if she could go to bed without any upset for eight weeks she would have one. She was still very anxious, however she did it and she got her phone and we haven’t looked back since!
Help and support
Barnardo’s have been fantastic and are always on the other end of a phone to support us if need be. You need advice and guidance from people who really understand fostering and they were just brilliant.
We still don’t know why she acted like she did but we know she came from a very difficult background and this could well be the cause of it. She is a polite, kind well behaved girl and everyone who meets her comments on how lovely she is.
You have to continually adapt as their needs are constantly changing. It is a little like an onion where you peel off the layers, there is one issue and then another but eventually you reach the middle. However, I am sure future challenges will present themselves as they do with other children.
We have recently had another placement come to live with us and she is a young girl who is actually a classmate of our other foster child. We had always been approved for two children but couldn't even consider this while the sleeping issues were ongoing. We were offered a few placements but we had to choose someone who was not only right for us but was right for our first foster child. She was always our priority. We didn’t realise they were friends at first but it has worked out brilliantly. They’re very different but enjoy each other’s company which is lovely to see.
Challenging behaviour doesn’t worry us and we manage it by being consistent, firm but fair and not blowing things out of proportion. If you didn’t have natural patience then I am not sure these types of placements would be right for you. We love the buzz of fostering but it is crucial that you get the right match. With long term fostering it is good that you can meet the children in advance. You must be honest if you don’t think it will work and while this is difficult, if it isn’t the right placement it isn’t good for you and even more upsetting for the child.
I enjoy the variety of fostering and I love the lively atmosphere at home. It is a privilege to get the chance to care for these children and be a part of their lives, for however long that may be.
*Name has been changed to protect their identity
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