Sandra, 54, and her husband Simon live in Liverpool. The couple have three birth children – Lydia, 27, Katie, 24 and Will, 17. They also foster twelve year old Ellie* who has been part of their family for four years.

Sandra and Simon, foster carers

Sandra said:

“I had just turned 50 when I started thinking I wanted to do something a bit more positive and what I saw as worthwhile. I was an office manager but had been a stay-at-home mum until my youngest was seven. I started to think about what I liked doing and I love being a mum and really enjoy looking after children. Friends of ours were foster carers with Barnardo’s and we’d seen the experiences they’d had so we started to think we would look into it further.

“Our main concern at the time was whether we’d be able to afford to give up my wage. But when we looked into things and had a better idea of the financial side of things, we realised that happily it could be an option for us.

The first step

“We knew from our friends that the support from other organisations was not anywhere near what Barnardo’s offered, so we decided to get in touch. Knowing that on-going support would be there was a considerable factor in terms of us choosing to foster through Barnardo’s.  

“We rang Barnardo’s fostering service in Liverpool first of all, the worker was lovely and spent a lot of time talking to us. This was important to me, I didn’t want to talk to an answer phone. We then went to a Barnardo’s open evening where we would discuss in more depth about the benefits involved with foster caring, the expectations. As well as workers, there were foster carers there. It was great to hear from people who are actually fostering, it’s grass roots, not text book information.

“We then sat our kids down and spoke to them about it. One of them was a little unsure so we said we’d look into it more as a family and wouldn’t do anything unless everyone was comfortable. We got more information and talked things through, then when we were all in agreement and happy, we went to the next stage and signed up for the training programme with Barnardo’s. This took around six months. It was excellent and really gave us an insight into the issues that children can have, why they may behave in a certain way and how to deal with that.

“The day we were approved by Panel we were absolutely made up! It was just a case of waiting then, for the right match to come through. We had a brilliant worker from Barnardo’s who helped us through this. She gave us the best advice. We knew that we wanted a long term foster placement, so we wanted a few months before the right match came along.

Meeting Ellie*

“Ellie* was eight when she came to live with us and has been with us for four years now. We were told about her and stated to visit at her current foster carer’s house. We’d then take her to the park for an hour, out to the park. After a few visits when we got to know each other better, she’d start to get upset when we took her back to the foster carers house, and so did we. We realised there was bond between us.

“We developed a book for Ellie before she came to live with us. It had pictures of us, the kids, our wider family and the pets, our house and the car, so she could start to see who we all were. When she moved in, she was brought over by the social worker with her bags. It felt similar to when we brought our kids home from hospital after they were born, even though Ellie was eight. When the social worker left, we had a tea party to welcome her and showed Ellie her room. The first week was a little strange as we’d never done this before but after that it started to feel comfy and more settled.

Foster caring has been great for us but there are challenges too – the main one for me was not knowing Ellie well enough to know what made her tick, what made her upset or angry. There were certain things that we’d ask our kids not to do and they’d listen and stop but Ellie wouldn’t. But Barnardo’s helped us with strategies in how to deal with this. The support and courses have been fantastic and are on-going.

Sandra

Foster carer

“Now Ellie’s much calmer and she listens. She’s a real character, very chatty, loves drawing, colouring and reading. Ellie always has a book with her and is a happy and caring little girl.

“When we go out she can sit and enjoy a meal now too – she wasn’t able do that when she first came to us. We treat Ellie like one of our own, how we did our own kids when they were growing up – she’s part of the family now. Sometimes it brings it home to you, when you do something what you see as ordinary like a cook a meal and Ellie says ‘thank you. My mum never did this for me.’

“If any one’s considering fostering I would say call Barnardo’s. Don’t presume you know everything, look into it and find out more. Barnardo’s has supported us all the way along, their commitment has been, and continues to be, fantastic. There’s always someone to go to for advice should you need it. We now have another little girl in our family and my kids just think of Ellie as their youngest sister now, they treat her how they’ve treated each other growing up.”

*Ellie's name has been changed in order to protect her identity.