Single, male, 55, father of two – not the stereotypical description of a foster carer, but the support this carer gives to young people is invaluable.

Single, male, 55, father of two – not the stereotypical description of a foster carer, but the support this carer gives to young people is invaluable.

When children grow up, leave the family home or go off to university – a lot of parents think it’s ‘me’ time. But Simon Poyner from Moray thought he should put his spare room, time, skills and experience to good use which led him into becoming a short break foster carer. He has enjoyed his two years of fostering so much, he is now going through the assessment process to become a long-term foster carer.

Through his employer, Bank of Scotland, Simon takes part in community work and it was through volunteering at a youth café that he realised he could make a connection with young people.

The café is very much about supporting and encouraging young people.  Over the weeks at the café I met and helped 14 and 15-year-olds specifically helping them with their reading skills, once I realised I had that connection and could help people, the idea of giving more support snowballed from there.

Simon has two girls of his own, now grown up and “off doing their own thing.” He thought he should do something positive with the experience from volunteering and being a dad, and as he had a spare room he contacted various fostering agencies to see what options there were.

How it happened

Simon made contact with a few agencies but it was Barnardo’s Scotland Fostering North’s quick response and quality of information that helped him choose the charity to foster through.

Simon said: “Barnardo’s Fostering team got back to me almost immediately; I liked the information and liked what they were telling me.  I liked the quality of the material, how encouraging they were and the information they gave me was all relevant to my circumstances. I looked at various websites, but Barnardo’s Fostering website had a good format, it was accessible and easy to navigate – the decision to foster with the charity was very easy.

Simon admits he didn’t really know what he was going to ask about, “I explained my situation and what I could offer, ‘I had a spare bedroom and could offer my time and a stable foundation’.  But I couldn’t offer full-time support as I had a full-time job.

Barnardo’s suggested I could give short-term break to young people who were with full time fosterer carers. I’ve been doing that since 2018 and absolutely love it.

What to expect

When he first started as a short-break carer, Simon didn’t really know what to expect, but the training was excellent, and he felt confident that with his experience, combined with the training and support from the charity, there weren’t any situations he wouldn’t be able to cope with.

Simon said the training with the charity has been excellent, it’s available face-to-face and online. “Whether you’re a full-time foster carer or offer short-term care, the training is equally important and you are all given the same opportunities to learn.”

“During assessment Barnardo’s Scotland fostering service identify your interest and match you with a young person who has similar interests.  I’m very much an outdoor person, so I wouldn’t be a good match for someone who didn’t like going out or had no interest in the countryside.”

“As a short-break carer, young people stay with me for a week or weekend, I’m able to give them one-to-one, individual attention.

“All of the boys who stay with me really like being given that time to talk and be listened to. I’ve been surprised by that, I thought they might just want to stay in their room, but they really like the company, sometimes we’ll cook together, we’ll chat or watch a film.”

One of the young boys who regularly stays with Simon has learning difficulties, and also has a very short attention span, Simon said: “He is always on the go, we go from one activity to another very quickly.  We get on very well but the weekend is over very quickly.  

“The break starts on Friday evening through to Sunday afternoon which means we have all Saturday to do something.

“Since he’s been coming I’ve seen a big difference in him.  Staying with me is ‘his thing’ it’s nothing to do with anyone else.”  Simon is able to give him one-to-one attention, which he really appreciates and has helped him learn and develop skills.

The personal reward

Simon said: “It’s a great feeling to see the young people develop their skills over time, often it’s just the small things but they can have quite an impact on their life.

“Involving them in everyday things, that many people take for granted, like chopping vegetables or cooking helps them develop. Some situations people just wouldn’t think of as being difficult, but if you have learning difficulties or are particularly nervous, then things like being in a large shop and using scanners at the check-out can make people feel really anxious, these are the sort of simple activities I do with the young people who stay with me.”

“This year has obviously been a little bit different with Covid and some of the stays I had arranged with young people had to be put on hold. But I was able to keep in touch with the kids, we made sure we arranged frequent WhatsApp calls so we could have a chat and see how they are and just keep in contact really. I think that’s been really important to have that during this strange time. 

“Since restrictions have relaxed slightly, I’ve restarted some stays with some of the children and we’ve had great fun trying to keep busy outdoors, doing lots of cycling and walking and just having a great time.” 

Settling in

Before anyone is placed with a carer they are given photographs of the house and the room where they are going to stay so they are familiar with the surroundings before they arrive.  Carers and young people are introduced to each other over short periods of time, meeting for a tea or coffee, then a short visit to the house, building up each time until the young person is confident and happy to stay overnight.

Although Simon’s daughters have left home they often come back to visit, and when they do return everyone joins in. Simon said the young people who stay with him like their company and the girls really like what their dad is doing.

Simon is now hoping to become a full-time carer for up to two children and is currently going through the assessment process now. 

He said: “I’ve seen such a positive difference in the children I’ve cared for and just think, if that can happen in such a short space of time, what an amazing difference there could be if I was able to foster a child long-term - to both our lives?” 

People shouldn’t think that they need special skills to be a foster carer, it’s just the small everyday things that are needed – children and young people in care need a bit of ‘normality’ in their life, like shopping, having a bit of fun, learning new experiences.

He involves them in everyday things; they go for walks on the beach in the summer and sledging in the winter.

“Most people who know I’m a carer think it’s a good thing, but say I’m ‘really brave’. I don’t see it as being brave, seeing young people at the community café, you realise there are a lot of children and young people who just need a bit more support, or just some time and attention. 

“A concern for some people becoming a carer is being single, especially if they are male, but that is definitely not a barrier and they shouldn’t let that put them off. Barnardo’s Fostering training, aftercare and support service is excellent and there’s always someone there to help if you need it.”

For some children, they lack a positive male role model in their life, Simon was specifically asked to support a young man who wanted to stay with a male carer, and is part of a support group in Aberdeen for male carers, the numbers are increasing but are still very low in Aberdeenshire and on the Moray coast.

Simon said: “Being single and male might not be the typical description of a foster carer but it doesn’t mean you can’t be the perfect foster carer.”

Simon would like to encourage everyone, whether they are single, couples, male or female to think about what they can give to a child or young person and consider becoming a foster carer – “If you want to speak to anyone, I’d definitely suggest you contact Barnardo’s Scotland Fostering.”