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Contribution by GH - Manchester

After 22 years of Foster Caring, I am more than willing to share some of my experiences.

After first being approved and full of enthusiasm, it was only four weeks later that I was placed with my first foster child. A 10year old boy who had had 5 other placements with Foster Carers. He had been in care since the age of 6years old. The placements with the other Foster Carers had broken down due to "difficulties" in his behaviour. Although these difficulties were never really explained to me in depth by his Social Worker, due to my enthusiasm, I believed that there was no way I would ever give up on this child and that he would settle in my family long term as long as he felt loved and properly cared for. I believed that he would automatically see and appreciate what we had to offer him. We anticipated that he would need a settling in period and then everything would be alright! How wrong we were! It become very clear very quickly that this child resented being in care in the first place, had suffered alot of rejection and abandonment, and was determined never to get close to anyone again. He was convinced that the only people that could ever give him the love and security that he wanted was his birth parents. He idolised them even though he had suffered untold abuse and neglect. He was an very hurt and angry young man, and blamed Social Services and Foster Carers for keeping him away from his Parents. He could not accept that his Parents were not in a position to care for him.

His behaviour straight away included, smashing up his bedroom furniture, lashing out at me or my husband if we asked him to do anything, picking fights and arguments with my own children and running away. We were in despair and felt totally like failures. It made it even worse that after 8 months of really trying to get close to this child and trying everything that the Social workers and the child psychologists had suggested, Social Services decided that the best plan for him was to place him in a Residential Care Home. It broke our hearts but we had to admit that we did not have the experience or skills to give this child what he needed.

You might have thought that after this terrible start to our Fostering experience, we would never take on another child again. But after alot of reassurance from Social Services that it was not actually our fault and that we did have lots to offer, we took the decision of offering a home to another child. We learnt alot of lessons from this first experience and wanted to know alot more information about the next child we took on and had a more realistic view of our skills, knowledge, abilities and limitations. And this has been our approach ever since.

My husband and I have now cared for 15 children of various ages. Three of which have been on a long term basis, and the rest have been short term for various reasons, like returning back to birth parents or supporting a child or children into adoption etc.I can honestly say that we know that we have made a real difference in the life's of some of these children ( but not all). The children we have cared for over a long term basis have grown into wonderful a happy young men and young women. We know that without our belief in them, perseverance through the difficult times, understanding their pain and sensitive to their individual needs, these children's life's could have been very different.

My advice to new carers is do not think you can be everything to every child and that you can change their world over night. Being a Foster Carer is a highly skilled role and these skills develop over time, with experience, training , appropriate professional support and an ability to tune into the particular needs of the children you have been asked to care for. Each child is completely unique and needs a flexible approach to be able to meet these needs in the best way you can that is right for that child.

It may take you a while to get used to the intrusion in your life and home from Social Workers, it may be a surprise to find that you have to undertake other tasks like facilitating contact with children and their birth family, arranging medical appointments, attending various meetings etc. This is part of the whole package that sometimes new Foster Carers have not prepared themselves for and to be honest Social Services are poor at communicating clearly at the beginning that this is an expectation. Do not think that you have to be a perfect humane being that accepts and can deal with anything, I have yet to meet a perfect Foster Carer or Social Worker. We can only commit ourselves to being the best we possibly can be, and be open to learning.

If you take the decision to become a Foster Carer, decide to be one of the very best ones that really has the best interest of children at heart. We have to accept that there is poor to excellent workers in any profession - Foster Carers are just the same - but be determined to be the best you can - these children deserve and need it!

Good Luck - and I hope this has been useful

GH - Manchester

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