Sarah – TACT Peterborough Retained Link Carer
Caring for children with special needs has always been something I’ve loved doing. I’ve been a foster carer for almost 17 years, while also being a teacher for special needs children. Children with all kinds of disabilities have been coming to my home during those last 17 years, but 4 years ago I combined my experiences to become a part of the Retained Family Link Scheme in Peterborough. This is a service whereby specialist carers care for children with additional needs, such as physical or learning disabilities, by providing them with short breaks away from home. This gives their families a deserved break, while also providing the children with new experiences, opportunities and chances to meet new people.
I’ve cared for lots of children during this last 4 years, all with varying levels of needs. Some have been on medication, while others have needed to be gastro-fed, but what they all have in common is having some level of learning disability. It means that you as a carer need to undertake lots more training than you do as a mainstream foster carer, but thankfully TACT Peterborough offer a wide range of courses and always go out of their way to source training that’s relevant to you and the children in your care. I currently have 5 children who visit the house on a regular basis – some stay for weekends, others just come for day-care or during the holidays. Some of the children live with foster families, others live with their birth families, and the Link Scheme gives parents and carers a well-deserved break.
My favourite thing about being a Link Carer is simply spending time with the children. I’ve always enjoyed working with children with special needs through my job, so being able to give them new experiences and seeing them happy gives me great joy. There can be some children who’s needs are difficult to deal with, but I always try to apply firm boundaries and I love when you notice positive changes in their behaviour or their general demeanour. You notice little achievements the longer you spend with each child – for example, a young boy who had problems with his movement when he first came to stay with me has now started walking. I love seeing their progress with things like this and their everyday accomplishments.
Around a year ago Peterborough City Council, who I fostered with, began their innovative partnership with TACT and I became a Retained Link Carer through TACT Peterborough. I’ve truly been so impressed with the new setup – there were no difficulties during the transition period and the service provided has now become much better organised, more understandable and I believe is providing better outcomes for carers like myself and the young people in our care. Everything from the little day-to-day things, such as payslips or emails with information related to allowances, has become much clearer since TACT came in – it feels as though they really want you to be informed; and ultimately, carers who feel happier and more informed can only result in better outcomes for the children we care for.
I’m a huge advocate for Link Care and strongly believe it has benefits for both the young person and their family. It’s brilliant to be able to provide the children with new experiences – we go to the park, the beach and offer children and young people the chance to do things they’ve never done before. The benefits for the families though are also really important. I’ve built relationships with all the family members and I know they find it beneficial just to have a small break – most also have other children, so it’s nice to be able to provide the parents with the chance to spend focussed time with other people in their family.
Recently I got talking to my teaching assistant who was considering becoming a Link Carer for herself. My advice to her was to simply consider the practicalities – things such as whether your home could be wheelchair accessible and how you could manage the different needs of children are all important factors to think about. Having some experience of caring for children with disabilities is also vital when you are thinking about becoming a Link Carer. However, if you think you could do it, and you enjoy working with children with disabilities, it’s an incredibly rewarding and joyful thing to do.