Abby – TACT Foster Carer since 2014
I am a single mum of two birth children or as I call them, ‘belly babies’. Their father and I had always wanted to foster, our plan was to have children of our own and afterwards leave space for a ‘heart baby’ when the time was right. We started our fostering journey together, but we are now divorced, and I continue fostering as a single carer.
When we were deciding who to foster with, we knew we wanted to work with a not for profit agency which could support us through the long-term commitment we’d be looking to make to a child. Of all the organisations we spoke to, the person who answered our call in TACT’s office was the easiest to chat with, immediately making us feel more relaxed, and so we chose the charity to foster with.
Becoming approved foster carers, and expecting the arrival of our first foster child brought a mix of excitement and nerves. However, we focused on trying to anticipate anything that we would need to be prepared for, so that we could be as relaxed as possible for the child about to arrive in a strange home.
With time and experience, I learned that each child has a different way and pace of adapting. My first foster daughter was initially silent, so we allowed her to observe us doing everyday activities such as cooking dinner and chatting about the day until she felt like she wanted to be involved. On the other hand, my second foster son marched straight in with his carrier bag of toys and asked where his bedroom was!
Our first foster child, a 12-year-old girl who stayed with us for ten months, was not always easy to handle and I really appreciated having support from my TACT social worker and out of hours staff. Most of the time the girl acted like she didn’t like being with us, which was saddening. That is why I was so surprised when after she left, we found little notes all over the house on blackboards, post it notes and pieces of paper saying she’ll miss us. Sometimes you don’t even know the positive impact you have or just a safe pocket in time you gave to these children to rest a bit.
The little five-year-old boy who confidently marched into our home and our life almost four years ago is still with us and will be staying permanently. I look after him as a single carer with tons of support and help from my two daughters now aged 15 and 20.
Seeing the changes in him has been so rewarding. Watching him joining in a school Christmas concert for the first time ever at the age of nine was overwhelming for me. He used to run away from school (mostly just to check on me and the girls at home!), now he goes to school every morning without any problems. A lot of successes are in little things, for example, when you get a call from the school just to check in and not because there’s an issue.
Many people wouldn’t understand why you are doing a happy dance in the supermarket and congratulating yourself for being a parent of the year. Or seeing the positive change in his sleeping habits. He used to struggle to get a night of sleep without terrors and fear, now he just curls up and sleeps in the dark at peace knowing he is happy and safe. Watching a child slowly decompress from being angry, nervous and compulsive, to relaxed, laughing and trusting, really changes how you see life.
My daughters just can’t remember life without this boy, he is their cheeky little brother. They’ve been incredibly supportive, patient and flexible. It’s important to identify each child’s ability and tolerance level, so you do not expose them to more than they are equipped to handle. My oldest daughter has always been maternal and hands-on with him. He accepts her authority and she handles him even during his worst outbursts. She is the next person after myself that can manage him at any time or place – even better than all the professionals.
My youngest daughter loves him just as much as her sister, but doesn’t handle him very well when he’s being difficult – she has no interest in engaging with his negative behaviour and will inform him so, before leaving the room. Both girls are helpful in their own right – he is seeing different personality types, learning that people have different levels of tolerance – which is true to life. He knows he’s loved by both of them, but he also knows his boundaries with them are different. It’s important that the girls don’t have to change how they naturally process things, and that they too are free to express themselves, this avoids resentment building towards their brother or myself.
Fostering can take a lot of energy – mental, physical and emotional – often all at the same time! People who feel motivated to foster can often be people who are not naturally good at asking for help and support or simply looking after their own needs because they enjoy being the care giver. I have learnt that you can’t give what you haven’t got. You need to establish certain self-care habits and remember that you are not alone. There needs to be a large margin of flexibility, and the constant reminder that very few things are the end of the world and most things will pass. When times get difficult, it is also good to remember the purpose of why you are doing this – you are giving children a safe loving home which will give them a chance for a better life and eventually make them better parents themselves.