Debbie and Glyn – TACT Foster Carer Since 2018
TACT foster carers, Debbie and Glyn felt it was a natural choice to care for children and young people with complex needs.
Glyn and I worked in care for 35 years, helping people with learning disabilities and special needs, while bringing up our four children. Having learnt a lot from those years, we decided to foster. I believed I could make a big difference because I was fostered and in residential care as a child. Having grown from that difficult experience, I felt I had a lot to offer. We’re glad we made that choice and chose TACT because it feels like the most natural thing in the world to bring these children up and give them the best life possible.
We feel very lucky to have two lovely boys to care for. They are aged nine and 13 and both have autism. The eldest boy joined us three years ago and the youngest has been with us for a year. From the day they first moved in, we have loved seeing them thrive. We prepared their rooms and let them pick themes, got them personalised bed linen, put their names on the walls and set up nights lights on so they always know where they are at night. We wanted them to feel safe and part of our home but also give them a sense of control over their environment after being separated from their families.
Though TACT mentally prepared us, it was when our youngest foster son moved in that we realised the extent to which he had trouble coping with feelings of distress. We soon learnt to be more involved with his behaviours and his needs. When he had an outburst in the supermarket and would not leave without a jar of Dolmio sauce, we took time with him. It became clear that he had formed an attachment to the jar because it gave him a sense of comfort and helped him cope with overwhelming situations. We now reassure him by showing him a jar in the cupboard before going shopping which then makes for a more pleasant experience for everyone. By also encouraging him to feel free to go to the cupboard anytime he needs, he is also learning to self-soothe. He’s come a long way since he came to live with us and is a much happier child.
Every day brings the opportunity to learn more about their needs. We have been doing sign lessons to communicate as both children are non-verbal. What is funny is the oldest boy makes up his own sign language but, we learn his way because the more he can express himself, the more understood he feels. That’s more important than rigidly staying within the confines of what we learn in sign lessons. We feel that caring for children with complex needs or with disabilities is about your approach to children and having the right boundaries in place.
You’ve got to listen to the children, give them choices and think of their long-term wellbeing. When the eldest boy has family meet up time, it has been agreed that I remain with him as it gives him the security he needs. It is so rewarding to know these children feel safe and come to us for affection because they have the trust in us. It is amazing seeing the improvements, different behaviours coming through and the children smiling.
Children with complex needs are just children who need to be loved, cared for and nurtured. They have different needs, but every child has and it’s just about spending time finding out what theirs are. Communication is a big thing with the children, our TACT social worker and family.
When we go anywhere, to birthday meals out, extended family gatherings, we prepare them so that they know what is coming next. We use picture cards, let them know where we’re going, that we’re going in the car and out for the day. That works well for them. There are creative solutions to every challenge with every child and having the support from TACT has made all the difference.
Everything comes down to having the right outlook. When we experience barriers outside the home, we don’t let it worry us. Our youngest is particularly food oriented so we watch him carefully and take stock of our surroundings when we’re out. If we take him to the activity centre, he’ll climb all the way to the top and sit up there scanning for food. By the time we spot someone with half a glass of Coca-Cola, he’s already down and has grabbed the coke before we get to him. People are understanding most of the time once we explain.
Our birth children think it’s wonderful that we’re fostering and are involved quite a lot. My mother even lives with us now and she’s ‘nanny’ to them. For me raising my own children seemed harder, maybe because I was younger then, but regardless this is why I say don’t rule these children out based on a complex need or disability because the rewards far outweigh any challenges.
We are very glad we took the time to do a lot of research to find the best agency because we feel very lucky to have found TACT. The fact that TACT is a charity appealed to us and our TACT social workers, as well as the wider team, have been brilliant. We have had the best support ever. When I ring up the main office, they are always happy to talk to me. We’ve had phone calls from the regional manager about how pleased they are with us. We got flowers and a gift box because we voluntarily took part in a meeting. It’s like extended family and you feel appreciated. TACT don’t just tell it, they show it.