Cath & Kenny – TACT Foster Carers Since 2011
From the age of 12 and 10, sisters Ellie and Niamh had to learn to share their mum and dad with other children as Mum Cath and Dad Kenny are foster carers. Now in their twenties, Ellie and Niamh feel very lucky that they grew up as part of a foster family and see themselves as big sisters to the boy currently in their care.
Ellie said: “We both feel that the best thing about our family fostering is being able to have different children as part of our lives, even if just for a short time. We have loved watching them grow up and the difference (however small) we have seen with each of them.”
The decision to foster was not taken lightly by Cath and Kenny. They made sure that the whole family understood the challenges that lay ahead and were united in making it work.
Cath said: “We did have some initial reservations about fostering while having birth children of our own living at home, however we were always honest with Ellie and Niamh and discussed any concerns they had openly.”
The family’s first foster placement was two young girls age 3 and 18 months old, and right from the start Ellie and Niamh showed that they were going to play a significant role in making all of the children feel welcome and part of the family.
Niamh said: “We were extremely nervous but also very excited. We were worried that they maybe wouldn’t like us, but we also understood how difficult it was for them coming to live in a strange environment. So, we tried our best to make them feel welcome. We spent a lot of time playing and spending time with them, but we also tried to understand how they must have been feeling. This is something we have done with all the children.”
Some of the children fostered by Cath and Kenny have had complex physical, psychological and behavioural needs. Two of their previous placements were brothers aged two and four who were both on the autistic spectrum.
The young person they are currently looking after arrived seven years ago unable to speak and displayed significant behavioural issues. However, through the support of the family he has made huge steps forward and is now thriving. Cath and Kenny couldn’t be prouder.
Cath said: “Watching the progress of the child who is currently with us has been our favourite thing about being foster carers. He first came to us unable to speak and with lots of medical needs, as well as not sleeping properly and displaying extremely challenging behaviour. However, we’ve loved watching him develop into a confident and capable individual. He is a loving, well-mannered and caring young man.”
Kenny said: “He is coming on leaps and bounds lately, he is absolutely flying academically. He is performing well ahead of where he should be for his age and is considered “Working at a greater depth” by the school. We are all so proud of him.”
Cath said: “He is doing great. He has just started secondary school and has settled in really well. He has had lots of support from TACT, the local authority and his primary school to make sure he was well prepared for the transition. He is really thriving, he is playing for his rugby team, has lots of friends and is very popular with his peers.”
He quickly formed a special bond with Niamh, Ellie and her partner, Ash.
Kenny said: “Ellie and Niamh couldn’t be closer with him. He is just a part of our family, and they are his big sisters. From the moment he arrived, they both took him under their wing. They would always take him out to the park or the indoor play centre. During the pandemic, we did more things like jigsaw puzzles together. He tells everyone they are his big sisters. To us, he is no different from a birth sibling.”
Cath said: “Ellie no longer lives with us and has bought a house with her partner, Ash. Ash does respite care with our young person once a week where they do a different activity together, which he really loves. Ellie and Ash are expecting their first child in February and our young person is very excited to be an uncle.”
Fostering did not just help the children in care develop, Cath and Kenny’s daughters also grew from the experience. Sharing their home with children with complex needs helped Ellie and Niamh to become more considerate and sensitive to the different situations that children face.
Ellie said: “We both feel that fostering has made us more able to empathise with other people and have a greater understanding of how we can support them. We feel more confident speaking to professionals as well as people in the community as over the years we have had many different individuals visit us in our home.”
As well as helping them to become more empathetic, fostering has helped them to better appreciate the loving and stable home that they had, and that, unfortunately, far too many children are in desperate need of.
Niamh said: “Our favourite memories are from our many family holidays. All of the children hadn’t had the opportunity to go on holiday, so everything was a new experience for them, including making sandcastles on the beach and swimming in the sea. We loved seeing how excited they were and it made us appreciate more that not everyone has the same opportunities and experiences.”
Cath said: “Overall, fostering has brought our family closer together and given our children a better understanding of the issues that some people unfortunately face. As a family, we feel it is the single most rewarding thing we have ever done and we are all closer because of it.”