Damian – TACT foster carer since 2022
I work in a Virtual School Team. Being used to supporting young people and working for the local authority, I knew of the need for foster carers. I saw being a single male carer as an opportunity to utilise my skills by offering a safe and caring home environment. I’ve also been through the fostering system and so growing up in the care system, I knew I could offer a different level of understanding.
A family member looked after me when, from the age of about 10, I decided not to live with my mum. If I hadn’t had that family member, then I would have been within the care system longer. Some people, even friends, look at single foster carers, especially single men like me and question whether you can foster but I thought, “actually I can do it”. I have the empathy, understanding and experience, plus a good support network around me.
I originally applied to foster with TACT in 2018 but my circumstances changed as I had to look after a family member, a boy of 7 months. I secured an SGO (Special Guardianship Order) in 2020 for the boy, so went back to TACT and was supported all the way. I chose TACT because it’s a charity and knew that any income it generates is going back into supporting the children. The support from TACT is great. And they even provided additional financial help to carers to help us through the cost-of-living crisis.
Local authorities across the country struggle with keeping siblings together so accommodating them is needed. Because I have two large bedrooms, my initial thought was to care for a sibling group, but my circumstances changed so that did not happen.
The first young person I fostered came to me in an emergency last year – a little lad who was only two weeks away from his birthday. I was already prepared with a clean room; tidy and freshly decorated in neutral colours because you don’t know whether you’ll get a male or female child. He still continues to live with me and my son.
The little lad was previously placed with his grandparents which didn’t work out. It was a very unsettling period for him. Having been in care myself, I was overthinking this being his first experience as living with a stranger. Though I had that nervousness initially, I told myself it was about him, not me. I focused on putting on a welcoming face and making him feel safe. As soon as he arrived, it was natural, he had seen the welcome book I had prepared so he knew what the house looked like.
Those first weeks were about working on behaviours and boundaries. You know what works, so you get into a routine, but Rome wasn’t built in a day. I let him settle a bit more, explaining how things work. We did simple things like brushing teeth, drinking water and slowly modifying his diet. He was used to drinking fizzy drinks and eating chocolate so I would give alternative options, like fruit instead of pudding, yoghurt rather than chocolate bars or healthy cereals during the week and a sugary cereal as a treat on the weekend. Those are big adjustments, so I changed things gradually not overnight.
He also had nightmares at first and would wake up screaming. I comforted him explaining he is safe and letting him know I’ll be here. I was told he needed an hour of TV before going to bed. I didn’t want to change that straight away so the first couple of weeks he could have the TV in his bedroom on before he went to sleep. Over time I just dropped it by 5 minutes each night. Now he doesn’t need the TV on to sleep.
We also started making a memory book. Fostering is memory making and about creating magical moments so when they’ve grown up, they say “ha, I remember that”. As quite an active person, I presented him with opportunities to do things he otherwise hadn’t experienced before. He had never been on a holiday and I managed to get him booked on a UK break I already had planned, which was brilliant. He was just finding his feet being part of my family and it was important to me that he wasn’t uprooted by going in to respite care while I went on holiday. I was delighted when we got approval for him to join me and my boy on the holiday.
The young person I received an SGO for is now four and is a chilled, relaxed child so enjoys having another person to play with. When my foster son had little meltdowns or couldn’t handle his emotions, my other boy wouldn’t be fazed and would just walk away. Every weekend we do something enriching, they love going out and having a picnic.
The thing I am most proud of is getting my foster son’s life back on track by getting him to health appointments. He needed specialist support and I pushed to get him help. Fostering is just about being that coordinator. I sometimes feel like I’m making sure other people get things right and do things in a timely manner. My TACT social worker is there when needed and is a good sounding board. Sometimes it’s not easy being a foster dad, I want my foster son to get the support that he needs and the best of everything, but not being the birth parent, not having the control is challenging. But knowing that I’m giving him that caring, loving environment with the correct boundaries is where I find a feeling of success.
To any single men out there considering fostering I’d say if you’re passionate enough about it, do it. If you have the skills and support network, you’ve got enough. It’s one of the most rewarding things you can do, It’s rewarding to see a child settle. That takes consistency and boundaries.