“It’s about having patience to listen and not judge”

Author: TACT Fostering

Tags: Fostering siblings, Fostering Teenagers, Fostering with birth children

Jillian and Ronnie – TACT foster carers since 2014

Ronnie was a baggage handler, and I was an aircraft despatcher at an airport. That’s how we met.

My parents looked after a teenage girl when we were growing up. She was my sister’s school friend, and they would come home for lunch each day. Finding that she lived in a children’s care unit, my parents decided to become her foster carers, and she lived with us until she was 18.

Years later, my daughter brought a school friend home who lived in the very same care unit as the girl my parents cared for. Due to her family circumstances, we couldn’t care for her unfortunately, but I remember Ronnie saying how many children needed a family. That was when we considered fostering.

After our son and daughter had finished their education and were both working and getting on with their lives, we felt we still had a lot to offer another young person. The most rewarding thing in our lives was raising our children and we knew that not every child has the same opportunities that ours had, so we decided to look into fostering. TACT contacted us, came out for a coffee and the rest is history.

The application process was rigorous as we knew it had to be, as we were asking to be trusted to look after other people’s children. We initially attended a great 3-day course which meant meeting other potential new carers as well as care-experienced people. Then our TACT social worker visited every few weeks and went through our backgrounds and references. Once all the forms were completed you go to final panel and formally qualify. The day we were approved to foster we were already being given details on children needing a new home as there are so many waiting for a foster family.

It was not long before we were introduced to a young boy, and visited him for two weeks, before he came home with us. During visits we got to know his likes and made a book with pictures of his new room and things that Ronnie and I like to do. This helped him familiarise himself with his new home and foster family before moving in.

The first couple of weeks were amazing, as he didn’t start school straight away, so we had some bonding time. The day he arrived, we took him out as we do with all our kids and he chose his own bedding and something new for his room (he chose a teddy bear). We took things slowly and got used to his likes and dislikes. We were a bit overwhelmed at first, and initially over spoiled him, which we realised was not what he needed. He soon settled into family life.

We have now been fostering for 9 years and it’s mostly always been long term, therefore we have had the privilege to guide our foster children in the right direction, giving them a safe loving space to grow and be themselves. When you have a 13-year-old girl move in and not speak for weeks then watch her grow and mature into a 22-year-old social work university student, it is an amazing feeling. She now lives right next to us and comes to us every other day.

We also have had other former foster children come for a visit or for dinner and most recently our very first foster son got in contact to share news of the birth of his first child. It is amazing seeing them all come back.

Apart from our girl at university, one of our greatest achievements has been our foster son arriving the week before lockdown and blending him into a family that already had three foster daughters at home. Having that time to adjust and just have fun together was a huge success and now we are about to be his permanent carers.

It’s not always rainbows and butterflies, we have had many challenges to overcome. Children can’t always verbalise their trauma or worries, and that distress often can show itself in different ways like swearing, fighting or running away. But it’s about having patience to listen, not judge and help them to understand that everything can be resolved.

We only had our birth daughter still living at home when we started fostering and she enjoyed having children staying because she went from being the youngest of three, to the eldest. Our daughter found some things difficult to manage, like when a child’s trouble coping was aimed at us. But she realised over time that it mostly was a child’s way of communicating their feelings and learned how to take a step back from these infrequent occasions.

Having two birth children ourselves, I think it is vitally important that siblings in care are able to live together, where possible. These children have already had everything taken from them and, in my experience, the constant worry they have about each other when separated can have a negative impact on their time in a new home – which makes it very difficult for them to settle. I always encourage our foster children to keep in regular contact with their brothers or sisters. Usually, they are the most important people in their lives due to a shared upbringing.

Until recently I was a member of a community choir which was very enjoyable, and Ronnie loves to play golf. When COVID hit I found I needed more to do with my time, so I trained online and qualified as a member of the children’s panel which I really enjoy. The children’s panel is part of the children’s hearing system within Children’s Hearings Scotland. It is unique to Scotland and exists to protect children at risk, or in need of formal measures of support. Volunteering to sit in hearings gives me the opportunity to help make the right decisions for so many children and is truly rewarding.

We have really enjoyed the support of our TACT social worker. On her first visit, we felt really nervous but were instantly put at ease. She was thorough, explaining all about the paperwork process the training, support, and how the matching process ensures carers are the right fit for the young person and vice versa. We have never doubted our decision to foster with TACT and we knew we had a lot to offer any child.

The ongoing training and 24/7 support from TACT is second to none. Every family is given a supervising social worker (SSW) who, along with the children’s own social workers, ensure our children have a strong and nurturing support network. We always feel fully supported for every situation. Our TACT SSW is now like extended family.

Read more about fostering teenagers or fostering siblings.