Sharntel – TACT Foster Carer since 2015
London & the South East
I was drawn to the idea of fostering because I love children. The first child I cared for was placed due to being malnourished. She started walking after being in my care for seven months and was then adopted by her aunt. Due to the outcome from that placement, I was asked to care for a three-month-old girl. It was then that the agency I had been with up to that point, merged with TACT, and my journey with TACT began.
On first meeting her I couldn’t believe how small she was, as she was born at 26 weeks. Her feet were still translucent, and it was initially shocking to see the tubes coming from her nose. I was scared to touch her because she looked so fragile. But she needed me.
For the first three months, I went into the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) ward every day for 5 hours a day. During that time, I had to learn how to fit an NG tube to feed her and ensure I understood the PH testing strips before feeding. I did a two-night stay in the hospital to ensure I could take care of all her medication needs as well as do a first aid course, before her discharge from hospital was agreed.
I had no experience whatsoever of caring for a child with such high care needs. However, I was willing to learn and if you are willing to learn, it is incredible just how much you find you are capable of. Having cared from her since she was a baby, watching her grow, thrive and blast through every obstacle set before her, has been the best and most beautiful part of my life.
Since then, I have seen her grow and develop in so many ways. She is now independently eating which is the best development we have made together. It took us six years and lots of patience and perseverance, but we are finally there. It is pure joy to me to see her eat and enjoy her food, have favourite foods, and even ask for seconds sometimes.
She is a 10-year-old with epilepsy, autism as well as cognitive, neurological, and spinal conditions which have left her wheelchair bound. Everyday tasks and finding activities for a child in a wheelchair with limited mobility remains a challenge but I have found raising this young lady to be rewarding in so many ways that it’s hard to articulate. She is a whole experience and I’m just glad that it’s me who gets to be part of her daily life.
She is also a big part of my immediate and extended families lives. Mum, cousins, and their children are a credit to me in that she is included in every family event, protected, and treated like all the other children in our family. We do not see her as a fostered child, nor a child with disabilities. We just see her, the cheeky her, the smart her, the determined her, the funny her, the loving her… simply her. She is as much a teacher to us as we are to her.
Having her in my life has totally changed the way I view many things and has turned me into a staunch advocate for those with disabilities. This is why I became a Children with Disabilities Representative for TACT last year, which I have found particularly rewarding.
TACT created a support group specifically for foster carers with children with disabilities and complex needs and one I am honoured to represent. It has made a big difference to us as specialist foster carers, as it is geared up to provide support and help others to understand what we go through. We get to share our experiences, get advice, and be updated on new opportunities available to carers and their children. The group is one of the best things that TACT has created.
The network has brought about change in terms of thinking about activities for children with disabilities. Over the King’s Coronation bank holiday, TACT organised a break for our children with disabilities at the Thomas Centre which is specifically designed and created to meet their needs. The break was also a great way for foster carers from across the UK to meet up outside of the disability carer support group.
I like the charitable organisation and the consideration they show to the children and young people, as well as foster carers. I would happily recommend TACT to anyone that was thinking about fostering. They really do take onboard our views about meeting the needs of children with disabilities as well as our needs as carers. This really does make us feel heard, valued and that they do care.
My little lady has one thing to say about her fostering experience; she is happy and just wants lots of Pringles. Happiness – now, isn’t that what any child wants and deserves?