Lisa and Milton – TACT Foster Carers since 2004
Lisa and Milton have been TACT foster carers for 12 years. Being foster carers has been an incredible journey for both of them and something they will never regret doing.
Over the years Lisa and Milton have provided a safe, warm home to many vulnerable teenagers.
“I knew I wanted to foster ever since I was a little girl,” remembers Lisa. “I’ve always felt it was my life purpose. My dad was brought up in a foster family. His care was great but he never knew his real family. I’ve always felt it’s important for looked after children to keep a connection with their birth families if they can.
We used to take in lots of foreign exchange students and I saw how well my own kids got on with them. I then got talking to a friend at work about how I thought I was ready to start fostering. They knew people at TACT and suggested I give them a call. Everything just seemed to fall into place.”
Everyone brings something different to fostering. For Lisa she believes her ‘unconventional’ family set up helps children feel at home and gives them the sense that they can belong and fit in.
“I come from a family with step-parents, half-siblings and step-siblings. And when Milton and I got together we both had children from previous relationships. It makes for a diverse family with lots of different experiences. I think this helps the children we foster feel like they’re on a level footing with our own kids.”
Lisa and her family mainly foster teenagers. She remembers the first young person that came to them from TACT.
“It was an emergency placement,” Lisa recalls. “Suzie refused to get out of the car at first. I spent ages trying to persuade her to come into the house. She’d been in care for a couple of years and things had broken down with her previous foster placement. I remember she had a real attitude! I was so nervous and I didn’t know what to expect.
“It was the Easter holidays and so all the children were at home. After the rocky start, the first few days were really nice. We all did lots of stuff together and Suzie shared chocolate eggs with the others. But it did get quite intense. There was lots of swearing and Suzie could be really difficulty and demanding. We did manage to get her back into school for a bit, although she was expelled again later.
“It was a testing first fostering experience. We were thrown in at the deep end. But there’s no easy introduction to fostering. TACT were absolutely brilliant. I phoned them lots to discuss strategies for dealing with Suzie. When we all went on holiday to France they would call every day to make sure we were all OK.
“Six months after Suzie moved on, she sent us a letter apologising for her behaviour while she was with us. It genuinely came from the heart and it meant so much to me to receive it.”
Their next foster child was another teenage girl. “This time things were more planned,” explains Lisa. “We got to meet Megan with her mother so we could talk about how things would work and she got the chance to meet the rest of her family. Megan’s relationship with her family was strained. She argued lots with her mum and siblings and had moved out to live with friends. She had also stopped going to school.”
“It really worked out for Megan living with us. She kept in touch with her family and things started improving with them. It was lovely to have her here. Megan was fun and bubbly and she was always instigating games with the others – dancing and water fights! She helped lots around the house and with my new born daughter, and got on really well with the other children. There were lots of tears and arguments too, but overall she brought so much warmth to the house.
“In the end she returned to her mum, which was brilliant. It was sad to see her go but it was so positive to see her sort out her relationship with her mother. She’s kept us posted on developments like getting into college. We still see her now. She’s got her own children who are gorgeous.
“You might only have a short time with a child or young person, maybe a year or two, but it can be such a significant time. You can really make a difference to the rest of their lives.”
While Lisa encourages more people to think about fostering, she’s the first to admit it’s not easy.
“When you start fostering, it changes your life,” says Lisa. “You see and go through so much with the young people you take into your home, but the support you give them is vital. Fostering is a profession and it’s not one you go into lightly.
“You don’t need to be a couple to foster but for us fostering is a partnership. I manage most things because Milton’s out at work but he’s still very hands on.
“It’s important for me to have someone to talk to and share things with. If you’re going to foster as a single person, it is good to have a really strong support network around you, although TACT has provided me with support around the clock.”
And how do their children cope with fostering? “The children have never had an issue with ‘sharing’ mum – it’s a way of life for us. Rather than it being about me and Milton fostering, we’re a family that fosters. It makes for a great family dynamic. The kids get so much out of it. They appreciate meeting and talking to new people and sharing different experiences. Life is never dull here!”
So what would Lisa say to anyone thinking about fostering:
“There’s no blueprint for what makes an ‘ideal’ foster carer,” says Lisa. “Everyone brings their own special something. I’d say a bit of life experience, being calm, caring, and patient and a good listener would all stand you in good stead. And from a practical point of view, you need a spare room.
“My advice is pick up the phone and talk to an organisation like TACT. Get the info pack and take it from there. There are lots of different stages to becoming a carer and at any point you can change your mind. It’s important to work out if it’s for you.
“Fostering is not for everyone but for me it’s the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.”