Sandra – TACT Foster Carer since 2004
I’ve been fostering with TACT since 2004. At the time I was working as an access manager in child protection services, and my manager said I would make a good foster carer because I was a single parent with three children and coping very well, and I was always happy, organised and willing to help others. So I decided to give it a go and have been fostering ever since.
Three years ago I married Greg, and a year later we started taking on child and parent placements. This is a special type of fostering arrangement where both the child and the parent come to stay in your house, where you can offer them additional support and ensure the safety of the child, so that they are able to get to a point where they can care for their child independently.
We decided to take on parent and child placements to offer vulnerable mothers a chance to parent in a safe and non-judgmental environment. I wanted to work alongside mothers and help them to form a strong bond with their children. By supporting and empowering mothers, parent and child fostering can help keep families together and prevent children from entering care.
Our first experience of parent and child fostering was a 6-week respite placement with a teenage mother and her 1-year-old. The night before, I was nervous but also excited, as I had been fostering for many years but knew that this would be a new kind of challenge. The first day went well, we sat in the kitchen drinking tea and learning about each other and our families.
Unfortunately, it turned out to be a very challenging placement, as it became very difficult to ensure the mother had the right priorities. The baby eventually went on to live with the grandmother. I was determined to not give up on parent and child placements as this mother did try really hard but her emotional challenges were too big to overcome. I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep every family together, but I also knew that I had a lot to offer and could help mothers form a close bond with their baby.
Our most recent placements have been very positive experiences. We took in a mother, who misused alcohol, and her new born baby who has foetal alcohol syndrome. This is a condition caused by exposure to alcohol while in the womb that can lead to psychological and behavioural issues. The mother coped very well with the nearly constant screaming and crying and formed a close bond. After 7 weeks they both moved to a specialist rehab facility in Yorkshire for a 3 month assessment which she passed with flying colours. She now lives happily with her baby in her own flat.
Child and parent placements require a different approach from standard fostering, although they both require you to be patient and understanding. For one thing, your job is to support the mother and empower her with confidence and knowledge so that she is able to be the best mother she can. Whilst parent and child fostering requires you to be less hands-on and let the mothers be mothers, you also have to monitor the situation even more intensely as there is a tiny baby involved who cannot speak for themselves and who must be protected.
If I was asked to give advice to other carers about to take on a parent and child placement, I would say to be yourself. Allow the mother to be a mother but be there for her whenever she needs to talk things through. Make sure you allow room for fun, whether that’s by going out to family events or the cinema. Finally, encourage the mother to ask for help when she needs it and make sure she knows that asking for help is not a sign that she is failing.
Although it can be challenging, parent and child placements are very rewarding. There have been positives from every placement and something to learn from each one. When the parent is able to keep their baby and they thank you for all your help and support, it is the biggest reward that you can have.