I find being a foster carer a rewarding job, but it can be challenging. In order to provide the best possible care for the children I look after, and to provide the children with stability, security and a positive experience of family life, I need to be well supported by my fostering service and people around me.
I work as part of the Team Around the Looked After Child, and need to be supported by others in that team to ensure that the child receives the best possible care. The level and type of support that I need may change with each child in placement and at different times.
Being a foster carer for eight years, I understand the challenges and emotional toll that fostering can bring to a family, but I do believe that there are steps that foster carers can take to prevent burnout and make their fostering experience a more positive one. One of those steps is to create a strong support network.
Fostering brings challenges that are not understood by a lot of people. Even the most supportive friends and family will not be able to truly understand some of what I will be going through and there may even be things that I cannot share with them due to confidentiality as stated in the fostering contract. This can make fostering a lonely road.
There is something I can do in order to ensure that I do not feel like I am by myself. I can get support from other foster carers. This is important as other foster carers will not question my sanity for deciding to foster children I may only have for a short time or loving children who are hurting. They will support and encourage me. They can also give advice or encouragement with difficult situations that they have perhaps dealt with before. You can talk together about dealing with the struggles associated with caring for a child with FASD and other problems, also share ideas on what has worked for each of you in the past.
Benefits to getting to know other foster families is that, they are have to abide by the same confidentiality. You can get together as families and you will feel less “different”. Once you are fostering, your family will probably look different from typical families. It can be disruptive and noisy. You can get stares and questions when you are out in public. Getting together with other foster families makes you feel more normal.
I have found having the support of other foster carers helpful, especially in times of crisis or transition such as a difficult placement, grieving for a child who has left, or investigations. Their encouragement, experience from having gone through similar situations, and ability to support is important. I run the local support group where I meet other carers and share experiences, learn from each other and get to know others who can become part of my support network. Other ways we can meet carers include, training sessions, mentoring and buddying schemes. All these give opportunities to meet with other carers, to learn from each other, to talk through problems in order to reduce potential social isolation and to talk to those with a shared understanding of the issues.