‘Fostering is my life’

Next month is National Foster Care Fortnight and workingmums.co.uk is focusing on the skills and qualifications you need to be a foster carer. Here we look at one mother’s experience.

Next month is National Foster Care Fortnight and workingmums.co.uk is focusing on the skills and qualifications you need to be a foster carer. Here we look at one mother’s experience:

Fostering is Sheryl’s life. She has been a foster carer with Newham Council in London for four years and at first had several short-term placements. This included twins who she looked after for just a couple of hours when they had failed to be collected from an after school club. Other placements have lasted a few months and she admits it can be hard to say goodbye if you have grown attached to each other.
“It can be hard if you are doing it from your heart,” she says. That is one of the reasons why she recently opted for a long-term placement. It was not only her and her foster child she was worried about, but her own daughter, who is aged 11. “I wanted to be able to give a child a family home,” she says.
Sheryl, a single parent, says she has always wanted to work with children and families from disadvantaged backgrounds. She considered becoming a social worker, but decided against it because she wanted to be “more hands on with children” rather than maintaining a professional, objective distance. “I wanted to make a difference in a child’s life,’ she says.
She turned to her council to register as a foster carer because she wanted to work locally and went through a rigorous assessment and training process. This included sessions on, for instance, the kinds of backgrounds foster children come from. The sessions also allowed her to meet other foster carers and they have provided a lot of support over time.
Newham has a training system which works on three “reward” levels to encourage foster carers to keep updating their skills. Training includes everything from dealing with challenging behaviour to first aid. Reward levels one and two lead onto an NVQ level 3 which is followed by reward level three. “You are learning all the time,” says Sheryl, “including from the other foster carers. You can set up a good support network around you who you can call on when the office is closed. Some of the other foster carers have been doing it for 30 years.”
Sheryl is also on the committee of a foster carers group which allows the carers to have an independent voice within the council.
She is given a regular payment from Newham to cover her foster daughter’s costs, including food and clothing. She also receives extra reward money as she has risen up the reward levels, but she says money is definitely not her motivation. “Fostering is my life,” she says.
Sheryl admits she has had worries about the impact of fostering on her own daughter, as her foster daughter, who maintains contact with her birth family, sometimes has challenging behaviour. “She knows I am always there for her, though, and I do ensure we have quality time together when we can talk,” she says. She also uses respite care to give her and her daughter a break and has a lot of very supportive family members and friends around.
Sheryl works as a lunchtime supervisor at her daughter’s school and hopes to take on work as a special needs assistant in the future. She says fostering can be challenging and hard work, but is incredibly rewarding. “There is nothing else I would do. It is my main focus and it is amazing,” she says. “You have the chance to make such a difference to these children’s lives.”

More information: www.newhamfostering.co.uk

An introduction to fostering
Fostering special needs children

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