Brighton & Hove City Council know that the decision to become a Foster Carer can take years, and a lot of careful thought, consideration and research. Foster Carers have a shared motivation and desire to make a difference but come from a diverse range of backgrounds, and often choose to begin their fostering journey at unique and differing life stages. Many will hold back until the ‘time is right’, so here we look at some of the most common fostering circumstances.
We took early retirement
Martin, 64 and Liz, 60 took early retirement when Martin sold his business, and quickly experienced a “change in lifestyle” and a “growing void”. Martin says “I went from being extremely busy, to finding I had a list of things to do that were quick to complete, leaving me in a void when I’d finished. I missed the challenge of problem solving.”
The couple weren’t ready to take things easy and wanted to take on another challenge. They now enjoy fostering teenagers because it is a “familiar stage of parenting”. Liz says, “It doesn’t seem that long ago that our sons were teenagers” and “having teenagers keeps me young, it’s got me back into real life!”
Martin says, “Teenagers are exploring where they want to go and they’re discovering what they want to do with their life. They’re very interesting to talk to because they’ve got ideas that make you sit up and think maybe they’re right, maybe I’m stuck in my ways. And it’s refreshing!”
The idea of fostering is often dismissed because people believe they are too old, however this is one of the most common myths about who can and can’t become a Foster Carer. There is no official upper age limit for Foster Carers and in fact Brighton & Hove City Council believe older people make excellent carers as they bring life experience to the role.
We don’t have children of our own, but we have plenty of experience to share Sarah, 33, and Gemma, 35, don’t have children of their own, but both worked professionally in childcare roles. They talked about fostering since the day they met, and each grew up with it in their families, so once they had married and settled down they thought “it’s now or never!”
They remember, “Our Assessing Social Worker visited our family and friends, and also our place of work. Having no children of our own, she needed to see how we interacted with children in our care. For extra child care practice, we borrowed our niece and nephew for sleepovers. We were very popular!”
It’s true that you will need some childcare experience to foster, but this does not have to have been gained through parenthood. To gain the childcare experience required, you need to understand how it feels to be fully responsible for a child overnight and on a regular basis.
We wanted to make a difference as a family
Sarah, Stephen and their two children aged 11 and seven began fostering a year ago. Fostering has been a positive experience for them all and Sarah says she is proud of the “wonderful compassion, kindness and maturity” that her children have displayed.
Sarah wanted to be able to spend more time at home, so she reduced her hours to part-time and applied to foster school-aged children. She says “the children love having me around so much more. I love having a busy home and I love having kids around, so fostering felt like the obvious option for us as it means we are able to help other children who are in need.”
Concern about how fostering might impact younger birth children can sometimes hold people back but having other children in the house can often be a considerable advantage. Sarah and Stephen have found that the experience has enhanced their children’s social understanding and empathy and brought them all closer together.
Stephen says, “It has turned out to be one of the best things we have ever done – for the children as well as for Sarah and myself.”
Brighton & Hove City Council ensure there is lots of support in place for the sons and daughters of foster carers. As well as regular day trips and activities, a team of Fostering Support Officers run activities throughout the school holidays which serves not only as an opportunity for birth children to form friendships, but also a well-deserved break for foster carers.
I needed to re-evaluate my life skills and my career path
Dave, 45, gained valuable experience through his 15 year career as a youth worker, but felt the time was right for him to help change the future of one young person at a time. “I loved my job, but I love being a Foster Carer even more. I’ve been able to use my professional experience to help guide the young people in my care.”
Choosing fostering as a career allows you the opportunity to work in a field where you can directly change a child’s life for the better. And for many people, fostering is life-changing not just for the child in care, but for the carer, too.
There are a wide range of professions, such as teaching, nursing, and emergency services that provide the skillsets that can enhance your ability to foster, but that’s not to say that office workers cannot make great foster carers too.
Beverly, 39, felt unfulfilled and unhappy in her role as a sales executive, so took a new direction in life as a foster carer. “I felt sick of feeling like what I was doing wasn’t enough – it all felt very meaningless and I wanted to make a difference.”
She received extensive training to ensure she had the skills and expertise to feel confident in her new role as a Foster Carer. She says, “The training was incredibly thorough and I’ve felt supported at every step”.
It’s important to remember though, that becoming a Foster Carer does not have to mean giving up employment altogether. It’s true that foster carers are expected to be available to care for children, but depending on your circumstances, you can sometimes foster and continue to work flexible part-time or even full-time hours; it just may make a difference to the type of fostering that you can do.
When my children left home, I needed to fill the void
When Nick and Felicity’s children left home, the time felt right for them to make a difference as foster carers.
Felicity reflects “I used to be quite a busy mum but suddenly I didn’t have so much to do with my time. We’ve always had an open house, full of children and I was bought up in that way too. So, when the children left, I thought what am I going to do? I didn’t want to go into retirement because I didn’t feel old enough.”
The couple urge others whose children have headed off to university to consider filling their ‘empty nests’ by becoming foster parents too. “We felt devastated when our son Sam moved to London for university but caring for our seven year old foster daughter has been such a positive experience.”
For some parents, children leaving home is a liberating time, but many find it difficult to adjust to the sudden emptiness and space. Fostering is a great opportunity for people whose own children are moving on in their lives. Felicity says, “I had so much more ‘Mum’ left in me.”
Brighton & Hove City Council Foster Carers foster children and young people in all sorts of difference circumstances. Whether they are retired, looking for a change in career, channelling professional experience into a fostering role, adjusting to life at home without their birth children or wanting to take on fostering as a family, they all share the same desire to make a difference.
If the time is right for you to open up your home to a child in need, Brighton & Hove City Council would love to hear from you.
To learn more about becoming a Foster Carer e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange a call or visit www.fosteringinbrightonandhove.org.uk. The team are holding regular virtual information sessions.