Julie and Mike talk us through why it is so rewarding being a foster carer.
Julie and Mike have been specialist foster carers with Fostering North Yorkshire for nearly 5 years, since they made the move north from Essex. They recently looked back with us on 12 years of fostering and here is their story.
Previous fostering experience with an independent fostering agency for around 7 years while they were living in Essex, as well as professional experience in the care sector meant Julie could be fast tracked speedily to specialist level, when their fostering journey began.
‘Mike and I had always wanted to foster, but we have four sons and wanted them to be older before we began. So we waited till our youngest was 16 before starting to foster. We were quickly up and running and the young people we fostered from the start were fairly challenging, so my experience was of real benefit. At the time, Mike was commuting regularly to London for work, so I was kept busy, often with two or three placements running simultaneously. I always enjoyed it though and the emotional rewards over the years have made all the hard work and effort so worthwhile.’
Julie and Mike were welcomed in to the Fostering North Yorkshire ‘family’ when they moved to Yorkshire in order to spend more time with their grandchildren. They are now both at home full time fostering together, with often two or three children or young people living with them at any one time.
Currently they are fostering three children/young people, one of whom arrived originally for a few weeks of respite fostering and is now happily settled with them on a permanence basis. Another is a teenager with autism and some physical and emotional additional needs and the third a teenager with challenging and complex behaviours. Previously Julie and Mike have also fostered a parent and baby and unaccompanied asylum-seeking children also.
We asked about how specialist fostering can work around family life and commitments?
Julie replied to this question explaining:
‘Mike and I plan together, and we make it work. We work with the professionals and social work teams, we share time spent with our grandchildren and foster children between us, factoring in our own family time. It does help to have a very understanding family, as things can become finely balanced at times. But our family realise what we do is important and that it really does make a difference for the children involved. My advice is that you do need to be fully committed with both feet in as it were and to be flexible and be aware that sometimes you will need to put your own personal needs on the back burner.’
Mike adds ‘working in partnership with Julie has been a really positive experience for us both, and our skills really seem to complement each other’s. I tend to focus on the practical, physical side of things and Julie focuses more on the emotional side, so we make a good team with our different skill sets. But there are no quick fixes, each child is unique and we are respectful of that’.
And the type of experience and skills needed for specialist fostering?
Mike and Julie feel these need to include:
Compassion and understanding, as nearly all the children and young people coming to them have had traumatic pasts, which can trigger behaviours which can be challenging. Listening and communication skills to help build trust and confidence. Flexibility and resilience, sometimes you need to step away from a moment to move things forwards positively. Humour is essential and can be used to soften a difficult moment and make communication easier and less intense.
And finally, a message to any prospective specialist foster carers?
Specialist fostering is a hard role and it’s a huge commitment to do it full time - but we find it very fulfilling. You do live and breathe fostering when you are a specialist carer, and it can be very intense, but we love what we do and seeing the young person safe, doing better in school, being happy and just doing normal things, well, no money can buy those sort of rewards.’