Nicki had wanted to foster for many years, but held off while the children were young.
Fast forward a number of years - Nicki and Dave’s family grew up - they then downsized their home, only to find themselves upsizing again as the children moved back home for a period following university and college.
Finally, their brood has now moved on again – and, as Nicki put it ‘the house felt a little empty’.
Whilst initially Dave had been somewhat hesitant about fostering, they decided now might be the time to look in to it, as they now both had more flexibility and time on their hands. Dave’s slight caution was around the unknown aspects of fostering – and they didn’t know any foster carers who could share their experiences at that time - however they did discuss it with their own family to see how they felt about the idea and the response was thankfully positive.
The journey then began – a long journey, Nicki observed, which took almost a year and at times seemed to be rather long winded! Once the Skills to Foster training commenced, Dave then became warmer to the idea of fostering. Nicki and Dave both felt that doing the training together as a couple was really helpful – and a positive experience - though a challenge logistically at times
So, treading carefully, they decided to dip their toes in, as it were, with respite/sleepover fostering. This was a conscious decision by Nicki and Dave not to get in position of a longer term arrangement which then may not work out. Additionally, they both work full time, so one weekend per month felt manageable and a good place to begin.
Carers and parents may need breaks, too. Our respite/sleepover fostering service gives those looking after children the chance to recharge their batteries and can also ease situations where perhaps illness or family breakdown are a feature. Respite/sleepover fostering can offer planned, regular or short notice breaks for a few days or longer; thus enabling children and young people to live with their own family or foster carer for the rest of the time.
They had just started to foster when the pandemic began. Jack was their first foster placement – they provided respite/sleepover once a month for around two years until he reached the age of 18, he is now in a ‘Staying Put’ arrangement with his carer - and Nicki and Dave are still in touch with him to this day. Jack had been in foster care since the age of 9, bringing some challenges especially in the earlier years; this meant the regular respite/sleepover care provided was much needed by his foster carer.
Nicki explained: ‘It has been lovely seeing Jack progress, our own children have been really supportive, coming over to meet Jack and involving him in birthday and other family celebrations.
We felt it was important that Jack had his own space and belongings when he spent time with us and an example was when we bought a Fortnite duvet set for our fostering bedroom –this was just for Jack’s use, which we could tell he appreciated, and made him feel he belonged and was valued.
I remember at first he wouldn’t take his turn to clear the table after a meal, until he was told he was part of our family and all family members took part in this routine - the smile on his face then told it all!’
Also, in the beginning, Jack rarely praised his foster family, and was on occasion critical of them, however over time Nicki and Dave helped him to see they indeed cared for him and were fair in their treatment of him, and his attitude did change over time in this respect. Nicki went on: ‘We have built up a really good relationship with the family, it is very positive and there have been helpful exchanges and discussions which have meant we worked together well.’
In the six or so months coming up to Jack’s 18th birthday, during each weekend he stayed with Nicki and Dave, they encouraged him to get involved in shopping and cooking, in turn helping him to gain those all important independence skills.
He chose and bought ingredients for meals and enjoyed helping to cook – he was very proud when he produced good results!
Nicki says: ‘ It has been great seeing Jack’s attitude change from being angry in those early days to being more mature – he will soon be getting his own place – hopefully not too far from ourselves – and he is still also in contact with our son who is a bit older than him.
Looking back, there has been some heartache and quite a few battles, but lots of fun, too. Sometimes it’s the little things which make the fostering experience so special – and you appreciate those most when reflecting or looking back..’
We asked Nicki and Dave what thoughts they would share/advice they would give to prospective foster carers
‘Just because you work doesn’t mean you can’t foster’ says Nicki ‘I work long days with both early and late shifts, but with the right support you can make things work for you. The good thing about respite is that it is usually planned well in advance, so that helps if you have a busy schedule.
'Our social worker Karen now knows myself and Dave pretty well; she is so helpful both in terms of matching and supporting us with children. Not to mention being there through the odd wobble -which can occur now and then!’
Dave added: ’Don’t have huge expectations, go in open minded and be prepared to take small steps at a time – you can never be fully prepared for everything, but the training provides you with insight of what to expect and your social worker provides you with the support when you need it’