Could You Change a Childs Life?
Could you change a child’s life? If you have room in your heart and home for a child that needs love and a secure and safe place to live then don’t hesitate to find out more about fostering.
Although not since living in Cornwall, when we were younger, my husband and I did foster children. We started doing this by accident – strange thing to say I know! As I turned 20, so in the early years of marriage, living in Surrey, I worked in a residential home for challenging youngsters from London Boroughs. The home was re-locating from leafy Surrey to Sussex and, as we did not want to move, I found another job.
After I had left but before the children were all moved, a friend who was still working there rang me to say “Have you ever thought about fostering, Sue?” I’ll be honest, I had not but I did ask her why she was asking. She went on to talk to me about Andrew, a 15 year old that I knew well. I had played a part, whilst working in the home, in enabling him to go to a local school rather than be educated in the home, as I saw his potential to take exams, not possible in the home. She pointed out that, if they could not find him a foster placement he would have to leave the local school, just months before his GCSE’s and that opportunity we had created would be lost. It would only have to be for 6 – 9 months, I was told.
After speaking to my husband, we agreed to his London Social worker coming to visit us about possibly fostering Andrew. I remember the ‘assessment visit’ and the social worker being embarrassed at having to ask us intrusive questions about our relationship and reasons we wanted to foster, when it was them asking us to do it! Any way, long story short, Andrew came to live with us, took and passed his GCSE exams, and stayed with us for 18 months, until his social worker could find him suitable supported living accommodation near some of his extended family in London. He was 17 by then so we had played a part in his transition from child to adult and he even came to visit us 6 months later, when we had moved to a small holding in Devon.
Next, in Devon, I was studying at Plymouth to become a Probation Officer. The first year of the course was very college based and I was missing working with people. My husband and I felt the smallholding would be a lovely place for a young person going through troubled times so we contacted the local social services to say we had fostering experience and were available, if they needed people. Needless to say, they were starting an assessment with us in no time!
On this occasion we expressed the preference for a child in the age range of 10 – 12 as we felt most able to support that stage of a child’s development, whilst I was at college and my husband was developing a horticultural business at home. I was therefore a little taken aback when we were contacted about Sharon, a heavily pregnant 16 year old whose parents and GP had convinced her that, because of her age, she had to place the baby for adoption. Obviously, social services did not collude with that so when Sharon, now 8 months pregnant was in a dilemma of what to do, they wanted a supportive place for her to come, after the birth, to make her decision. We became that supportive place.
I remember collecting her and her baby boy from hospital, taking them home and settling them in. We had not had any children at that point so, the baby seemed so tiny and I remember having the odd panic attack thinking “what if she just goes off, leaving the baby with us? What would we do?”
Sharon quickly came to the decision that she wanted to care for her baby and not place him for adoption. That left her bereft of parental support as her parents would not allow her to return home with the baby. She therefore stayed with us for 6 months until she found herself a bedsit in Plymouth. The story did not end there though because about 2 – 4 months later, I was contacted by the social worker as they were very concerned for her baby. Sharon had got in with a bit of a rough crowd, was going out late, with the child, drinking and hosting parties, disrupting neighbours in her attic bedsit. She was not engaging with the social worker and they were beginning to think they would have to take the baby into care.
I managed to re-establish contact with Sharon and she was just desperately lonely, craving adult companionship. I knew of a mother and baby unit and, although they normally took young mums straight from hospital, between me and the social worker, we managed to persuade them to consider Sharon. Supported by me, she agreed to move in. The home was very close to college so I was able to visit and stay in touch, until about 12 months later when she was ready to move into her own Council place, that the project helped her obtain. By then she was a confident mum, had a positive circle of friends, had re-established a relationship with her parents. She also accepted a college place to re-establish her education. I kept occasional contact for a while but she soon proved she was settled and did not need me any more.
We did go on to foster other children but as they are still part of my life, I do not want to say too much about them as that could identify them and that would not be fair. We fostered an older teenage boy (supportive lodgings) and 2 younger girls.
So, could you help an Andrew or Sharon, like we did?