#FacesOfFostering: Emma Long-term foster care; Caritas Care, my faith and me.

#FacesOfFostering: Emma Long-term foster care; Caritas Care, my faith and me.

Emma is a long-term Foster Carer of two boys with Caritas Care. She shares her reflection on fostering as a single Foster Carer; and the subsequent feelings of fulfilment it has brought to her life…

‘I think Caritas Care are fantastic. I chose to become a foster carer with Caritas Care because they genuinely care and want the best for you. They go above the care you would expect because they want you to have the best. I can ring anytime and ask them anything. The team at Caritas Care runs on the full throttle because of the pandemic; I feel for them; however, I know they do this because they want the best for the kids.’

‘In my first video with Caritas Care 2 years ago, I had my first placement with three children who were short term. After they left, I had a short break and then had three little boys for seven months. I now have siblings; two boys placed with me on a long-term placement. I learned that siblings were easier to settle, and they were. They had a unique bond together, which ultimately meant they were stronger together. I know that sometimes children, especially siblings, may take each other for granted, but they rely on each other. After all, they have been through the same experiences together, and each gave the other the consistency they needed’.

‘There is a stereotype of foster children; some people believe they have ‘bad ‘behaviour and cause lots of havoc; this makes me sad. Although there may be challenging behaviours to overcome, this is not who they are as a person. I have found the children I look after to be kind, creative, funny, and bright, with their own dreams and aspirations. People may have preconceptions of what ‘looked after’ children are like, but to me, these children are special who have a purpose in their lives unique to them, a hope, and a future.  These children have many barriers to get over, and they need the right help to overcome these barriers. Foster carers identify these barriers on a greater level because often we may have lived through our life barriers, been through trauma and overcome it. We can use our own experiences to create good for them’.

‘When a child’s armour of defence gets battered, we can forget a person under there has a unique personality. Also, sometimes, we find it hard not to take things personally. On my first placement, the eldest child was 15 when she came to stay short-term and hated being here. Subsequently, she did everything she could to let me know it too’.

‘My relationship with her now is different because she understands her relationship and life with me differed from the life she had before.  The relationship’s difference was what she found hard to cope with; not me, she now sees how much I cared and says she is grateful. She talks about the happy memories in a difficult time. She has reflected on her life parallels now she is back with her family she understands and feels the differences. It makes sense to her now that it was too much to process while living with me; however, the important thing is that she sees her stay with me as a positive and good thing; and she does’.

I am a practising Christian; my faith in God is the foundation of who I am.

‘I am a practising Christian, and my everyday foundation is my relationship with Jesus. My parents are Christians, but I chose to be a Christian and everything I do stems from this. Every decision I make in my life formed on my belief in an all-loving, all-knowing, just God who gave his life for me, so I trust Him with all my life. Knowing that everything is in His plan and His way is the best way for me, gives me peace in my day to day living and helps me get through the more challenging days. Becoming a foster carer was a step of faith in what I believe he called me to’.

‘Life is not without troubles, but God is always with me and helps me be more like Him, the best I can be to help the children I look after. I love God, and he loves me unconditionally, and he called on me to love others. I believe that his heart is particularly with the vulnerable, which is the heart he wants me to bring to fostering’.

‘I know that we can all choose to turn down the wrong path, and sometimes we do even though we know it may be wrong. However, God is gracious in my eyes, and he forgives when we turn to Him with it. I instil this with the children, yes, we will make mistakes, but we can learn from them. I think God knows that these are incredible children, wonderfully and beautifully made. They each have unique and gorgeous personalities; yes, sometimes they can have shaky times, but so can we all. We must remember; children have often had adults in their lives who have had massive sufferings themselves. These people needed support, sometimes they take it, and other times they do not, but often it is hard to see someone else bringing up their children’.

‘Caring for other people’s children is a daunting responsibility but watching them grow is a huge privilege. I do not think we give children enough credit or understand the depth of their thought processes either. One of the children I cared for previously was five, and she wanted to write a song that had just come into her head. She asked me to write it down for her; it was great. The song was about Jesus and love, and it came into her head from nowhere at mealtime when we were together. There was no way she could have copied it; however, I know she is a creative child, and the song came straight from her heart’.

Everyday things in our lives bring us closer together.

‘I find it amazing how things from my everyday life bring us closer together, often linked with their life before they came to me. The children I first looked after often went to a church kids club near their Mum’s home and I only found out this as we were walking past one day and they both said, ‘we used to go in there’. I took them in to say hi as they were keen to. The leaders said that they had been praying for the children because they had not come back and did not know what had happened to them. I told them they were with me, and everything had come full circle. These children are now back home living with their family; I am proud to care for them and support them for their family’.

‘I have two boys with me now, aged 3 and 7 years of age. They are a long-term placement and have previously been in foster care for a couple of years before coming to me. They had links established with a church their foster carers attended. They were excited about meeting people at my church who had been praying for us; it feels like we are meant to be together’.

‘Caritas support has been outstanding, especially during COVID. The social workers have been coming to see us every week when I had the three boys, and it has been a big help to us all.’

It is essential to recognise the importance of family relationships for children.

‘The difference between the short term and long-term placements was mainly the interaction with birth parents and families. In short term placements, there is a chance to get to know parents and build a connection with them; this is important for children. The eldest boy I have now talked about his parents, I have not met them yet, but he often speaks of his Mum. She is a significant person to him, and I respect this. I have said I am looking forward to meeting his Mum one day, which has made him happy.’

‘It is hard when you have children with you on short-term placement, and they return home or move on; you know you must let go, even though you do form attachments to them. However, as I have told them, they will always have a special place in my heart, and they have helped me learn so much’.

‘Another good thing with Caritas was the matching of children and me. I did not feel forced to accept referrals nor made to feel guilty if I said no. My social worker would often question my thought processes, but they never pushed me because they respected my opinion. It is hard to say no to a child when they are all in need. There are always more critical questions in my head. Will it work for us all; will I not be able to help the child? And my social workers are incredibly good at understanding this. The reason is they take time to get to know you. My social worker, Steph knows me as a person, and she knows the things I am capable of; even though I am not aware of them myself. We trust ourselves, and our communication together is always strong. This honesty makes a massive difference because it is real and open. As a result, she understands me, and it is easier to accept her reasoning because of the respect we have for each other. She would never push me to do something that she knew I would not be capable of because ultimately; it would affect the children’.

I knew that long-(term) fostering was having to make a long-term commitment to myself and the boys.

Having the boys long term made me realize I wanted to commit to them for life; they will always be my boys. I was chatting with them recently, and the eldest child asked me what would happen when they turned 18. He said, ‘I’m going to miss you when I’m 18.’ He is still seven years of age, and he looked sad when he spoke about it. I told him not to worry; ‘you are stuck with me for life, and even if you did decide to leave after you were 18, I would still be knocking on your door to look after you’. It is a big step making a long-term commitment because you are committing your life, but when I accepted them, I said to myself, ‘That’s it, this is the next 15 years of my life!’

I see it as at least 15 Christmas times together; the long-term joy is that I can plan holidays where the boys can come with me. With short term, you cannot plan anything because you honestly do not know if they will be with you. With long term, day to day routines is more straightforward, sometimes with short term contact can be up to five times a week which made planning activities and days out tricky. However, children in a short-term placement must have this consistent contact because often the hope is that they will go back home when the time is right.

When you are looking to offer long-term fostering and find the one; or two children in my case, some people do not understand why you do what you do. With Caritas, it is easier because the other foster carers all have shared experiences, and we all aim to support each other. Also, because some of us are local to each other, we can share the school runs. We can collect and bring the children from activities and share practical and everyday things, and the children love it.

My life with the boys is now complete.

For me, I feel I am now fulfilling God’s purpose for my life. One worry was that this life is a total contrast to my old life as a single person. Whereas before, I was often out socializing with friends, playing badminton, choir, attending church groups, I thought I may miss out on all these things because I was now a foster carer. However, although things are vastly different now, it is in a great way. I still have the friends I have; we have just adapted the way we do some things. I have made new friends, connected with more people and I do life with the boys, they have brought more adventure and joy.

I like the boys to feel loved. The other day the younger boy did something that he perhaps should not have done; his older brother said to him, ‘It’s okay, Emma will still love you even if you haven’t done the right thing, don’t worry.’ And he is right, that is what I will always do for them both.

Tonight, I had to spend an hour looking for the youngest child’s teddy because he could not sleep without it. I told him not to worry, I will find it for him, and I did. Even though he was fast asleep when I got back less than 20 minutes later, teddy would be there when he wakes up. I spent time finding it as it was important to him.

Before I started fostering, I saw people living life on full throttle and stuck in routines. I would say to them; step back, reflect on what you want in life, do not be scared to love, including yourselves as well as others.

Becoming a foster carer has enhanced my life, it is sometimes not easy, it can be challenging, but it is extremely rewarding. The most important decision you can make is who you are going to foster with; and for me, this was Caritas Care.

A note from Emma’s Supervising Social Worker

As I completed Emma’s Form F assessment and then became her supervising social worker once she was approved, I have gotten to know her well. It has been a pleasure to watch her grow in confidence and her skills and knowledge increase. She has I think at times surprised herself!

Emma is such a warm and thoughtful person who always thinks of others. One of her star qualities is that she has a real talent for working with birth families, demonstrating true empathy. She keeps in touch with the children from her previous placements who speak so highly of her.

Emma cared for a teenager, which was a little out of her comfort zone and at times tricky, but she was thrilled that the young person not only kept in touch but also thanked her for what Emma had done for her whilst she was in her care.

Emma uses supervision visits with myself to good effect and values the support of the wider team too. She knows no question is a silly one and to reach out should she need any support.  Emma treats every day as a foster carer as a school day and values the training on offer through Caritas Care. Emma is a complete star and much valued and appreciated foster carer.

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