Who was to know that a brief encounter would change my direction in life, a life so far from what I knew, such unfamiliar territory. Every minute of every day we make choices – some good, some bad – but without out these life changing decisions, without being taken from our comfort zones, we learn little about ourselves. Children are excellent teachers.
Where do I start? Always good to start at the beginning …
The truth of the matter is we are all a product of our childhoods. We cook like our mothers did and act in the same way. It may not be a mother you have learnt your behaviours from but it will always be from an influential character. In my case it was my NAN, my maternal grand mother – a strong East End lady who worked three jobs, had 5 children and was left practically isolated when her husband committed suicide.
There were no flies on HILDA. No one crossed her. She held everything together. From this very person, I learnt never to give up, no matter how bad things got, tomorrow was another day. And how right she was! My strength of character came from her. My determination and courage followed.
I worked hard at 16. Left school, worked every minute of every day until finally I was flying around Europe as a sales executive for Gloria Vanderbilt, the first designer Jeans on the market. With my American Express card and endless flights, I had achieved more than most in my class and loved every minute.
No one believed I would ever have children….in fact, I doubted I was cut out for motherhood. If I had a crystal ball, I would have run a mile!
The reason I wrote this down is because we all make plans and the plans we tend to make are safe and familiar, uncertainty scares us. Falling pregnant, although planned, lead to chaos as three months after my daughter Georgia was born, I fell pregnant with Lydia. In fact, I was pregnant for two years! Having two babies in two years left me with no option but to give up work.
My plans were to wait until they both attended school and then go back into fashion. Now, this statement leads me back to the top of the page and my brief encounter.
How I began my fostering journey
All of my children will tell you I am annoying in many ways, especially because I talk to everyone – every Tom, Dick and Harry. A normal shop at the supermarket could take hours depending on how many people I bump into, hence why the kids avoid coming out with me.
Well… their loss, I tell them! Connections are vitally important and in the time they spend on Instagram or Snap Chat, I actually speak to people. What a terrible shame that we as a society look down rather than up.
I was sitting in a restaurant with Georgia and Lydia and struck up a conversation with a young, beautiful lady on the next table. She seemed stressed, with a baby crying and a toddler wanting to go to the loo.
“I will help you,” I ins
isted. “Leave the baby and the older child with us.” I pushed my chair in the middle. “You run to the loo.”
Within no more than 20 minutes, she explained that two were, in fact, fostered.
“I would love to do that,” I smiled.
I did not know where she lived or her name, but she took my number and suggested she would pass it onto her social worker and that very simple act of kindness lead to a 30 year span of fostering, looking after over 200 wonderful children.
If I hadn’t spoken to her, who knows how my life would have panned out. That is something I always wonder.
“I am a foster carer!”
Fostering isn’t for the faint hearted, so please do not read this with rose-coloured glasses, but would I have wanted to do anything else …. definitely not!
Thrown into a world I knew little about, I cannot think of any other path that would have taught me so very much about life.
I have sat around many dinner tables discussing careers and what we aspire too, our dreams and goals. I sit listening to their stories. I have mastered the avoidance technique, as I mainly get the same response.
I am a fitness instructor, I am a fi
nancial advisor, I am a head hunter, the conversation switches from one to another. “I am a foster carer!” I shout quite loudly, as they all look round.
What normally follows is an awkward silence with, “Oh that’s nice!” Nice isn’t how I would describe it.
The challenges and reality of being a foster carer
A profession or a lifestyle is now up for debate, as a person who has no knowledge of the care system would maybe see this as a glorified babysitter or a complacent child minder. I forgive those with such thoughts, as I’ve seen this look on so many faces, but who would really know what goes on in this world of scared, frightened, lost children unless you choose to accept it.
We all can live in our comfortable lives without the knowledge of suffering. That’s fine. I am not here to preach or be seen as some kind of hero. I truly do feel so uncomfortable with praise, something I need to work on. But what I will say is the shortage of foster carers is real.
Of 12 million children in England, in
2021, around 1% are in care (73,000) and 53,000 are on a child protection plan. Most children in the care of local authorities are under a full care order. Over 9,000 foster carers are needed in the UK, with an overwhelming amount being the need for teenage carers.
The country is in crises for people to come forward and give these children stability, courage and positivity in their lives. They need someone not to give up on them, to believe in them and push them forward to adult life.
I am, without doubt, many things to many people but my priority is to care for a child, who, by no fault of their own has significant voids in their little lives. How short our childhood is. We are all entitled to have a happy one. When children feel there is little possibility of a positive future, what I refer to as the poverty of hope, they are left very vulnerable and open to sexual exploitation and criminality.
I should say at this point that I could never do what I do alone. All too often, the families get little recognition. We are a foster family who open our homes, but more important
ly our hearts, to less fortunate children.
The many roles of a foster carer
I am a therapist without the letters after my name. I am a mum in every possible way. I am a nurse when they are ill, having mastered diagnosing every illness possible, without the attendance of university. You name it, measles, chickenpox, ear infections and by far the most common, TLC (tender loving care) an illness that pops up quite often when they need a cuddle.
I am a teacher, without the qualification, reading a
t bed times, memorising the timetables and liaising with teachers. I am a sports personality, without any knowledge of biology or football teams, spending hours by the side lines in the pouring rain, never giving up on their dreams.
I am their friend when no one else likes them. So when I stand tall and say quite loudly (as no one can ever say I’m quiet), “I’m a FOSTER CARER!”, my job description is endless and my heart is humongous because in life, my friends I live by the motto, “Follow your heart, because in the end, love is all that matters.”
10 things I’ve learnt about surviving being a foster carer:
- Warmth and kindness always shines through. Smile. Because those who don’t smile back need it the most.
- Every single child that comes into your home will be scared (Wouldn’t you be?!) Their fear will empty out in a million different ways.
- No matter what journey they have travelled, they will always love their family. Home is home.
- Never go to bed on an argument…in your darkest moments, tomorrow is another day.
- Words are cheap but actions are powerful. Show them you love them unconditionally ……. the simplest of gestures speak thousands of words.
- There are always reasons for behaviours. It is about you finding them.
- You will be many things…. a carer, a nurse, a friend, a coach, a teacher, a therapist, a night whisperer. Be prepared to wear many hats.
- Educate yourself beyond every comfort zone you can imagine because to wear all these hats, education is powerful.
- Never judge…never think you hold the answers. Sometimes there aren’t any. It’s called acceptance.
- Love truly conquers all.