Interview with one of our amazing foster parents, Kathy
We are continuing with our series of interviews with Foster Parents and staff, to find out more about what they do and what motivates them to do it. Interviewee number 2 is one of our amazing Foster Parents, Kathy. She has been fostering with our sister organisation Diverse Care (together we make The Hazel Project) for 7 years and has looked after over 20 children and young people.
What did you do before you fostered?
I came to fostering quite late. I worked in a factory which made lighters and jewelry for 32 years. Then I worked as a carer in a nursing home for 5 years directly before I became a foster parent.
Had you always wanted to foster?
We’d always thought about it. My husband and I took it for granted that we would have children but after years of trying, including traumatic rounds of IVF and medical complications resulting in a hysterectomy, we realised it wasn’t to be. Although we didn’t have our own children, we always had children around us. I'm the eldest of 6 and have 37 nieces and nephews who are often here and we’ve always enjoyed spending time with them. We also ran a majorettes troupe which kept us busy.
My husband, Bernie was made redundant at 59. Just by chance, we noticed an advert for fostering on the back of our supermarket till receipt. I rang Diverse Care, my now fostering organisation, who had placed the advert, just to see what they’d say. We thought that we’d be too old to start fostering but Sally, Diverse Care’s Registered Manager said that we weren’t and arranged an initial meeting with us. From there, we signed on to do the Skills to Foster course and did our “Form F” with Jade, our assessing social worker, which is what you need to present to the panel to become a Foster Parent.
What was the assessment process like?
I quite enjoyed it. My husband had always been quite a private person so I probably found out more about him during those couple of months than I had the whole time that we were married! A lot of things fell into place for him as you have to go right back to your childhood. It makes you realise what has made you into the person that you are.
How about going to panel?
I hated panel, I still hate it now (Foster Parents go to panel periodically, a bit like an appraisal). It feels like I'm right back at school outside the headmistress’s office. I used to be there a lot at school. Even though I know that there’s nothing to worry about, I still hate it.
Is fostering what you imagined it to be?
I didn't have any firm expectations. I’d say that it’s one of the hardest but most rewarding jobs you could ever do.
At the start, my husband Bernie was the main Foster Parent, after having been made redundant from his job in central heating, I was still working in the nursing home at the time. We had our first foster child come to live with us and Bernie became ill. We didn’t know it but he had lung cancer. It was a complete surprise, a situation that no-one could have predicted. He went downhill rapidly. We started fostering in November and Bernie’s funeral was the following February. That was 6 years ago now. At his funeral, I spoke about the fact that during those last few months of his life, he had finally lived how he’d always wanted, doing things like the school run and taking our foster child swimming, I was glad that he’d been able to do all of that.
After Bernie died, I had to figure out what I should do next. I sat and spoke to my family, we are all very close. I spoke to Sally, Diverse Care’s Registered Manager and I decided to continue fostering by myself. I started off offering respite (looking after children for short periods of time) and I did a lot of training. Then, when I was ready, I had my first full time foster child, a 15 year old girl who had been in a residential care home, and I haven’t looked back.
How many children have you fostered?
I’ve looked after over 20 children, some for a few days as respite, some for much longer.
As a single female Foster Parent, although you have to be flexible and open, I look at referrals a bit more closely. I don’t take teen boys, that wouldn’t be right for me. But some I look at and think, yes I can do this. I also have to consider my nieces and nephews, my whole family, and my community too.
A while back, I was asked if I would be interested in supporting a young girl and her toddler for a 28 day placement and I found my niche. I’ve now provided 6 parent and child placements so far (Parent and child fostering involves supporting parents to learn how to look after their children in your home, with the aim of preventing children going into care in the first place). I like all aspects of fostering but parent and child work is unique. Each situation is different, the majority of the Mums that I’ve supported have gone on to live independently in the community with their child, one baby has been adopted and one baby has gone on to live with family members instead of Mum. With each of those situations, you have a different role. You do get attached to the babies but, with the adoption for instance, I could see that the adoptive parents wanted the baby so much and I knew that they will give him the life that he deserves; that makes it easier. Most of them keep in touch, which helps me to realise that I have done a good job. They call me for advice, they must trust me enough to choose to call me.
How do you remain so strong?
I do worry about everyone that I've cared for. It’s not always easy. Lots of the parents have mental health problems and I know that they are vulnerable. I call the crisis team if needed and speak to the social workers regularly to keep them updated. It’s important to keep a log of everything that happens. It’s also important to do your job and be honest, no matter how much you bond.
You have to be able to take things in your stride. Challenging situations are part and parcel of the job. Virtually all of the people that you foster will have some sort of issues, they’ve all suffered trauma.
The team (Diverse Care) are always there for you. I ring my Fostering Supervisor or the office or call out of hours if I need support, advice or just to vent. Danni is my Fostering Supervisor, I can call her with any problems. You can also sit in focus groups with the other Foster Parents and you hear that someone else has been there and done it.
You have to have a life as well. I have a great bunch of friends who I've known for years and years, they’re a great support and we often meet for lunch.
What makes you good at fostering?
I’m very easy going, I go with the flow. I don't set too many rules, I just don’t see the point. The least you set the better, just make sure the ones you do set are the important ones. I also take things day by day. I’m just doing what I've set out to do.
It helps that I can relate to the young people. I hated school from the day I started to the day I left. I would do anything in my power to get out of it. I had a better relationship with my Dad than my Mum, so I can understand that too. I know it doesn’t help to shout or raise your voice with children. My Nan was my main carer and she died when I was 13. She had cancer and was bedridden. I helped care for her while she was ill. I never thought anything could hurt like the pain I felt when she died, then losing my Dad in my 40’s was even worse and when my husband Bernie died, well, nothing can top that pain. So for these kids, even though their parents may not have died, they are still going through that grieving process, they’ve been taken away from everything they’ve ever known. Even if they’ve not been treated the way they should have, they still love their family.
I was the oldest so when my Nan died, I suddenly had 5 younger siblings to look after. I got them up in the morning, came home from school at lunch to peel potatoes for tea before going back to school for the afternoon. It gave me that bit of understanding and resilience.
What do you like about Diverse Care as an organisation?
When Bernie died, I couldn't have wished for better people than those at Diverse Care. They phoned every day to make sure that I was ok. When the family got together to discuss Bernie's funeral, my brother said that Bernie wouldn't have wanted flowers. Instead, everyone gave money for memory boxes for the kids in care. The children decorated their own memory box and had a place to put their treasured belongings and memories.
What's the hardest part of fostering?
Not always knowing the child's Social Worker (the social worker who is attached to the child's local authority), they always seem to change. My child's Social Worker has been off sick since February (now April) and I've never even met her. And sometimes sitting in meetings, you aren’t always treated as a professional by some of the people there, even in your own home (something that Diverse Care are working hard to change). You have to put it out of your head and listen to everyone. You have to have the child's best interests at heart - they are the forgotten ones and you have to speak out where needed. You can’t please everyone.
Children leaving is also hard. I always buy a little keepsake when they leave, a silver bracelet saying “cute as a button” or a picture frame saying “Twinkle twinkle little star. I made a prayer and there you are”. I’ll cry and my friends know to leave me alone for a while and then they all call and check that I'm ok.
What do your friends and family think about you fostering?
I’m close to my nieces and nephews of all ages. They know all of the rules, my 9 year old nephew will say to a new foster child “please don’t run away, the police will have to search everywhere for you and there's so much paperwork”!
I’ve been lucky enough to have great friends and family. I’ve enjoyed over 60 years of friendship with Carole, she is a great support network for me, even though she says “I could never do that job” she pretty much does as she’s always there for me and any foster children if I need her. She will look after foster children if I need to pop to the cemetery on Bernie’s birthday or our anniversary - it wouldn’t be right to take the kids there with me, though she always says “thank Christ you’re back” when I return from my trip.
What would your message be to anyone thinking of fostering?
You can't do it for the money, it’s not a job like that. But you are at home all day and you really could give someone a life, a better life. You have to be non-judgemental, that's very important. You also have to be good at biting your tongue and being diplomatic.
I think that fostering is a bit like a jigsaw puzzle. Your job as a Foster Parent is to put that child back together, piece by piece. You may never get to finish the puzzle, but if you put at least a couple of pieces in, you've done your job.