Category Archives: News

We’re going to be on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire!

BBC Radio Cambridgeshire talks fostering with Eastern Fostering Services

BBC Radio Cambridgeshire will be interviewing Eastern Fostering Services on Friday 23rd March.

Jeremy Sallis will be talking to Jo Elliot along with one of our Foster carers. They will discuss the fostering crisis in Cambridgeshire and take a close look at the realities of fostering.

You can tune in at 95.75 FM, 96FM, Freeview channel 722 or online at

We’ll be on air during the Jeremy Sallis show at around 12.15pm.


Becoming a foster carer – how do I apply?

Becoming a foster carer. How do I decide who with?

Once you’ve decided to foster, the next decision is which agency to foster through. We advise that you do your research and see which fostering agencies operate in your local area. If you live in Cambridgeshire, Essex, Suffolk or Norfolk, you need to make sure that your Fostering provider is easy to get to and will be able to support you effectively.

Eastern Fostering Services have a head office in Suffolk and are therefore able to support foster carers in Essex, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Norfolk.

You need to get a good feel for the fostering agency. For example, how foster carer focussed are they? What do their foster carers say about them? Have they spent time talking to you about fostering and getting to know your needs and circumstances? What support do they offer? Did they mention training and developing your fostering career?

When you become a foster carer you will need good support from your fostering provider, therefore it is critical that you are convinced you will get this from your earliest conversations with them.

Request a home visit.

The first stage in applying to become a foster carer is to request a home visit.

At Eastern Fostering Services, we are really happy to do this so we will send two of our team to your house. You can ask all your fostering questions and get a feel for us as a team.

If, after this home visit, you want to go ahead and apply to be a foster carer, we will go through the application form with you.

The fostering application form

We use the application form to gather information about you and your partner if you have one. It allows us to understand a bit about your background and your motivation and timing to foster and, as a result, get a good sense of who you are.

There are no right or wrong answers!

Once the form is complete, we will ask you if you want to go ahead and foster. We will confirm that your fostering application has been accepted. There are very few reasons why an application form would not be accepted. Indeed early conversations with your fostering agency would reveal any problems or concerns from either side.

And now the fun starts.

We will allocate you an assessor who will be responsible for producing an assessment of you. This is called a form F and will be the subject of our next blog.

If you live in Essex, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire or Norfolk and would like to know more about becoming a foster carer, please call us on 01206 299775 or email us at

Becoming a foster carer – where do I start?

Take that first step..

Nationally, there is a real shortage of foster carers. The situation is no different in Essex, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire where Eastern Fostering Services are looking for families to foster. If you’re reading this, you’ve already taken the first, important step. So what now?

Do your research

There are lots of independent fostering agencies and Local Authorities with whom you can foster; therefore check where the most local providers are, visit their websites, read their FAQS, look their Facebook pages.

The Fostering Network is a good source of information.

Get talking

Our Foster carers say that what they love about us is the quality and quantity of support they get. Talk to the fostering providers that you’ve identified and get a feel for how well they will support you.

Ask to speak to other foster carers  – any good fostering provider should encourage you to do this.

Look out for Fostering Events in Essex, Suffolk or Cambridgeshire and make sure you get to ask all the questions you have. Our next event is at The Grafton Centre, Cambridge on 6th and 7th April.

Request a visit

Fostering agencies and providers will be happy to see you in your home. Arrange for a home visit from a couple of fostering providers. They may want to look round your house but they shouldn’t expect you to be pristine so please don’t worry about this! Whilst fostering agencies will be gathering information about you during this visit, don’t forget to get as much information from them too. You will work closely with fostering professionals so it is important that you like and trust them.

Make your choice

Decide on which fostering provider you’d like to foster with then call them and tell them you would like to apply. At this point the fostering agency or provider will be able to talk about how to apply to foster. We’ll also be covering this in our next blog!

If you live in Essex, Suffolk or Cambridgeshire and would like to foster, come to one of our Fostering Events, call us on 01206 299775 or email us at



Moon Landing – Part One

I’ve often thought that, for our foster son, coming to live with us must have been like being plucked from your bed and finding yourself firmly ensconced on the moon. This is not because we are particularly strange per se but because of all the foreignness we came wrapped in.
Think about it. One day you are with your family and the next you are on a journey through who-knows-where to who-knows-what. Up to this point you’ve only ever known home, you’ve only ever known a life manacled by war and violence; you’ve had to live your life in hiding. You’ve lost family members, friends, freedom. But you’ve also had the comfort of a loving family, the familiarities of home: the language, the traditions, the food, the festivals, the way things are done. And then one day it is all lost. Everything familiar, good and bad, wiped out. Leaving a smudged and confusing tableau like ink wiped hastily from a whiteboard. A new narrative begins to write itself full of unfamiliar words, unimaginable scenes, loneliness, loss, suspicion, a new violence in an alien setting. I wonder if you’d long for the familiar fear rather than this new one? But it’s too late. What’s done is done and you have no choice but to accept it and move on. It is beyond the remit of your control.
I was mindful of all of this when our lad arrived. How out of place he was. How difficult it would be to trust us. Did our foreign tongue sound harsh to his ears? Did our safety and comfort overwhelm or offend him? Judging by the look in his eyes, what he felt was a paralysing terror.
Grand design
What preoccupied me in those early days, in addition to attending to his immediate practical needs, was how we were going to help him rebuild his life from the ruins in which he found himself. It struck me that a new, healthy life had to be built on two foundations: a reconnection to the familiar, the loss of which left him floundering, rudderless. And a mapping out of the new so that it would not be so foreign and frightening for him. But how?
As a woman of faith one of the first affinities I felt for him was an understanding of how faith anchors you. I bought him a prayer mat and a Qur’an. I knew that he could not read or understand Arabic (the language that the Qur’an is written in) so I sourced a version that had both the Arabic and a translation in his own language. He later told me how much comfort he had drawn from this book during his long, dark, sleepless nights. It was obvious that he clung gratefully to the rituals of his religion, something he had been unable to do meaningfully on his journey. It was something familiar at last. We asked our Muslim friends to recommend a good mosque and we began taking him there on Fridays. He was still a fish out of water but he could dip his toe into a pool that held glimmers of the known.

Finding friends
Having worked with children who had had the same experiences as our foster son, I had existing relationships with some other lads from his home country. We introduced him to them and slowly our lad began to talk to them and form a bond with them. These friends have all lost brothers, cousins, parents and when our lad tells me that his friends are brothers to him, I understand that this is no simile. The bond they have is familial and tribal. It is vital to him.
But what is also vital is that as his foster carer, I need to be the safety net for him. I built my own relationships with his friends’ carers. We were able to keep an eye on them from a distance, keep track of where they were going and with whom, share concerns, put one another’s’ minds at rest. We were able to invite the boys into our houses and get to know them better. And when friendships developed outside of this group, I made sure I had addresses, phone numbers, Facebook profiles. Our lad’s social worker was able to go out and meet his friends and ensure he was safe. For it was always clear that his longing for home, for the familiar, for the shared history left our foster son vulnerable in ways he couldn’t really grasp.
These points of reference provided something of great value to him in the early days and continue to be his “go to” when things are tough. But it is no good giving someone a map of planet earth and asking them to use it to navigate the moon. We needed to work on familiarising him with the new.

A Journey into Foster Caring – Eastern Fostering Services


The view of Narnia


This is the first post from Lucy Stevens who, along with her family, is embarking on the process of becoming a foster carer. She will be chronicling the story of her journey via this regular blog.


I’m on a journey into foster caring. This journey of mine is a little different from the norm. For me, it’s a bit like the C.S.Lewis book, ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.’ For those who are unfamiliar with the story, the main character, Lucy stumbles upon a whole new world on the other side of a wardrobe she is hiding in. The world she ends up in, Narnia, is full of new, life-changing things to discover. The way is littered with potential pitfalls and dangers. Lucy enters Narnia for the first time on her own before eventually taking her family with her, in the form of her brothers and sister. Together they are shaped by the events of the story and eventually they thrive.


As I write this very first blog, I’m probably in that place that Lucy found herself in near the beginning of the book- I’m in the wardrobe, with one hand parting the row of coats, aware that the air on the other side is different: fresher, bracing, compelling. My fingers have brushed that first fir frond that tells me there is a new world to discover on the other side. You see, I’ve been working at Eastern Fostering Services (EFS), an independent fostering agency, for about two years now. During this time, I have very much been on this side of said wardrobe, but it’s been a wardrobe with a view. 


A bit about me


I’m Lucy and I have two boys and a husband. In the days before this rather messy, rather boy-heavy, at times rather smelly but equally rather wonderful existence, I worked for various small businesses, helping them to grow.


Where are you going? Come back. There’s a point and I’m getting to it, I promise.


When we had the boys, my husband and I decided that I would stay at home while he worked in London. I loved every minute of this but as someone who likes to be busy, I knew that I had to use that time wisely. I started to write. Then I did a writing degree. Then I wrote some more. Once both boys went off to school, I started to run creative writing and storytelling classes for the children at their school. Soon I knew that I wanted to do this for children who didn’t necessarily have all the opportunities that these kids did. Around the same time I was asked by someone I knew (who runs EFS) if I would consider being on their Panel. I was made up. After I’d been doing this for a while, I asked if I might run some story making sessions with the agency’s looked after children. EFS is a highly creative, child-centred agency and they were delighted to have another form of direct children’s work. So effectively I had two hats: panel and direct children’s worker. After about a year, my husband decided he really didn’t want to work in London any more (who can blame him?) and opted for a PhD in plant science instead (as you do). This life-changing decision coincided with EFS asking me if I would be willing to put on one more ‘hat’. They employed me to help them recruit foster carers.


Now, EFS is a small agency and as Sister Sledge once declared: we are family. We all muck in and we all share in the ups and downs. Throughout my time at EFS, I’ve built relationships with the children, the carers and the EFS staff. I’ve felt both the elation and the heartache of these three groups. I’ve seen fostering families flourish. I’ve seen children happy and settled. I’ve listened as carers have bared their deepest fears for the children in their care. I’ve laughed with our social workers and cried with them too. I’ve seen frightened children. I’ve seen exhausted carers. I’ve seen how tough it is for everyone concerned. I’ve been furious. I’ve been sad. I’ve whooped for joy. I’ve had my face covered in shaving foam and Cheerios – don’t ask. At times I’ve been unable to think of anything else but the children we exist for. In short, I’ve fallen in love with this bold, new world.


Stepping through the wardrobe


And so I’m heading through the wardrobe into Narnia. The Stevens’ have decided to foster. Lucy made her first foray into Narnia on her own. After two years of gazing, open-mouthed between the coats, this Lucy is going with her family at her side. And you’re invited too. Every step of the way, from application to awaiting the arrival of a child (we’re hoping we get that far!) You’ll see our hopes and aspirations; share in our triumphs and our failures. We might encourage you in your journey or we might put you off, but either way we’d love to have you along for the ride. If you’re up for it?



The Experience of Going Through The Fostering Process – Eastern Fostering Services


Home sweet home


Last week I went on a home visit to a lady who had enquired about fostering through our agency. She’d been on our website, liked what she’d seen and dropped us an email. I’d been the one to call her and answer her questions. I’d been the one to book in a suitable time to visit her at home to talk in more depth. And, along with my colleague, I’d been the one to go to her lovely home. For an hour and a half we chatted and she asked us lots of questions, which we answered honestly. We gave her a realistic picture of what she might expect from fostering. We also asked her lots of questions about her family, their experiences and motivations. We’re not sure if she’ll apply to foster with us but we left her with an application form and lots to think about.


The tables have turned


The following day I had a little visit of my own.


Our home visit was booked in for 1.30pm. My husband, Jim, rocked up at 1.28pm. He is the master of cutting it fine. But wait. Was I nervous? Did this walking aimlessly up and down the hallway qualify as pacing? Yep, I was definitely verging on the anxious. I picked up the list of questions that Ben and Theo, my two sons, had helped me put together the night before.


“What if the child doesn’t like us?” Theo, aged six, had asked with a look of great consternation.


“What if they can’t understand what we’re saying? How are we going to communicate?” asked Ben, aged nine, clearly thinking about the nature of child we’d like to welcome into our family.


You see, we feel we’d like to welcome an unaccompanied asylum seeking child and this comes with a list of very specific questions as well as the more generic ones.


“What if they’re not nice to us?”


“Will we have to change the house?”


“What school will they go to?”


Once the boys had asked their various questions I had one for them: “How might a child feel, coming into a strange, new family?”


“Terrified,” suggested Theo. “Very anxious,” said Ben. “They might be trembly.” “Their heart would feel like a stone.”


It was fast becoming a competition.


Time to see what Jim wanted to know.


“The facts.”




In other words, how long will it take to be approved? How does the referral process work? How long before a child is placed with us? What is the matching process? What support is there? In short, all the questions I had breezily answered at the home visit the day before.


The reality hits home


Sitting at our dining room table with our cups of tea, listening as the home visitor, Elle, answered Jim’s questions, I was struck by the oddness of it all. I started to ask a few questions of my own. Let’s be clear, I wasn’t asking questions as some sort of gesture to prove that I didn’t think I knew it all, or as a mere show of solidarity to Jim, who knows relatively little about the technicalities of fostering. The only way I can describe what happened is to say that the answers to all those questions suddenly morphed from something flat and one dimensional, something that trips off the tongue to something concrete and tangible and very much 3D. Suddenly, it was about our boys, our home, our routine, our sanctuary. And I was both disturbed and reassured to feel just how much difference that made.


Of course, we also had some additional questions around how I can foster and continue to work at the agency. I’ve said before that the agency is small, energetic, creative and willing to think outside the box. There should be no reason why I can’t continue to work there. But we have to make sure there is no conflict of interest. Elle is keen to set out ways to make sure that our information is kept private at work. And of course I’ll have to stop being on Panel. Lots to think about and work out. But we know it’s all possible if everyone is willing.


Warts and all


So, if we go ahead, it looks like we’ll have an independent form F assessor to take us through the assessment process. I listened as Elle explained that she’d probably make about eight visits and would interview us separately and together. She explained the background checks that are needed and the work that will go into presenting us as a family to panel using the infamous form F. I could tell Jim was thinking, ‘eight sessions! My life’s really not that interesting.’ I know from experience that that’s what they all say!


But I was thinking something different. It’s funny because I thought I might feel a bit odd about sharing my life, warts and all, to a group of people I’ve worked with for two years. I’ve read many a form F and I know that a good one leaves no stone unturned. But I also know that our panel is made up of people who are human, who are warm, who are real and who want real families to look after these children. So what I was thinking was that there is no other group of people I would trust more with my warts. So to speak.


At EFS, we aim for around three to four months from application to approval at panel. So we could be approved and ready to go by February. Then it will be a question of waiting for the right match. As I said, we’re looking to welcome a very specific child into our family. It is crucial for that child and for our birth children that we give the arrangement the best possible chance for success. Because Ben and Theo are relatively young, we will most likely need to be patient for that child to come along. It could be a long wait. There was a twinkle in Elle’s eye when she placed the application form on the table.


“Well?” I asked Jim when she’d gone. “Let’s go for it,” he said. Yes, let’s.


Foster Caring – The Application Form – Eastern Fostering Services


I’m not going to lie to you. The application form? It’s a brute.



My brother has a bit of a phobia of application forms and if he caught sight of this specimen, he’d be running to hide behind the sofa quicker than he did when he first saw Michael Jackson’s Thriller.



How have I gone two years working for Eastern Fostering Services without truly studying the application form? Careless, that’s what I’ve been. Well, this week I’ve had my eyes well and truly opened. There I was serenely thumbing through the application form when my eyes fell upon four relatively harmless words: Every. Address. Since. Birth. For about three seconds my thumbing continued unabated until… What?! You want what?! Every address since birth?! This filled me with horror.



I barely knew where I lived when I was living there! Such things were a mere distraction to the real business at hand – having a good time. All the time. Remember the details now, over 25 years on? You have got to be kidding me!



Apparently they are not kidding me.



A trip down Google lane



All I can say is thank God for old friends, Google maps and postcode finder. Also thank God that what started as the world’s most arduous task actually turned out to be a lovely little virtual trip down memory lane. I (virtually) stood outside many a front door that I had long since forgotten about and reminisced about what a great time I’d had.



In contrast, I began thinking of the address histories of many looked after children. How on earth can many of these children keep track of where they’ve lived? Many of them have moved so many times that by age 10, it’s not impossible for a child to have moved more times in a single year than I have in my entire life. That shut me up.



So I completed my part of the form, giving all the required information: details of employers, details for referees, experience of volunteering or working with children etcetera, etcetera. Then I handed the form to my husband, Jim. I watched as he casually thumbed through the form and I counted: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 (he reads more slowly than me)…. “They want what? Since birth?”



I left him to it and chuckled my way into the kitchen. Two days later, Jim finished the application form and I gave it a good once over. Something towards the end of the form caught my eye. “Jim,” I casually called out to him. “I never knew you’d been arrested ….”



Arrested development



Well, EFS want real families and that is definitely what they’re going to get with us. We’ve made mistakes. The thing is, we haven’t really thought about those mistakes for years. Our mistakes were made privately. Stuff happened. We learnt, we moved on. We did stupid things like get drunk, act like a prat and get ourselves arrested (well Jim did). But those things didn’t follow us everywhere and we weren’t constantly reminded of them. In fact I don’t think you could say that Jim was ever held back because of his mistakes, and neither was I. And there’s no photographic evidence either.



Not like teens today, who grow up in an online arena where their mistakes are catalogued and shared and preyed upon. Not like the young people EFS look after, who are under additional scrutiny by social workers, therapists, carers, teachers. These are kids whose criminal records really might count against them in a way Jim’s never did. It’s another sobering thought. Pardon the pun…. So as I hand in the application form, that’s what I’m hoping we can provide: a safe place to mess up. A safe place to make a mistake and move on from it. Safe for the child we take in. Safe for our children. Safe for us. We know we’ll make plenty of mistakes along the way but that’s how we’ve always done it.


An Assessor Calls – Eastern Fostering Services


An assessor calls… 

It’s Saturday morning and the house is now (reasonably) tidy. This is unusual for any day of the week but particularly for a Saturday. Today, however, is no ordinary Saturday – today is the day our assessor is coming.


The assessment form is a document compiled by an assessor (who is usually also a social worker) which presents you as foster carers to the approval panel. Once approved, the document is also used to present you to the local authority when you’re being put forward as a potential carer for a child. It highlights your motivations, your family dynamics, your strengths and your weaknesses. Our assessor will visit us approximately eight times to gather all the information she needs to present us accurately and will be asking us many in-depth questions about our lives, loves and limitations.


She starts straight off by asking us about our motivations for fostering: Why? Why now? What do you hope to offer? What do you expect the impact to be?


I begin by explaining what has happened to bring us to this point. I explain that I have worked at Eastern Fostering Services, an independent agency, for a while and that I have wanted to do more. I explain that as a couple, our faith calls us to feed the hungry and clothe the poor, to provide a refuge to others in stormy times. As we want to foster unaccompanied, asylum seeking children, I explain how Jim and I have been moved by the plight of adults and children fleeing their countries of origin. How we have lamented the likelihood that this will all be old news soon, once the media has a new focus, how many people will effectively be left to rot. I explain that we had to act. Not just a short term, sticking plaster approach but something long term and tangible – something practical. I also explain that it was only once Jim realised you could be so niche in terms of the profile of child you foster, that the conversation had turned more serious.


Dear Jim…


What held you back from considering fostering before then?’ the assessor asked Jim.


I mentioned last time that Jim has a wicked sense of humour. I also told you how we met at work. What I omitted to tell you was that Jim was very nearly fired from this job when he set up his own internal “Dear Deidre” advice column. Staff could email Jim with spoof dilemmas and Jim would advise. Needless to say, the “advice” Jim elected to give was not always received in the spirit he intended. Sometimes his humour is a little out there. The Dear Deidre debacle was one such occasion. Watching Jim prepare to answer this question is a bit like watching the Dear Deidre truck collide with a wheelchair bound pedestrian. I know he’s about to come out with something leftfield and I have no way of stopping it. I can only watch.


‘I don’t like other people’s children very much,’ he says.


See what I mean?


Thankfully, Jim has learnt to read people’s reactions a little over the years since Deidregate and he quickly claws back the ground. Jim comes to life as he talks about what he feels he could offer an asylum seeking child. He talks about how much he enjoys tutoring A Level students and how a lot of this work is around building confidence and equipping young people to solve problems themselves. He talks about his passion for science, for carpentry, for coaching sports. His voice betrays the fact that he likes other people’s children perfectly adequately.


Not the Von Trapps


I explain that as a family, we are far from perfect. There are many things that we could probably do better as parents. But one thing I know we can offer is a stable, structured and consistent base and that this will be provided in the context of a loving family. And that’s the essence of what we have to offer: love. Love is bandied around a lot as if it’s something that’s easy to do. During my time at EFS, I have seen that it is not easy to love every child. I am aware that a child may well come to us who is tricky to love. But I also know that love is not just about the heart. Love is about doing. Love is practical and consistent. It’s about perseverance; about sticking with it. It’s warm and it’s safe. And sometimes it’s a little leftfield.


‘You poohead!’ comes a scream from upstairs as I draw my impassioned speech to a close.


Ben, aged nine and Theo, aged seven are swiftly given a talking to. But the reality is that they have not been to football this morning and are therefore like tightly wound springs. I don’t particularly want to shout at my children in front of the assessor. Instead, I turn and give her a look that says: This is us. More Von Krapp than Von Trapp. In that look, I try and communicate a little thumbs up emoticon but I resist the urge to actually extend said digits.


Thankfully, the assessor is warm and friendly and does not make us feel that we’re under scrutiny (though of course we are). She allows the boys to give her a tour of the house so that she can do her health and safety check. Her check reveals a consistent lack of both. Theo has a cold and his constant old-man-hacking cough follows them around the listed home we live in. The safety glass is conspicuous in its absence. Medicines are not locked away. There is no fire blanket. We’ll need to fix some of these things and a few others but that’s ok. It’s much less painful than I was expecting.


A quick check of our birth and marriage certificates, MOT certificate, insurance documents and driving licenses and we’re done.


We’re told that we’ll be getting some homework to do over Christmas. We’ll be sent questions which we’ll need to provide written answers to. We’ll then discuss these in more depth at her next visit.


This is good. Writing we can do. For one thing, since Deidregate, when Jim writes, he has at his disposal, a very effective editing system.


Her name is Lucy.


Winking emoticon…