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#ProudToFoster – Tracey

Hi, I’m Tracey. I’m from Suffolk. I’m a single mother to 3 adult sons and I’ve been fostering for 2 years.

Fostering was something I always wanted to do. I’d worked with troubled teens for most of my career and recognised that a warm, nurturing home could really have an impact on the lives of the most vulnerable.

I raised my own 3 sons to adulthood, and through work as a Behaviour Mentor at an Upper School, had been able to support teens,so I knew that I had plenty of relevant experience. Once my boys had flown the nest, there was nothing to hold me back. I talked at length with my sons and my boyfriend, who were all fully supportive, and went for it!

I think my heart has always been with teen boys and whilst I have fostered girls, it should come as no surprise that I now care for 2 teenage boys. The house is always full of noise and laughter – just the way I like it!

My sons and boyfriend play a really vital role in our fostering – they are good, solid male role models and we’re able to model positive, healthy relationships.

I think the really important qualities that you’d look for in a foster carer are warmth, an ability to nurture, to listen and communicate. You need to be resilient too. Undoubtedly, life becomes more complicated but the rewards of fostering are so precious. When you establish trust and a good relationship and start to see your child respond and grow in confidence, it’s a wonderful thing.

I’m so glad that with the support of my family and friends I’ve been able to foster. When you see glimmers of the difference you are making it’s such a good feeling. Of course, there are always storms to weather, as any parent will tell you, but it’s all worth it in the end.
As a single carer, my family and friends and other carers are really valuable to me. I get very good support from Eastern Fostering Services and their community of carers and this is really important for positive fostering experiences.

If you want to find out more about fostering, visit us at www.easternfosteringservices.com or come along to one of our events in Essex, Suffolk or Cambridgeshire.

#ProudToFoster – Beth, Mel, Mitch

We’re Beth, Mel and Mitch. Last year our Mum and Dad became foster carers. It’s something all of us support 100% and we’ve been part of the whole process, from application through to taking in our first child earlier this year.

We’ve been really included in the fostering process, we’ve been to training, we’ve attended events – Mitch even did a spot of dancing at the Eastern Fostering Services talent show! And of course, we support our mum and dad to foster on a daily basis.

Like any big change in life, we’ve had to adapt. At first, it can feel very strange having a new child in the house. As a family, we’re open and honest and this has helped us to make the transition into fostering. When we find something hard, we’re able to be honest with mum and dad but we’re also able to take a share of the rewards, when things are going well.
We’re all aware of how lucky we’ve been to have such a stable, loving upbringing and we’re made up that as a family, we are now able to offer this to the child we look after.

If you want to foster and you have birth children, our advice would be make sure your children are involved in all the decision making as early as possible. As a family you all need to be on board and birth children need to feel that they have a voice in the whole thing.

If you want to find out more about fostering, visit us at www.easternfosteringservices.com or come along to one of our events in Essex, Suffolk or Cambridgeshire.

#ProudToFoster – Julie

I’m Julie. I’m mum to Mel, Beth and Mitch and foster with my husband Martin in Essex. Before fostering, and in addition to bringing up our children, I worked in the caring profession.

I think fostering was a natural choice for me. I’ve brought my own kids up and they’re mostly independent. We’ve now got the space and the energy and passion to foster. Fostering has been a life-long wish of mine. I have loved being a parent and our kids have had a caring and nurturing family to grow up in; we just wanted to offer that to children who are less fortunate.

We’ve been fostering with Eastern Fostering Services since the end of 2017. Of course our lives have changed since starting to foster; we’ve had to adapt. We’ve had to restructure our time and routines now that we have an 11-year old in the family. We’ve enjoyed the training which has given us confidence and helped us to develop new strategies to use alongside old ones that we used with our kids.

Before fostering, I don’t think we’d appreciated how firm the structure and accountability would be but I can honestly say that we are finding it so fulfilling. Life has got busier but it has also got so much fuller.

Despite being new to fostering, we have already been able to see our child’s confidence grow. The changes, challenges and new responsibilities are rewarded with each little triumph, each understanding reached and each hurdle jumped for that child. You know you are making a difference to a young life and helping them have the best tools for adulthood.

What advice would I give to people who have thought about fostering? JUST DO IT!!!!

If you want to find out more about fostering, visit us at www.easternfosteringservices.com or come along to one of our events in Essex, Suffolk or Cambridgeshire.

#ProudToFoster – Tracy

Hi, I’m Tracy. I’m from Suffolk. I’m a single parent of 2 (now adult) girls. I began fostering in 2012, when my daughters were in their 20s. I’d always wanted to foster and had worked as a childminder and nanny so I knew it was something I had relevant skills and experience for. Once my girls were independent, I finally had the time and energy to devote to fostering and so, very much as a family, we decided to go for it.

Initially, I wanted to foster young children (under 5s) and indeed the first child I looked after was just 3 years old. But soon, I began to reflect on how much relevant experience I had through raising my own girls and I could see the level of need amongst teens in Suffolk. Through Eastern Fostering Services, I’d done a lot of training on teen issues, behaviour and brain development and an interest had been sparked!

I cared for 3 teenage girls before welcoming my current child, a 15 year old boy. As my daughters now live independently, it’s just him, my 2 dogs, 2 cats and me. Never a dull moment!

I’m really glad that I kept an open mind and decided to try fostering teens. I feel so passionately that it is never too late to make an impact on a child’s life. There are so many teens who are in need of a nurturing home and who are very responsive to foster care. As a society, I don’t think we’re as sympathetic or kind towards teenagers as we should be, but I have found them to be truly rewarding; they have definitely enriched my life.

Many people come into fostering with a desire to care for babies or young children but I would say keep an open mind. The realities of fostering can be very different to what you might imagine and you may discover strengths and skills you hadn’t recognised in yourself. Eastern Fostering Services have been particularly supportive in helping me to recognise where my skills lie. They’ve listened to me and been mindful of my needs and wishes which has led to some really good matching ensuring that my fostering experience and that of the children has been positive and rewarding.

#ProudtoFoster – Lai

I’m Lai. I’m a mother of 2 teens and together with my husband have been fostering for 2 years. Before we began fostering, we had been a host family for International students with the Essex Local Authority. We really enjoyed this but we wanted to make a difference to some of the more vulnerable children closer to home. We had always wanted to foster and we felt it was a natural progression.

We’re an easy going family who feel that we have a good home to share and embody the warm and nurturing unit that so many children in Essex are lacking. We wanted to share our life experiences and wisdom and to help children learn all the skills they need to live fulfilled, independent lives.

In the time we’ve been fostering, we have welcomed 4 children into our home. Some of these have been short, respite arrangements and others for longer stretches. We have particularly enjoyed fostering teenagers and helping them to make the transition into independent living. Fostering is very much a family affair for us and our teen children play a very important role. They have also benefitted from fostering and have a true appreciation of the difficulties many children face.

We believe that fostering, whilst being hard work at times, has made our lives richer. If you live in Essex, Suffolk or Cambridgeshire and have always wanted to foster, I would say get in touch with Eastern Fostering Services via Facebook or at www.easternfosteringservices.com

We have been very well supported by EFS and feel they have been sensitive to our family when matching children with us; this means that fostering has been a very positive experience for my husband, two teens and I but also to the teens we’ve been fortunate enough to share our lives with.

#ProudToFoster – Jim

I’m Jim. I’m currently finishing my PhD in plant science and I’ve been fostering for 2 years along with my wife and two young sons. A few years back, I’d been commuting from Essex to the City for 10 years. But it wasn’t really doing it for me. I wanted to do something more meaningful. So I discussed it with my wife, and we decided to change our focus. This period coincided with a deepening of the refugee crisis and the insurgency in Syria. My wife worked in fostering and did direct work with a variety of children including child refugees. We both felt pretty strongly that we wanted to help the situation in some way. But we wanted it to be more permanent than writing a cheque to an aid agency. Fostering seemed obvious, given where she worked, but it clearly meant a significant, long-term commitment.

To be honest, I didn’t have a clue about how fostering worked. I thought that you just had a child given to you, and you had no choice in the matter. But we arranged for a home visit from Eastern Fostering Services. We were able to ask questions that helped us to understand how things worked.And we got to think about what child might work best for our family and play to our strengths. At this time, I was doing GCSE and A-level tutoring to supplement my tiny student stipend, and I discovered to my surprise that I really enjoyed working with teens. I’d also been a rugby coach for a while for primary school age children, and had enjoyed this too. Apparently, this was the sort of experience that would transfer nicely to fostering! Who knew?

So we were accepted as foster carers, and then we had a nervous wait for our first child. Finally, in the summer of 2016 our 14 year-old foster son arrived. There have definitely been challenges and many times I’ve wondered what we’ve got ourselves into. But I can’t deny the sense of responsibility I feel for the child who has no-one else to rely on. It’s great that he’s settled in to school and is trying to make the most of the opportunities offered there.

My wife is the main carer but fostering is a family effort and we’ve all had our part to play. I’ve particularly enjoyed supporting our child in his education, doing homework with him, encouraging him and teaching him skills from fixing up his bicycle to helping him earn a bit of money washing cars.

There are always ups and downs in fostering, as with any relationship. We’ve made this choice because both my wife and I firmly believe that you can make a difference to the world around you through the decisions you make. And that perhaps the greatest way you can do this is by making a difference in the life of a child. It’s this belief that motivates us.

If you’re considering fostering, I have two bits of advice for you. The first is to take your time. Discuss everything with your family – your partner, your children and so on, as everyone has to feel part of the process. You’ll probably also want to talk to others who you might rely on – parents, local friends and so on. Second, get the right provider. It was a surprise to me, but it turns out that local councils aren’t the only providers of foster care. There are also private companies out there who find foster carers and organise fostering arrangements with the Local Authority. Our fostering experience has been massively improved by the fantastic support we’ve received from Eastern Fostering Services. They’ve organised training courses, regular support meetings, respite care and all sorts. They’re always supportive and will go the extra mile to help.

So, go and meet the team from Eastern Fostering Services. They have plenty of events where you can pop along for a chat. In May alone there are events at Ipswich on 17th and Colchester on 18th. Alternatively email them at info@easternfosteringservices.com.

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.”

 

Succinct.

 

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.