Becoming foster parents with Orange Grove felt like a natural progression to Karen and her husband, Michael, who had been providing back-up foster care to their son and daughter-in-law for five years before embarking on their own fostering journey.
Karen wanted to get into fostering for most of her life, she said: “I have always wanted to foster and provide that support to children who need it most. I could only have one child of my own, but as life went by, work didn’t allow for it. My husband and I both had responsible jobs and the time was never right. Two years ago we retired, and out of the blue my husband suggested that we go into fostering. I didn’t want to not do anything, so it seemed only right that we go into fostering after so many years of not being able to.”
Respite fostering was the better fit for Karen and Michael’s lifestyles, which means that they could provide much-needed support and breaks to full-time foster parents and the children in their care. The first child that they cared for was a little boy with challenging behaviours, Karen said: “He came just for the weekend to give both him and his full-time foster parents a break. We had a great time and really enjoyed our weekend together. The placement that he was in on an ongoing basis broke down, so he then came to stay with us for a period of time until a new permanent placement was found for him.
“Once in his new placement he would continue to come and stay with us for respite. He said to me that we were like his ‘foster grandparents’, which was just so heartwarming to hear. We were able to be the one constant for him, whenever he needs a respite placement, he comes to us, and that’s really good.”
Providing a short break to foster parents on a short-term basis is what respite foster care is all about. For Karen and Michael, it is essential that any child staying with them feels as comfortable as possible, whether they’re there for one weekend or a couple of weeks. “Wherever possible, we like to get the foster child and their foster parents to come and meet with us in an informal setting - having some tea together, just in the house having a chat or even playing some games - so that the child knows it isn’t about them coming in to our house, but about our house being an extension of their home”, said Karen.
She continued: “We talk with the child and get to know them better, and hopefully make them feel more comfortable before their respite stay with us. Our ‘house rules’ are really important too, and they are always exactly the same as their current foster home. We don’t want them to think that anything is different. Our house is just a place where they can come and stay, everyone gets some time to chill out and nothing changes. They know they are going back to their own foster parents, but they can always have a home away from home.”
Although there are differences between ongoing and respite foster placements, Karen said that what you learn and go through to become a foster parent is exactly the same: “We went to panel and we were trained in the same way. Everything that a foster parent does, whether it’s on a respite or ongoing basis is the same. If we have a child for one night, it is still vital that we know everything possible about fostering, we are all doing the same thing.”
Karen continued: “Throughout our entire fostering journey we have been supported by Orange Grove. It doesn’t matter what time of the day or what the question is, no question is stupid, and I can always ring and speak to anyone, the help they give us is just brilliant. You get the support of the entire team and community.”
When asked why they chose Orange Grove, Karen said: “We were drawn to Orange Grove initially because our son and daughter-in-law have been foster parents with them for some time, and we had been approved carers for their foster children. It was a natural progression that we would choose Orange Grove, but when we started looking for ourselves we also found that we loved their ethos and values, more so than any other agency we looked at.”
Fostering children is not without its challenges, but Karen and Michael have loved their fostering journey and the support that they are now able to provide to children who need it. Karen said: “For anyone considering going into fostering, there are a few things I would tell them… You have got to love children, a sense of humour is imperative and it’s vital that you don’t take things too seriously.
“My top tips for anyone getting into fostering for the first time are: to treat every child like an individual, do not have any preconceptions about how they are going to behave when they stay with you, and also put some trust in that child.”
Karen summarised: “I think that anyone will get so much from giving these children a little bit of help, support and normality, and by being someone that they can rely on. There is just so much joy in it.”
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Olivia* was just 10 years old when she came to live with her foster parent, Jackie. Today, Olivia reflects on her emotional journey living in foster care.
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