Lessons From a First Time Foster Parent25 June, 2020
Taryn is a foster parent, who shares her experience of fostering and welcoming her first child into her home.
A week after my panel assessment I was greeted by the news that I had been accepted as a foster parent. The news was both exciting and daunting, but I was delighted by the prospect of becoming a first-time foster parent.
For the next month, I jumped in anticipation every time the phone rang. Initially, the call didn’t come straight away so I focused on training, attending as many sessions as I could to expand on my knowledge of becoming a foster parent. I got to meet lots of other foster parents – including my mentor – and it was great to hear their different stories. I read lots of books based on the real-life experiences of foster parents in preparation for my first placement.
Although I was apprehensive about having a child join the household, the assessment process had been thorough, and I felt that the team at Fosterplus knew me well. We’d discussed in detail the types of children that would be suitable for my skills and experience and they were very insistent that it needed to be the right match so that both myself and the child in my care would have a positive experience.
Because of this, the high level of support that is constantly available and their experience in matching children with families, I felt confident in the process and knew that they would be there to support me when I needed it.
The first phone call
One Tuesday afternoon, I got a call about a 10-year-old boy who needed a permanent foster home that same day. It was 2.30 pm when I got the call and received his profile. I had a quick read through and accepted almost immediately.
Previously, I’d have spent hours contemplating this profile, but they needed a quick decision and so I knew I’d have the support of my local fostering team, as well as my experienced mentor. I spent the rest of the afternoon anxiously waiting by the phone for news and trying not to get too emotionally involved until I heard back. I was still currently doing an evening job and was due at work at 5.15 pm.
The moments before
It was 4.45 pm, so I headed off to work. Typically, just as I reached the main road my phone started ringing, and I pulled over as quickly as possible to grab it – he was on his way. I was to expect him in around 40 minutes.
I quickly informed work that I wouldn’t be available for at least a month – they knew about my fostering application and were prepared for this call. I went straight to my nearby supermarket to grab some food, underwear, a toothbrush and nightwear suitable for a 10-year-old boy. I’d initially imagined myself being placed with a younger child, and although I had lots of equipment at home, I suddenly panicked that they might be a bit young or too small for him.
I arrived home and gave the house a once over, and again started worrying about little details that I am sure no one else would even notice. Every time I heard a car, I rushed to the window and peered through the blind to see if it was them.
Within 90 minutes of the phone call, I opened the door to a nervous-looking 10-year-old and his social worker.
I welcomed them in, introduced myself, and offered them a drink each. I had put out some toys and a games machine and made the living room look cosy and welcoming, having some soft blankets to hand if needed.
He was surprisingly calm when he arrived and asked a few questions about me and my pets, and I presented him with the ‘welcome book’ which I’d created.
I showed him and his social worker around the house. He was quiet – but seemed ok. He wanted to help get his stuff in and we all went out to the car. Suddenly the enormity of the situation hit him, and he started to cry and vomit. It was quite hard to witness, and I felt quite helpless. I took him back inside, wrapped him in one of the blankets, got him a drink of squash and put on a nature programme on the TV, as this was apparently one of his favourite things.
While I sat with him, his social worker brought in his belongings. I had read stories of children turning up with just a carrier bag of belongings, and this was what I was expecting. However, as his social worker took trip after trip to bring in his stuff, and then informed me she had to hire a bigger vehicle to bring it all, and that there was more stuff at her office, I realised that my expectations were far from the reality. My living room was soon full of bags and boxes. His whole world in a pile, which I had no idea where I was going to put everything.
He had brought his own bedcovers, so his social worker and I went upstairs to change the bed, while he watched TV downstairs. We quickly went through the paperwork. I was given a medical consent form, passport, savings, and pocket money, all in sealed envelopes.
His social worker was an absolute delight and we got on straight away. She stayed until he felt comfortable and then said goodbye to him and explained that she would call him the next day.
Once she had left, we watched TV for a bit and played a game of monopoly. He wasn’t really concentrating on either and was clearly in shock, but he asked me lots of questions, often repeating the same ones, as the answers weren’t quite sinking in.
He was still feeling sick, and I knew the familiar smell of his bedcovers would give him some comfort and didn’t want to ruin that. I gave the cat some biscuits for dinner, instead of meat, so the smell didn’t upset him. To my cat’s annoyance, we had to stick with the biscuits for the next few weeks as he got used to the new smells around the house.
We stayed up quite late that first night, but he was eventually ready to go to bed. I put on a meditation story for him to listen to and sat in my bedroom across the hall, so he could talk to me if he needed me while he went to sleep. He seemed to find the stories comforting and asked for several until he finally settled.
It was arranged that he could take the rest of the week off school to settle in, and a couple of his teachers visited us at home to let him know they were thinking of him.
His school was over an hour away and I’d initially been told he would move to a nearer school, however, it soon became apparent that school was somewhere he loved, and he needed that continuity in his life. Arrangements were made to get him there by taxi each day and his school day reduced to allow extra time for travel.
It’s a learning process
Over the weeks he began to settle well. He was chatty, polite, and happy to go to school each day. I’d expected a foster child to be nervous, but he was almost over-confident, burying his true feelings behind a mask.
As the weeks rolled on he became more relaxed, one of the family, and just as rebellious as all my other children. He was constantly up to mischief and loved playing pranks on us.
He enrolled in the local youth group and Sea Cadets and started to make some local friends.
It all seemed to be going really well, then we were hit by the Covid-19 lockdown.
So far, the lockdown hasn’t had too much of an impact. The social workers and school have kept in regular contact and we have felt well supported. I have also been able to do an online training course, which has kept me feeling as though I am still learning.
New foster parents have to complete a TSDS folder in their first year of fostering and I have been able to grab moments in the evenings to fill in the evidence boxes.
We have good days and occasional bad days, but I find writing the daily logs a really helpful way of getting rid of all the day’s thoughts and starting fresh.
I’m loving being a first-time foster parent and I’m very much looking forward to hopefully being approved to care for a second child at my annual review.