At 29, I quit my job to become a foster carer for mums and babies
When you think of a foster carer, what kind of person comes to mind?
An older person – or perhaps someone who is retired? Someone with a big, family home, and children who have flown the nest?
You’d be forgiven for thinking a foster carer looked nothing like me.
See, when I turned 29, as a single mum, I started inviting vulnerable women and their new babies into my home – becoming a ‘parent-child’ foster carer.
So, I don’t fit into this dated stereotype at all.
Back when I was 15, my sister gave me a copy of the book A Child Called It – a true story of a young boy’s emotional abuse at the hands of his parents.
Being adopted myself, I know what it feels like to grow up outside of your birth family – and the news still highlights horror stories of what some children go through.
I think, deep down, I’ve always known that I wanted to help them out in some way, at some point in my life. To give back.
But, for most of my twenties, I was a kitchen manager for major food chains. I loved the people and the pace, but I had to work most weekends and school holidays, leaving little time to socialise outside of work.
Sometimes I walked away after a long shift going: ‘Why am I doing this?’
Aged 27, I had my daughter, Isla. As a single mum, my priorities completely changed, and my child became everything to me.
Soon, I started working in a school kitchen, with better hours and holidays to work around Isla – but my want and will to help children was still in the back of my mind.
If anything, I think having my daughter was the drive I needed to look into becoming a foster carer.
In 2019, I started to contact fostering agencies – to see if I’d be a good fit to care for new mothers and their babies. Sadly, I didn’t have much luck at first.
Some just didn’t even get back to me, leaving me feeling deflated. The first social worker was so negative, and it made me feel stupid. It felt like becoming a foster carer was totally out of my grasp.
Then, a Nexus social worker visited my flat, taking me through what to expect – remembering my earlier experiences, I felt like I was just wasting their time.
Except, I was told I’d be a perfect fit.
Vulnerable new mums and their newborns would be coming to stay with me for up to six months, in the home that Isla and I shared, to be monitored – in a way – by me, in the hope that they’d eventually be able to parent and live independently.
I’d help give them the best possible start in life, and to make the right choices.
Could I handle it? Share my space? Hold that much responsibility?
After a three-day training course, I felt so much more comfortable and sure of myself. It was daunting, though, covering a range of topics, from managing contact with birth parents, to keeping children safe, internet safety, and learning first aid – as well as how to approach child sexual exploitation, and self-esteem issues.
Before too long, in April 2020, I had my first placement – I was feeling nervous. Uncertain – and had no idea what to expect at all. An 18-year-old mum was coming to stay with her eight-month-old baby on a temporary placement for 28 days.
But, by the time it finished, I felt more confident than ever that I was born for this job. So, I handed my notice in, and have since taken it on full-time.
The money is good, I earn around £700 per week to cover my placement, and I can make the placements work around me – taking a break if I need it.
I’ve been fortunate enough that all the mums and babies in my care have been able to return to their home to care for their baby independently
I make my home as comfortable and as natural as possible, and try to give the mums and babies in my care as much independence as I can.
When I have a mum staying with me, I like to make sure we do special things together. For example, we will all go out for dinner together and bring the children, or, if the child has contact arrangements with the dad, I’ll take the mum to get our nails done, or a pedicure – or even a spa day.
I love noticing how the mums start to copy me – they watch me with Isla and incorporate it into their own parenting, and it makes my heart soar knowing that I’m helping them become a better parent.
That it will stick with them forever.
Isla loves playing with the little ones. She is really good with the babies and gets their dummy for them if they start to cry. She gets really involved!
I can’t deny that it’s been hard, though. The longest placement I’ve had is about eight months long, and it can get tricky sharing your home with people when you have a certain way of doing things.
From a previous life, working in kitchens, I have always made sure I tidy things away as I go, so that when I sit down to eat, everything is clean. I also like to put toys away before leaving the living room so that when I come back into the room it’s mess-free and I can relax in the evening.
However, with my placements, sometimes mums prefer to tidy before bed or to leave it until the next morning. Consequently, I’ve learned to blend different routines together with the mums who stay with me to ensure they feel at home and comfortable.
Plus, I’ve had to have some pretty difficult conversations – for example, if one of the mums in my care is not aware they should be doing more for their child, whether they have a lack of routine or aren’t attending to a baby when they’re upset.
At times like this, I have to talk with them about their lack of prioritisation of their child’s needs and tell them there is more that as a mum they should be doing. This could be anything from how to dress their baby appropriately for the weather or how to read the baby’s cues when it’s time for a feed.
I have to have their child’s best interests at heart. All this information is important as I also gather it to provide evidence for court decisions.
We don’t have sit-down ‘formal chats’ but it just happens in natural conversation. I draw on what I do with Isla too, as they can see how I handle things with my child.
I still have parenting struggles with Isla, so they can see the challenges that come when the child gets older and how they would manage that when their little one gets to that age.
I never say to them ‘I did it this way’. Instead, they are seeing us first-hand. I am also a human, I make mistakes. If there are things I could have handled better, I have a conversation with Isla, Isla inputs and they see that. We are all learning together as we go.
I’ve been fortunate enough that all the mums and babies in my care have been able to return to their home to care for their baby independently.
Now, aged 33, I’m hosting my eighth placement, and Isla, six, loves it. She loves having another play-mate around, and it’s helping her understand the importance of a mother’s role, too. When a placement ends, she always asks: ‘When’s the next baby coming, mummy?’
I also have kept in touch with many of the mums, too – and get updates on their little ones, as well as pictures of them on their birthday. It fills me with joy knowing that I helped make that happen.
Some people, after hearing my age, have been taken aback, and said: ‘Wow, that’s a big commitment!’ – but everyone has been so supportive, and wished me luck.
Though, when I do go to foster carer support groups, I am always the youngest there. I’m hoping that will change soon.
My age has definitely helped me, though. As, if I’m caring for a 16- or 18-year-old mum, I tend to relate to them easier than, say, someone twice my age perhaps would. I can get on their level, as a young, single mum myself.
Seeing the difference you are making to young people’s lives is second to none – and I know that I’m giving them a second chance for the best start.
It’s what every child and young person deserves, after all.
For more information on the range of foster care roles available at Nexus fostering, visit https://www.nexusfostering.co.uk/
Age is Just a Number
Welcome to Age is Just a Number, a Metro.co.uk series aiming to show that, when it comes to living your life, achieving your dreams, and being who you want to be, the date on your birth certificate means nothing.
Each week, prepare to meet amazing people doing stereotype-defying things, at all stages of life.
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