A lengthy career in nursing was the perfect experience for Susan to become a foster parent. Susan and her husband had considered fostering many times over the years whilst bringing up their two sons (now 19 and 24). The catalyst for the decision to follow their dreams and change the direction of their lives was when husband David suffered a stroke.
Fortunately, after a period of recuperation David returned to work. Susan, now 56, had worked with childcare professionals throughout her career and a patient of hers worked for a fostering agency, so she began discussing the possibility of fostering. Their children had left home for work and university, so they had room physically and mentally to nurture and support children in need.
How your background can influence a decision to foster
Susan was one of six children growing up in Ireland and her mother suffered domestic abuse. The marriage eventually broke up and Susan’s mother was left to bring up the children on her own. Susan comments: “If it wasn’t for my mother’s strength to hold the family together and single-handedly raised six well balanced children, I dread to think where we would have ended up. My mother was the main influence in my life and proved that you can still make a difference in the face of adversity.”
Susan is a big fan of the Aristotle quote ‘Give me a child until he is 7 and I will show you the man’. “You need to make the difference in the younger years, a lot of children come to me when the damage is done and sometimes irreparable.”
Susan adds: “With experience you can see that if things had been handled differently and in place earlier, the child’s lives could have been much different, particularly regarding mental health issues. Children are sometimes allowed to make decisions that should have been made by a responsible adult. We have the life experiences to make their decisions for them and guide them in the right way. I think all children in care should be referred to CAHMS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health) at the beginning of their fostering life. Don’t wait until you think something is wrong!”
The beginning of the foster care journey
The fostering application process can be a bit daunting, but Susan’s work experience and contact with professionals throughout the years helped her a lot. Some of her friends were also nurses and social worker friends who had gone down the same path, so they were able to answer any questions they had.
Susan was approved for fostering in 2014, one of the first carers for OwnLife Fostering. Her first two placements were teenagers, and Susan quickly realised that she would be better placed to care for younger children and mother and baby placements.
Susan then took on a mother and baby placement, they were separated after a few months, but Susan cared for the baby for 16 months. Susan comments: “He quickly became part of our family. Each mother and baby case is different, but a lot of the time the mother hasn’t had a stable mother figure present to teach her the skills to look after her baby. You try to guide them to make the right choices and educate them on the risks to the baby if you make the wrong choices. When a baby’s needs become more complex you need more patience and they become more vocal, I teach the mothers how to talk to the baby. Young adults today are obsessed with their phones and social media, I try to teach them to find a balance and to put the phone away!”
Susan and her husband provide support to the mothers during meetings, assessments, court appearances, showing them how to compile evidence and log how they perform certain tasks. These logs will help the mother to illustrate she is trying to be the best mother she can be and is working towards bringing the child up independently. Susan completes daily reports on observations, “it’s about what I see and hear, it’s not about my opinion, you can’t be judgemental in a job like this,” adds Susan.
Susan continues: “I am confident the children in my care will look back and see that we had their best interests at heart and we did our best for them. I nurture the young mothers like they were my own daughter.”
Susan continued to work for the first year of fostering, but she decided she needed to focus wholly on her placements. Her husband works from home a couple of days a week and her sons have become attached to the placements when they are home, so it’s very much a family affair and something they have all adapted to and committed to.
Susan’s advice to someone considering fostering: “Talk to other foster carers, they are your best source of information. I’ve been lucky in my work life to have had interaction with the fostering industry, one friend had siblings who were so damaged when they arrived, she has done an amazing job at turning them around. It can be an all-consuming 24 hours a day job sometimes.
Susan, David and their sons have collectively learnt to help and support the children that have joined their family. Their ongoing commitment and positive outlook means they will continue to provide a stable environment to other children who come into their care.
If you are interested in becoming a foster carer visit our website or call us on 020 8038 1418.
Image credit: Photographer Daniel Barnes