What difference can a foster carer really make?

It never ceases to amaze me how many amazing people there are out there in the community who want to make a difference to some of our most vulnerable children and young people.

Diagrama supervising social worker Neena Ahluwalia has worked in social care since 1990. She has dealt with many difficult and emotional cases in that time which have sometimes meant the only option for the child was removal from their home. In these cases Neena was responsible for placing children initially with foster carers while care proceedings took place. Here Neena reflects on the difference a foster carer can make to a child at such a critical and traumatic point in their life.

It never ceases to amaze me how many amazing people there are out there in the community who want to make a difference to some of our most vulnerable children and young people.

Each time a situation has arisen I have been aware that there is a good family somewhere who will support no matter how short the notice and will accommodate under difficult situations: often absorbing the distress, unfamiliarity and sometimes the hopelessness of the situation.

Now working on the other side, as supervising social worker for foster carers, I‘ve grown a greater understanding even more respect. I often recall sharing referrals with carers who state “we’ve got to give XX a chance. Some care, boundaries, routine and consistency of all of the above should stand us all in good stead”.

Kindness, understanding and structure can make all the difference

This all sounds rather simple but from experience it’s far more complex and, truthfully, taxing on an emotional and physical level at times. But what I have learnt is that some kindness, understanding and structure does achieve some progress, no matter how small this may be.

I always remember sharing a referral with a carer whereby a young lad had been in care for a number of years and his placement was not working out. His history of neglect was extreme, comparable to the account in “A boy called It”. As we read the referral the carer and I both became tearful and cried together.

From that point on we knew we were going to give all our combined efforts to help support this young lad. I think the social worker for this young boy saw this in the carers and I so we quickly established a strong team around this child. We were a force to be reckoned with!

When he arrived he had a stutter, wouldn’t shower at all and just wanted to be on his X-box. Five years on the lad may still have some issues but he has experienced a family where he doesn’t get abused, where he eats well and receives formal and social education. He has completed exams, undertaken voluntary work, seen other young people be fostered in his foster home and even showers daily. The X-box still remains a prominent life choice but he has gained other skills and will be better adapted to manage aspects of adulthood.

We’ve given this young person a chance

Importantly working as a team, we’ve given this young person a chance. It’s this commitment and belief in humankind that makes fostering so essential in our society and also so rewarding.

I’ll always remember an eight year old begging me not to take him to a foster family as he needed to look after his mum. He was a broken child when he got into the car, so clearly distressed. There was not a dry eye in sight. Within weeks he had progressed, was enjoying his contacts with his mother and younger siblings (placed elsewhere) and was happily returning to his foster family thereafter without being in a state. He soon became an older brother to his younger siblings, instead of a parent, he progressed in school, mixed with other children and took pride in his appearance. His mother even noticed his progress and soon consented to him being long-term fostered by his carers.

I don’t know the current situation of this young lad but I do know that the changes in such a short period were dramatic – he was given the chance to be child and have a childhood. His carers had to be firm but their dedication and commitment changed his life.

His carers would regard themselves as just an ordinary family/ folks. For me and this lad they were heroes! I know they have continued fostering that he has remained with them – and no doubt will do for the rest of their lives. They already had three grown-up lads – they just added another and gave him so many opportunities along the way.

The rewards of fostering are immense

Credit to the boy’s mum….. she was able to see a future for her son and wanted to break a cycle. She and the foster carers would never be best friends but mutual respect enabled him to have hope and realise his mother was not a bad woman, just unfortunate.

Fostering is demanding, but the rewards are immense and daily life is never boring! I’ve seen foster carers grow in confidence, become strong representatives/champions for their children and go from feeling timid in meetings to having a commanding presence amongst professionals involved with planning for the child.

You will meet a whole range of people which widens your learning horizons and can be both exciting and sometimes intimidating. But with experience and the support of your Diagrama there’s never a dull moment. We work together as a team and there is a great deal of support so that when unexpected situations arise or you just want to catch up, your social worker is at hand.

Foster carers don’t have to be a super hero – none of us are perfect – you just need the right morals, commitment and values to help improve a child/young person’s experiences. So if you think you’ve ot what it takes to make a difference, give us a call today.

Neena Ahluwalia

Diagrama is currently recruiting new and experienced foster carers across London and the south east. We offer a generous benefits package, including 14 days holiday cover, regular activities and events, free comprehensive training and 24/7 dedicated professional support. Contact us to find out about becoming a foster carer or transferring to our charity.