Lessons from a first time foster mum

foster parents first time

by Stephanie Anthony |

Fostering may seem like an incredibly daunting journey, and it can be, but it’s a completely life-changing experience that can make the world of difference to vulnerable children and young people. We’ve spoken with first time foster mum Natalie who looks after two siblings. She and her husband Aaron have been fostering for almost two years with ISP Fostering. Natalie shares what it’s like becoming a foster mother for the first time as we answer some questions around the early days of fostering.

Foster parents come from all walks of life

A lot of stigma shrouds fostering and foster care, and people still think that you need to be married, of a particular sexual orientation or have reached a certain age, but really, as long as you have a loving home to offer with a spare bedroom you’re eligible to be a foster parent. Natalie explains: “I was always a bit worried that we were too young to be foster parents and that we didn’t have our own children. I was concerned that we wouldn’t have enough experience but actually, every child is different so I don’t think it matters if you have your own children or not.”

People of all ages, genders, religions, ethnicities and sexual orientations can become foster parents. Foster care providers assess people on a case by case basis, so if you have any concerns about whether you could become a foster parent then it’s always worth speaking to a fostering provider or your local authority.

Fostering siblings is incredibly special

fostering siblings

It is widely accepted that siblings who need to be fostered do better when they are placed together. It provides them with familiarity, and gives them confidence and security. There are even charities to protect sibling relationships and laws being passed to fortify children’s rights. One BBC investigation for the year 2020 alone found that more than 50% of children in care had been separated from their siblings, and often this is because there are simply not enough foster parents who can care for them.

For Natalie and Aaron, it was never a question, as they explain: “It was very important to us that we looked after siblings. We just thought, it’s traumatic enough to be taken away from your mum and dad, so to be taken away from your brother or sister as well must be so awful.” She continues: “Don’t get me wrong, they argue and bicker, and sibling rivalry is a real thing! But when they play together and the house is filled with the sound of their laughter it's just amazing, it really is.”

Never doubt yourself

Natalie describes becoming a foster parent as ‘terrifying’ but in the best possible way. It can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking that you’re not old enough. Not experienced enough. Not enough. But you mustn't let imposter syndrome get in the way of the incredible work that you can do as a foster parent. Natalie in particular struggled with this as she thought that not having children of her own would be a real disadvantage.

Talking about her nervousness, Natalie explains: “It’s because you just want the best for your foster children that it can be easy to give yourself a hard time, but it’s really important to keep on top of that mindset. We’ve watched them grow and develop. The children have made me realise how much of a strong person I am. The process has made me much more patient and understanding, and they have filled our lives with so much joy. I feel content and complete now.”

Lean on your support network as much as you need

Don’t let yourself burn out! You can’t let your own wellbeing and self-care fall by the wayside. At ISP Fostering there is counselling available to all foster parents, for if/when they need a shoulder to lean on, or someone to help them navigate the difficulties that fostering can bring.

There are so many reasons that a child might need to be fostered. Their parents might have fallen unwell, or have passed away. They might be an unaccompanied asylum seeking child. Or like many children in care, they might be a victim of abuse or neglect. This can be tough to deal with, for both the children and yourself.

Natalie has found counselling extremely helpful, as she explains: “We are supported in so many different ways. The children receive weekly therapy which is really helpful to them and we get consultations with therapists too. They provide us with tools or suggestions to help us manage some of the behaviours that the children exhibit. Tapping into this has been such a useful experience. We also have a supervising social worker who is only ever at the end of the phone, and the entire fostering community at ISP has been incredibly supportive. I have never felt alone.”

Foster children become part of the family

Yes! Family involvement was a crucial factor for Natalie and husband Aaron. As a foster parent, it’s amazing to watch how the little everyday things can become so meaningful, and really bond foster children and foster parents together as a family unit. Natalie recalls some of her favourite memories since she began taking care of her foster son and daughter in 2020. “Taking the children to the cinema for the first time is a memory that will stay with me forever. The children had never been before, and our little boy in particular just couldn’t sit still in his seat, it was such a wholesome moment” Natalie says.

Natalie and Aaron got married during lockdown, and were only allowed six people at their ceremony. So they invited their parents, and their foster children. Natalie says: “Our foster daughter was my bridesmaid and our foster son was Aaron’s best man. It was so important to us that they were there and that they felt like they belonged to our family and had a special memory to keep hold of. They still talk about it today! When we were getting ready in the morning, the little girl turned to me and said: ‘Nat, I really feel like I’m your daughter today.’ And that is a moment that I will treasure forever.”

How to become a foster parent

foster family

There is a lot to learn about fostering, but there is a common thread in all foster parents that you speak with:  it is the best decision that you will ever make. Below are some helpful sites to visit if you are interested in becoming a foster parent:

ISP Fostering: A therapeutic fostering agency with more than 35 years of fostering experience. {#h-isp-fostering-a-therapeutic-fostering-agency-with-more-than-35-years-of-fostering-experience}

The Fostering Network: The UK’s leading fostering charity, aims to better the lives of all children in foster care {#h-the-fostering-network-the-uk-s-leading-fostering-charity-aims-to-better-the-lives-of-all-children-in-foster-care}

GOV.UK: Provides updated laws and statistics to do with children in care {#h-gov-uk-provides-updated-laws-and-statistics-to-do-with-children-in-care}

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