Every year, around 30,000 children are placed into care, waiting to be matched with the perfect family. Fostering a disabled child is a hugely rewarding experience for the foster child and foster carer. Saskia Harper spoke to one foster carer about their experience.
Foster carers provide children and young people with safe and stable homes, when they cannot stay with their parents or legal guardians.
Placements can last for any amount of time from days, all the way up to years. Foster carers have to be caring, enthusiastic, and supportive, and this is amplified if you’re looking to foster a disabled child.
While it can be daunting to think about the commitment involved in fostering a disabled child, the reward is well worth it. You will be given ample training, to ensure you’re well-equipped and ready to embark on this exciting journey.
Catherine Brewer is a foster carer with TACT Fostering and Adoption, and began to look into fostering after working extensively with disabled children.
“[My partner and I] spoke about it for a long time before we made the leap into doing it,” explains Catherine. “We felt we had some experience and thought we’d be able to make a difference to help children and their families.”
Catherine’s family embarked on their fostering journey, and after a six month process they were matched with two siblings who were both on the autistic spectrum. The family now fosters a young boy with an attachment disorder.
“When we started fostering, we said we’d foster any child,” says Catherine. “We wanted to foster any child that was a match for us, regardless of what their needs were.”
While the application process can be long, it has the best interest of the foster child and the carer at its core. The only prerequisite for being a successful foster carer is having an open mind, and caring personality.
“We believe the most important criteria for becoming a foster carer is an ability to listen and to empathise, to be there for the child and to speak up for the children you care for,” explains Andy Elvin, CEO of TACT.
“We passionately believe in supporting our foster carers with ongoing training and support that enables them to provide the best care possible to the children and young people.”
When it comes to fostering a disabled child, there are many different options that will best suit yourself and the child in your care, depending on everyone’s needs.
Long-term fostering options are ideal if you want to welcome a child into the family home for an extensive period of time, and have the resources, skills and compassion to encourage them to grow and thrive. Catherine’s current foster child has been with the family for five years.
Fostering agencies around the country also look for respite foster carers: who provide short-term care for a night, a weekend or a holiday, to give families and carers of disabled children a break.
This enables children to meet different people, form new relationships and build confidence. Short break fostering takes a more flexible approach and is dependent on your availability.
“You’ve got to adapt,” advises Catherine. “It’s like anything: you have to learn your own way.
“Everybody makes mistakes, you try things and do your best and learn. We’ve had lots of training. I think we’ve learned a lot from other foster carers and there’s a lot of support out there if you’re struggling.”
For some prospective foster carers, it can be daunting to think about how the decision will affect your family, but for Catherine, and many others, fostering has had an overwhelmingly positive effect on their families.
“Our children are at university now, and have grown up while we were fostering,” says Catherine.
“I think they’ve benefitted from it so much, because they’ve now got a better understanding that there’s such a diverse culture and some people do need support and help at times. So, it’s had a positive impact and has given them a greater outlook on life.”
The benefits of fostering are clear: not just for the foster child, but the whole family.
“We’ve been able to provide our foster children with a stable, nurturing environment and knowing they can reach their full potential,” enthuses Catherine.
“It’s been hard at times, but he’s doing so well, and we’ve seen the changes in him over the years. He’s growing into an independent young man and he’s thriving and that’s the main thing.”
“When children find a loving and caring home, they begin to thrive,” Andy agrees. “They start to believe in themselves, achieve their goals and ultimately build a better secure life. Seeing their children blossom makes a foster parent feel proud – as any parent would.”
Not only does finding the perfect match through foster care provide children with a loving home, it creates new families with different dynamics, perspectives, experiences and feelings, making for a melting pot of compassion and support.
“Our foster children have enriched our lives,” Catherine concludes. “They’ve had a massive impact on us. Whatever we’ve put into it, we’ve got so much more back – it’s so rewarding. We’ve had the opportunity to care for wonderful children and support them and their families. It’s only positive, the impact it’s had on us all.”
Get expert advice on fostering with TACT Fostering and Adoption, visit www.tactcare.org.uk