Guest blog: Jenny!

Well, hello there! To start this off I thought I’d introduce myself for those of you who don’t know me. My name is Jenny, and I was approved and rubber stamped as a foster carer on Christmas Eve of 2020. Which means I’ve been a foster carer for a year and a half now, and what a year and a half it’s been!!!! But more on that later.

This little (will it be little? We shall see) blog is going to be me talking about my experiences, telling you some of the things I’ve learned, and who knows what else! So if there are any topics you’d like to see me cover, funny or serious, then please let someone at Unity know and I’ll see what I can do.

This one is going to be a little about the process I went through to become a foster carer. You know, first post, might as well start riiiiiight at the beginning and all! So, let’s see what I can remember, and let’s see how similar it was to your experiences! Maybe our fab tech people might be able to put a comments box under this, then you can all share your experiences too, or even ask questions! So, here we go! Dun dun duuuuuuun!

So for me it all started back at the beginning of 2020. I’d been going through some health issues for the last 8 years – incurable cancer – and had been stable for a couple of years, and was just milling about with no real purpose or life. With my health issues, I couldn’t do a regular 9 – 5 job, so the re-training I’d done to become a professional baker was wasted, and I was feeling a bit meh about it all. Then of course, the pandemic hit. Surprisingly, life actually became more interesting again, as suddenly people had more time and were online more often, and I really enjoyed it. It was through being online more often that I saw all of the adverts popping up from different Local Authorities (Las) and agencies, all asking and desperate for more foster carers.

I had always considered fostering or adoption from a young age, as I was unlikely to ever have kids biologically, but I’d never been at a place in my life where I was able to move forwards with it. However now, I was! My health was stable, I was in a house that had two spare bedrooms, and I wasn’t working so could be there fore whoever needed me, whenever they needed me. So in seeing all of these adverts, I decided now was as good a time as any, and so reached out.

First of all I reached out to my local LA, Leeds, and filled in the enquiry form. Someone called me back within 24 hours to follow up, which I was really impressed at. However, when I was very upfront and told her about my incurable diagnosis, she refused to take the conversation any further and turned me down flat. To say I was devastated was an understatement. Fostering was my final chance to ‘have’ kids, as it were, and so I vented in one of my cancer support groups about how unfair it was for someone unqualified to make a decision like that based on nothing more than a label. A lady in the group reached out and told me that all wasn’t lost though, as she’d applied to an agency called Unity, and despite her own diagnosis, had been accepted as a foster carer. So with that, I had a bit of a Google, found them, and filled out their enquiry form.

Just as before, it wasn’t long before I was called, and like before I was upfront about my diagnosis. The lovely social worker I spoke to was a lot more open minded than the one from the LA had been, and she said she honestly didn’t know, so would check with her supervisor and get back to me. That was no problem for me, not at all, it was more consideration than I’d had from the LA, so it felt like there was still some hope. When she called me back, it was good news! The supervisor had said that neither of them were qualified to judge if I was fit to foster based on a diagnosis label, and it would be down to the doctor during the medical to say if I were fit or not. So they’d be happy to progress me to the next stage! After I came off the phone I was in tears again, but this time they were happy ones!

So the next stage was a call from a SW, it may have been the same lady I’m not sure, to do a walk-through of the house, Now, being that it was the middle of the first or second lockdown, she couldn’t exactly pop round. So she gave me a call on WhatsApp and we video chatted as I showed her around the house. Now, at this point, my house was not in any shape for a child. For a start, the attic bedroom was being used a storage room….. aka dumping ground. It was FULL of boxes, bags, at least two bikes, and some spare furniture. However, she wasn’t bothered by any of that as all she wanted to see was that the rooms were of an adequate size. So that was the next stage passed!

After that, I was contacted by a lady who was contracted by Unity to go through what is called my form F. She deep dived and delved into my past, my psyche, and everything. No stone was left unturned in her quest to really know who I was and how I ticked. Past employment, family, past relationships, past addresses, past traumas, were all explored. Even my pets were assessed to make sure they were ok to be around kids. It took a few months to go through this process, with weekly appointments over the phone to chat everything through and ask me all the questions she needed to. Along with forms I needed to fill out and send back to her in between times, and questions she emailed me over when they arose as she was doing her bit.

In the meantime, I was also sorting out the house. After a couple of months I asked how things were going, and she said it was looking positive at that moment. So I started shifting everything around in the house. That attic bedroom needed emptied and cleaned. All of the cleaning products needed shifted up into my bedroom. My alcohol collection all needed moved from the cupboards in the kitchen, up into my bedroom. I needed to look at my house with new eyes, and look for all of the hazards that a child could damage themselves, or others, with and remove it. I also cleared out my display shelves of all my heirlooms, and put them in my bedroom. Finally, I had FAR too many recipe books! So I got rid of half of them – yes, believe it or not to those folks who have been to my house, I had twice as many recipe books as I do now! – by reading through and deciding what to keep and what to get rid of.

The lady doing my assessment had seen the house at the start of the process, as she’d come round and viewed the house and met me, and then did an inspection at the end to make sure I’d done everything I needed to, to make it safe and suitable for a child. She couldn’t believe the changes I’d made in such a short space of time, as it had been a LOT of work! To say I was knackered was an understatement, but I was committed and determined to get it done, as I really wanted this to be a success!

Meanwhile, towards the end of all of this, I went to my first training – virtually. It was a training called ‘Skills to Fostering’, and it was a really interesting and valuable course. It gave a lot of information I’d not received during the assessment, and cleared up a few questions and things I had been confused about. Part of the course as well was having a foster carer come along and chat to us all about their experiences as a carer. The man who came along and chatted to us was lovely, and answered all the questions we asked. However, I left feeling a little deflated, as his first year of fostering had been ‘perfect’ from the way he told it. He’d had the one placement, there were no major behavioural issues, the little boy was calling him Dad, and everything was copacetic at home. To me, that didn’t feel like the norm, and I was pretty sure he’d been very lucky with his first placement. I thought it would have been beneficial to have heard from someone who had faced some more challenges, to get more of a realistic feel for what it was to be a foster carer. So when we were given feedback forms, I said as much.

Finally, all of the questions and forms were done, and the assessor said she was going to be making a positive recommendation. This meant I then had to go to panel. This is a meeting with up to 12 people, all of whom have read your form F with all of the information about you, your history, and your personality on it. They will then have an idea about you, and if they think you would be suitable as a foster carer. They are made up of all sorts of people from different walks of life. Some are staff from the agency, some work with kids, some are SW’ers, some are care leavers, there’s a real mix to get a broad range of opinions on potential carers. Mine was held over zoom as we were still in the pandemic, and they asked me some questions they wanted some more info on from my file. I answered as best as I could, and then I had to go out into the waiting room while they discussed everything. When I was brought back in, unfortunately I didn’t get a yes. However importantly, it wasn’t a no. Because of my diagnosis, they wanted a proper medical report done, which hadn’t been done yet due to the pandemic. They said that once they had that, they would reconvene, and we’d go around again.

Finally, I got my second shot at panel, after the medical reports were all received. We all met online again, they asked some different questions of me this time, and then I was again sent out into the waiting room. Nerves were running high, as this was it, the make it or break it moment. Were all of these past months going to have been for nothing, or not. I was brought back into the main room, and was given the good news that it was a unanimous yes to me becoming a foster carer. They went round the room and each person gave their reasons as to why they said yes, and that was very uncomfortable for me. I’ve NEVER been good at taking a compliment, and having all of these strangers saying really nice things about me was hard. But I smiled my way through it as my mind raced ahead to wondering who my first child would be and what they’d be like!

A couple of weeks after panel, I got the email and the certificate saying I’d been okayed by the agency decision maker, and they had agreed with the decision of panel. So that was it, I was a part of the Unity family, and I was a registered foster carer!

So, that’s turned into a bit of an essay, but I hope it gives you an idea of what you might be facing if you’re thinking of applying, or are anywhere on your journey to becoming a carer. It’s a long, tedious, tough process – but it needs to be. These kids deserve the best care we can give, and the best people to give it. So the process needs to be vigorous to make sure the kids get who they deserve. Because at the end of the day, that’s what we are all here for – or should be here for – the kids!

I’ll leave you with that for now, and see you again next month where I think I’m going to chat a bit about my first placement. That’s a bit of a doozy, so hold onto your hats! Take care!