What is respite fostering? Insights with foster carer Jenny

When you decide to become a foster carer, you’ll be asked what type of care you’d like to offer for children and young people in your area. One such option is respite care.

As a respite foster carer, you’ll provide short-breaks to other carers who need additional support, or someone who requires temporary additional care for their foster child.

To give a deeper insight into respite foster care, we spoke to Respite Foster Carer Jenny about her experience with Unity Foster Care…

Can you please tell us a little bit about yourself?

My name is Jenny, I’m 41 years old, and I’ve been fostering for almost three years. Prior to fostering with Unity Foster Care, I didn’t have loads of childcare experience, but I had volunteered for the Girl Guides and worked as a babysitter in the past. I’d always intended to foster or adopt once I reached the right stage in my life, especially as I have fertility issues and cannot therefore have kids of my own. I suppose you could say I was looking for a purpose in my life, which formed part of my reason for wanting to foster. I also had a lot of health issues so struggled to maintain a regular job. I couldn’t work 9-5, so I decided to do a 24/7 job instead!

How did you find the fostering application process?

The application process was understandably long, taking about 6-9 months. I was impatient to start and would rather have done multiple sessions a week, rather than one a week over a longer period. There were interviews almost every week, and many aspects of my psyche, life and past were delved into. It was quite interesting to explore things like my past and motivations for fostering.

Can you tell us about some of the unique skills you need to become a foster carer?

I think patience is the biggest skill a foster carer should have. You also need to have a very thick skin. I’ve been told that my biggest strength is my ability to see beyond the children’s behaviours. Try not to be reactionary. Instead, think about what’s behind the behaviours. It can be complicated, but it’s helpful to look beyond what is in front of you.

Why did you choose respite fostering?

I have done short-term fostering in the past. However, I currently live in rented accommodation, and my landlord put a ‘for sale’ sign up. This had a triggering effect on the foster child I was caring for at the time, as they thought they’d have to live on the streets due to past trauma. So, I decided to become a respite carer as it is much more temporary. By doing respite foster care, you get to meet a lot of different children with different needs, cultures, and experiences. It keeps things interesting.

What can people expect from respite fostering?

Respite is different from emergency foster care, and I do both types. Emergency foster care usually involves taking a child in on an urgent basis. Whereas respite fostering is usually more planned out. Emergency foster care is usually for a shorter period of time, like one night, when a child has just been removed from their birth family. Respite fostering, on the other hand, can be anything from one night to five weeks, as you are giving the child’s foster carer a break. The placement length of time very much depends on what’s going on with the foster families, like if they have a long trip planned or a family emergency. The most common respite placement is generally either for a weekend or a week. Since Easter, I’ve had three placements, but it can really vary.

What does a typical day look like for you as a foster carer?

There is no typical day. It all depends upon whether a placement is during a weekday, a weekend, or during the holiday period. You also encounter kids with different needs and behaviours. A typical day is the unknown.

What are some challenges you may face as a respite foster carer?

One big challenge is that you don’t properly know the kids because it’s so short-term. Getting to know things like their routines, what they like to eat can take a while, and that’s time you don’t really have. On the flip side of that, though, you tend to get the ‘honeymoon period’ because a child is generally on their best behaviour at first.

Why should someone consider respite care?

Respite fostering is great because of the range of children you can get, and as I said, they’re usually on their best behaviour. This type of fostering is a good way of introducing yourself to fostering and gives you a chance to build up skills in a lot of areas before jumping into a short term placement.

What has been your favourite memory as a foster carer?

I have loads of lovely memories with all of my placements. Overall, it’s seeing the barriers come down. It’s those moments of pure joy, like doing something new or something they love, or seeing them achieve something. Seeing that spark or smile and feeling like you’ve made a difference means a lot.

What has your time been like with Unity Foster Care?

My time with Unity Foster Care has been really positive. You get an eclectic mix of young people with a variety of challenges. I’m often used as an example when Unity Foster Care are talking to carers about behavioural challenges. I’ve had a lot to contend with in a short space of time. Due to the fact I’ve had so many different challenges and examples of a number of different behaviours, that’s why I come up, but I’ve made plenty of mistakes, as we all do. Fostering has been a steep learning curve, but I’d researched a lot before so understood the challenges that I could face.

Do you have any advice for anyone considering fostering?

Do your research. Speak to other foster carers; that is really important, as they can tell you their first-hand experience of what it’s like. Read blogs too. I also think it’s good to be open about faith and religion. I’m agnostic, but I’ve had children with a few different beliefs and faiths, so it’s good to be open to conversation. You should be aware of different needs, like cooking halal or knowing how to care for different ethnicity’s hair types. I always have spare shampoos, and the beds in the two spare rooms are always made. Be flexible and willing to adapt and try to keep the place tidy at all times.

What do you do in your spare time?

When fostering, there’s no such thing as spare time! I’m a single foster carer, so things can be especially full-on. I do enjoy introducing young people to the things I like, though. It’s nice to get them involved, so your spare time is also theirs. I love to cook, bake, and garden. I grow my own fruit and veg, which the kids tend to like to get involved in. I remember one kid hated tomatoes, but he tried one of my cherry orange tomatoes and loved it. He wanted to grow his own vegetables after that. I also make cuddly toys, and I love musicals. I try to drag the kids to at least one musical. One very street-smart girl told me she hated musicals, but by the time she left my house she loved them!

Read more foster carer stories and insights on our blog.

Could you make a difference to the lives of children and young people in your area? Find out more about the different types of fostering, and start your application today with Unity Foster Care today.

Our friendly team are on hand to answer any questions you may have, as well as support you in starting your fostering journey.

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