So glad we kept sisters together | How fostering siblings works for us

Fostering siblings

To mark Fostering February, we asked Michael to tell his story of 12 months since fostering siblings.

It’s just over a year since we welcomed sisters M__ and E__ into our home — in the early hours of one winter morning.

Coming from an inner city environment, the girls were understandably unsure at first about our countryside location.

Today, they’re perfectly happy outdoors or playing with our ‘pack’ of four pugs — and are now living with us as a permanent placement.

Fostered sisters with dogs

But we didn’t get to this point as a family overnight — once me and my wife Louise decided we wanted to foster, we had a lot of research to do.

Starting our fostering siblings journey

One of our oldest friends has been a foster parent for years, so we knew what a difference it could make to vulnerable children.

When we started looking into it, we spoke to a number of IFA’s — but it wasn’t until we got in touch with our current agency that it felt ‘right’.

They gave the impression of a ‘family’ environment — friendly contact, helpful information and a lovely initial visit.

It’s been a learning curve — we were apprehensive about our final panel meeting but needn’t have been.

Same with the first LAC meeting we went to — lots of new people, plenty to take in — but not scary at all once you’re there.

And we quickly revised our initial aim not to foster anyone older than our sons, R__ and M__, instead deciding to assess placements on their own merits.

We’re glad we did, as the girls are benefitting from having brothers — and vice versa — plus the age gaps aren’t that big anyway.

Fostered siblings playing

Although neither of the girls were in education when they came to us, we got to work enrolling them in local schools.

While waiting for their places to be confirmed, I was able to spend time with them — I’m self employed and mainly work from home.

And although time with the dogs and enjoying various craft activities was great, it was a relief when the girls were able to join their new schools.

Both sisters have flourished — especially considering how much school they’ve missed out on — and E__ is predicted top grades in every subject.

Making new memories – keeping siblings together

It’s not all work though, we’re a very ‘doing’ family — all of the kids have had a go at steering our canal boat during trips away.

Fostered siblings in the snow

And you’ll often find me up above the treetops — I’ve got a microlight aircraft and also fly powered parachutes.

Louise and I both qualified as pilots years ago in the US and we love getting up high and enjoying the views of Rutland Water and the surrounding countryside.

E__ has already been up for a flight — and we’re even working on persuading our social worker to strap in when she visits during warmer weather!

And now we’ve sorted out the girls’ passports, we can’t wait for our first family holiday abroad — Sri Lanka this Easter.

Giving more children a chance

This last year has been fantastic — the girls are as good as gold and we love them to bits — I would recommend fostering to anyone.

The training has been excellent, we’ve been given all the support we’ve needed and everyone we’ve met has been a huge help.

And our social worker Paula is great — nothing is ever too much trouble for her — but she’s also the one who told us the most heartbreaking thing.

Fostered siblings family

At the ‘Skills to Foster’ course we attended, we found out not only how many kids need help — but also how many a month unfortunately can’t be placed.

Louise and I were lucky to have the childhoods we did — and we’ve done what we can to make sure the girls have the best we can give them.

But it’s important to share our experience — so other people will see how much the girls have enriched our family by coming to live with us.

And hopefully someone will be inspired to change a vulnerable young person’s life — and change their own at the same time.

There’s no better time than now, during Fostering February.

If you’d like to know more about how you could help brothers and sisters who need each other stay together, please contact us online or ring 0800 0443 789.

 

7 lessons I’ve learnt from introverted children

Young introverted boy studies alone in room

If you care for a quiet, shy or ‘less sociable’ young person, this knowledge gained working with foster parents who care for introverted children may help you support them.

Courtesy of NFA North West training manager Kath Hamblett.

 

1. Introverts aren’t aloof

Some children may exclude themselves simply because they’re frightened of forming an attachment.

If you’ve often been let down by adults, the relative sanctuary of your bedroom may feel more solid than promises made by ‘new’ people.

Carers can refer to their training — particularly the importance of sensitivity as detailed in the ‘Secure Base Model‘ to help children manage these feelings.

By tuning into what young people might be feeling, a foster parent can start to understand introvert behaviour and offer the right support.

2. Introverts aren’t boring

A young person might be reluctant to join in or try something new — that doesn’t mean they’re no fun.

They may have been punished or abused for ‘failures’ at tasks and activities in their past — so sticking to the familiar makes sense.

The empathy to see that a lack of participation doesn’t always mean a lack of ambition or ability is an important carer attribute.

And by being patient and encouraging, they can give a young person the best chance to explore how much they want to ‘join in’.

3. Introverts can reach out

Take opportunities to establish (and build on) trust whenever these are presented if possible.

If a child wants to play lego with you rather than go to bed, maybe some shared bonding over bricks would be more beneficial than a strict routine at that time.

By allowing such interaction, you can provide a safe space for a young person to play, explore and share with you.

And as the relationship develops and trust grows, it should become easier to introduce clearer defined routines.

4. Introverts aren’t robots

A perceived lack of emotion may not tell the whole story — some children simply haven’t known a nurturing environment to help them understand their feelings.

If a young person hasn’t learnt what an emotion means, they may not even know if they’re mad/sad/glad/scared — let alone how to express this.

Be there for them and leave no doubt that they’re a member of your family, to develop a sense of belonging.

As the young person becomes more comfortable with their environment, they may learn how to recognise and express emotions by seeing others do so.

5. Introverts aren’t broken

You don’t need to ‘fix’ an introverted young person by keeping them permanently occupied or frequently placing them in social situations.

Sometimes, quiet or alone time is hugely valuable — especially for children who need time to process a lot of unfamiliar information.

A new home, new family, new school — even new feelings — can be a lot to deal with — so be available but recognise the value of space.

If you can give this support, a young person can start to associate that solitude with reflection, rather than exclusion or punishment.

6. Introverts may have history

When involving an introvert in a group or family event, consider that you may need to manage expectations.

Just because a party or barbecue means a good time for most, such occasions could have different associations for a looked-after child.

Violenceneglect, abuse — be aware that something most people look forward to may be linked to a previous bad experience for a young person.

So they may appear more anxious than excited at the prospect of a get-together, particularly one with lots of people, alcohol or an unfamiliar location.

Address concerns by explaining what goes on at such occasions in your family — and maybe even dig out a photo from a previous similar event.

7. Introverts may need ‘guesswork’

An introverted child’s lack of visible confidence may go hand-in-hand with not understanding consequences.

When kids are told ‘don’t run with scissors’, ‘hold hands to cross the road’ and ‘take off coats indoors’ — they learn about cause and effect.

But without this understanding of reasons for actions, a young person may not understand why they’re being asked to do (or not do) something.

Using ‘guesses’ to prompt them to question themselves can encourage them to understand the causes and outcomes of certain behaviour.

Try phrases like: ‘I guess you wanted to stay in your room rather than eat with us because you’re feeling upset about XXXX’, to start the process.

So… one step at a time

So a child who isn’t the ‘life and soul’ doesn’t need to be forced to change, they need acceptance and availability.

Remember — ‘quiet’ is a subjective term and someone who seems withdrawn at first in your home may be dealing with much more than they’re used to.

Maybe a one-to-one game of cards will be all they can deal with initially — but give them opportunities to learn the value and fun of spending time with others.

With time and luck, the young person will become an important part of your family who can also spend time apart without being seen as rude or sullen.

 

Find out more about the Secure Base programme and other specialist training available for carers by calling 0800 044 3030 or if you prefer, contact us online.

To see when you can talk to some of our friendly staff in person about training and support, see our latest events near you.

Testimonial 2

“Our Jay Supporting Social Worker has been the same since day one! We have the utmost confidence in her and our relationship with her has really helped us on our way to fostering. The local authority has had a large turnover of Social Workers for the young person we foster. This can be very unsettling them, so having the continuity from Jay has been of paramount importance, as it has allowed our young person to build a strong relationship with her too, which is delightful to see.” Foster Carer