People like you foster

Rosie and Mark’s story

Posted on: 26 September 2018

Foster carer and teenagerRosie and Mark are mainstream foster carers. They have been married for 31 years and decided to become foster carers 15 years ago when Mark lost his job as a butchery manager.  Rosie had been a professional nanny and childminder for several years, something the couple continue with today, this alongside their wish to give something back in life led them to consider becoming foster carers for Devon.

“So far we have fostered 25 children, a real range of ages from a tiny 24 hours old to 17 years. Our own children were eight and thirteen at the time we started fostering and they were very much part of our team, they were very involved in the care we offered.

Our ambition was to provide a loving family home to children who hadn’t experienced that, we really wanted to give something back to the world. We were already childminding and had the space in our home to offer places to foster children alongside this. It also meant that we could continue to work from home which was important to us.

Fostering fits well with our life, we are a busy household and that’s a positive thing. Our foster children learn so much from our childminder children, and visa versa.”

As a childminder Rosie was used to working within the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) which she finds beneficial to her role as a foster carer. It provides a broader understanding of what a child under 5 should be achieving, milestones to aim for, this knowledge has been invaluable.

“When we started fostering we were very naïve, we had absolutely no idea what fostering was going to be like, we were both wise enough to know that we couldn’t change the world, we could simply do our bit and do what we could do. However, we really had no idea what to expect.

My advice to anyone considering fostering is, ‘don’t have high expectations’. Don’t expect to be thanked by the children in your care, or at least not initially. At one point we were caring for two sisters, the youngest ran away aged 13 years, she was found safe and well but chose not to return to us. The elder sister, 15 years, chose to stay. No less than 5 years later the younger sister got back in touch with our son via social media and said ‘pass on my thanks to your parents’.

We thought that we may get a little more gratitude from the children, but this is not often the case. We find that helping children become independent and flourish as much as their age allows is incredibly rewarding in itself.

We do feel gratitude from Fostering Devon though, we feel valued and appreciated and our supervising social workers have been incredibly supportive, which is exactly what we need.”

Rosie and Mark knew that the assessment and approval process was going to be a detailed and lengthy affair, this was extended further as they had to pause the process due to a family bereavement.

“We were surprised at the level of detail we were expected to provide during the application process, how probing the checks were, however now we can absolutely see why this level of examination is necessary, fostering is such a unique and responsible vocation.

The training we’ve attended over the years has been excellent, really varied and incredibly educational, we have learnt so much. Fostering Devon have been good at listening to our training needs and introducing new courses as well.”

Rosie and Mark go on to explain that you can’t underestimate the huge impact that fostering will have on your own life.

“We could never have imaged what we were getting into. Our eyes have been opened to a range of different issues the children have come to us with. Fostering has had an impact on our own children as well, it has definitely opened their eyes and made them more accepting of everyone.

Life is what you make it though, and we wanted to make time for foster children.”

They find the support from each other invaluable, plus that of close friends and family. They also find that their supervising social workers have been brilliant, incredibly supportive and someone with which they can be completely honest. They find it is useful to have someone to share any concerns with, bounce ideas off and know that they will be listened to.

“Fostering for Devon is so much more than we ever imagined, both in a positive way and in the way that it challenges us every day. In fact, I don’t think we knew what to imagine, what we were getting ourselves into but we wouldn’t change it.

The star qualities anyone considering a career in fostering needs are patience, understanding, commitment, resilience and a strong and supportive relationship, either with a partner, a family member, friend or neighbour. You also need to be able to work as part of a bigger team, to play your part well, be an advocate for the child in your care and to work alongside many different agencies who are also supporting the child. It is important to realise that you can’t change the world, but you can make a real difference to a child’s future.”

“Our day to day is much like anyone else’s. At the moment we have a 5-month-old who wakes at 8am, a nine-year-old who wants to get up at 7am and a sixteen-year-old who is a typical teenager and can lie in bed until 11am!”

Rosie explains that you should never underestimate the ‘normal everyday routine’ that can seem mundane to most people, and how important and reassuring it is for children to have structure in their lives.

“Just managing the basics – getting dressed for school, eating meals together, getting to school on time, bath, story and bedtime is a massive achievement for us. We try very hard to keep every day as normal as possible, simple things like being there for the school pick is important to the children we look after.

For us one of the most rewarding things is seeing the difference you can make to a child. You may not get thanked today, tomorrow or even a few years down the line (you may never get thanks) but you must believe that you are making a difference, because you are.

We are still in touch with five children who were adopted from us, we invited them to my 50th birthday celebrations. During the speeches one of the children, now seven years old stood up and asked to speak. He simply said, ‘Thank you for fostering me, you saved my life.’ There wasn’t a dry eye in the room.

Sometimes it’s the tiny differences we make that are so important. For one of our children it was simply being able to have a bath, we persevered, he is now completely comfy in the water, having his hair washed and even enjoys bath time – tiny steps.”

Rosie and Mark find that contact with birth parents can be really tricky. Some parents try their best to undermine the good work that they are doing, often using indirect contact, maybe birthday cards or gifts to disrupt or upset the routine. They find this quite wearing, on the other hand though some parents can be accepting of the situation and even very positive.

“Fostering is definitely a way of life, you simply can’t clock off, it’s not a 9 – 5 job. It’s more than a career, it’s not like any other job out there, it’s all consuming, we are an enigma, we are special, we are unique.

So today we had a good start to the day. Our goal is always to get through the day without any dramas, that’s what makes me smile – on the inside even if not outwardly.”

Some of the additional support offered to Fostering Devon carers is their Peer Guide Network. Rosie is a Peer Guide and so uses her experience to support other foster carers in Devon, it’s a valuable service and gives foster carers the chance to offload any worries and share learning with others going through the same. The Peer Guide Network offers carers reassurance and is unique to Devon.

And so what advice would they offer anyone considering a career in fostering?

“I’d encourage them to go for it! Be realistic though, if you think having your own children is hard, triple it and you will be somewhere close!

I would always encourage people to get in touch with Fostering Devon, the support is much better than with independent agencies and the money is spent on looking after the children who need it most.

As a foster carer I feel we also have a duty to educate others about fostering. One of our foster children recently asked if I could come into school and help explain about foster care in school. We baked a cake and read ‘One more marble in the jar’ to the class. Children are more accepting that adults, he now feels more comfortable amongst his peers and that he is the same as everyone else, which is as it should be.”