Katie is a wheelchair user who has recently fostered a teenaged boy. We spoke with her about the process and what she thinks disabled people can bring to the foster carer role.
You’ve been involved with youth work for some time, is that what motivated you to foster?
I’ve worked in the community and a few of my friends were in foster care so that was what motivated me, really. It just ended up being sort of a logical conclusion for me. I don’t want to have biological kids because my impairment is such that my mobility would be affected. Fostering has always been on my radar.
What was the application process like?
It was great, very supportive; the agency that I work for are really good. I went with them because they have such a good sort of relationship with their carers and I knew that they would be up-to-date with all of the current thinking. Things move on quite quickly, I mean it’s only in the last 10 years or so that disabled people have been considered as foster carers. I’m in that lucky period of time where it’s a possibility for me.
You’ve just got to be open and willing. I mean every little thing is discussed about your life in the application process. You have to have done all the work mentally before you go into it because it’s such a big decision.
There is a medical, and they do assess your general health. I think there’s that misconception that disabled people are, ‘ill’. In some people’s minds they’re the recipient of the care, rather than the giver of the care, but it’s not an unusual thing anymore.
There are going to be questions that you normally wouldn’t get asked in your day-today life, like ‘How do you get out of bed?’ and ‘How do you have a shower?’ and stuff like that. Disabled people themselves need to pass on those valuable (problem solving) skills that they’ve got, and there’s only one way to do that, and that’s to help others.
Do you ﬁnd that people are surprised that you’re a foster carer?
I don’t concern myself if people are surprised or not, I’m too busy – but I did once get confused for a foster child myself, when I was with my foster child. That was quite an experience!
You’re currently looking after a teenaged boy; what’s been his reaction to your disability?
We spend so much time together that we’ve got that time to discuss these things and it just helps him grow and learn – and me as well. It’s just been really good and he’s just been nothing but positive and a joy to be around.
What should disabled people consider before they apply to foster?
If you know that it’s right, it will become apparent; if you’ve got the space and the time and the energy to be able to do this work, just like anyone else.
It’s just been a joy from start to ﬁnish, and it’s helped me get involved with the community and with young people again.
What about some of the tougher moments?
Use your support network and take that switch-off time to allow you to get back to your old self. The difﬁculties are more about those common things, like isolation, when you can go a full day without meeting someone that really gets what you’re talking about. When you’re a single carer, there’s only you to put that brave face on things, so that is quite tough. Luckily I’ve got a lot of people around me that are absolutely amazing, and I wouldn’t be able to do it without them.
So when are the best times?
When we’re one-on-one and just bonding. Teenagers can be very here, there and everywhere. They’ve got a lot of emotions and things to deal with. Just being able to introduce this new person into your life, and to give them experiences like going on holiday and going on trips and doing things together has been really nice. It’s not something that’s easily understood by people who haven’t done it, but you know, for that person to wake up in the morning and know that they’re safe and that they’ve got a fun, busy day with you, is the most rewarding part for me.
What do you regard as the qualities or attributes required to foster young people?
You need a lot of energy and an ability to share the same space as a young person and to really get on-board with their thoughts and feelings. You’ve got to be a good listener and a good empathiser. You’ve really got to be a parent to them.
I’m really excited and proud to say that I’ve done it. The rewards are abundant, every day.
Are you looking to continue fostering or do you think you will eventually adopt the teenager you’re looking after?
I’m not really thinking too far into the future. We need to focus on the next couple of years ﬁrst. Nothing is set in stone at this stage, but I’m looking forward to seeing how it goes and enjoying my time with him.
More: Fostering People was established in 2000 in the East Midlands by experienced social workers and has grown to become a nationally recognised independent fostering agency. It is part of Core Assets Group, the UK’s largest provider of holistic children’s services www.fosteringpeople.co.uk