In Advice for Carers

Caring for a foster child with developmental delay

When you become a foster carer, you know that some of the children who will come into your life will have challenges to overcome. One of those could be a developmental delay.

In a moment, we’ll hear from a carer from Croydon in South London who looks after a young girl with developmental delay, to learn what her experience has been like. But firstly, let’s learn a bit more about global developmental delay.

GOT QUESTIONS?: If you want to know more about becoming a foster carer in London, ask our team here.

What is global developmental delay?

Developmental delay is a term used when a child takes longer to reach certain developmental milestones — like talking, walking or reading — than most children their age.

These children might also struggle to interact with people socially and emotionally.

Some will have another condition that can help explain this delay, like cerebral palsy or Down’s Syndrome. But many will not. Developmental delay can be an effect of the environment in which the child has lived.

For some children, the delay is temporary. With the right support, they can catch up to their peers. For others, the delay can be ongoing and, at that point, the child will be reassessed as having a learning disability.

Julie’s story: caring for a child with a developmental delay

Julie has been a foster carer for less than a year. Her foster child is a young girl with developmental delays and learning difficulties. She’s finishing primary school but cannot read, write or do sums.

The child was diagnosed with a developmental delay before she came into care but how she attained a delay is, as Julie explains, “a bit of a conundrum”.

child developmental delay

Julie’s foster child was diagnosed with a developmental delay before she came into care.

“She was born prematurely and she only weighed four pounds,” Julie said. “She was brought up by her mother, who has severe mental health issues, until she was six. Then she went to live with an aunt and uncle. You can tell her upbringing was very up and down. I think she might have missed a lot of school.

“So it’s hard to work out what is the developmental delay and what might be a result of any abuse she might have experienced. She’s now starting to improve with me – so who is to say which is developmental delay and which is that she just hasn’t had the right influences?”

Facing the challenge: developmental delay and foster care

After Julie was assessed and approved to become a foster carer, she was — as all new foster carers are — presented with some profiles of children who need care.

“It all happened quite quickly and it boiled down to the choice between a boy and a girl — and both had some form of disability,” Julie said.

READ MORE: Right foster carer, right foster kid: the inside story of a placement

In the end, the child’s disability didn’t factor into her decision; it all came down to practicality — the little girl’s school was close to Julie’s house. But what made her think she was ready to care for a child with developmental delay?

“I’m the kind of person who likes a challenge,” she said.

development delay in foster care

What made Julie think she was ready to care for a child with developmental delay?

“I was quite daunted at first because I’ve not really worked with anyone with a disability before. It was a step into the unknown. I knew it was going to be a challenge, but I didn’t know how much of a challenge.

“I was completely overwhelmed for the first month. I was very anxious in case she woke up in the night and didn’t know where I was, so I wasn’t sleeping very well, so I wasn’t at my best because that starts to affect everything else.”

Learning and growing along with your foster child

Fortunately for Julie, help was always at hand.

“Lika are only at the end of the line if I need them, but they also have lots of books, literature and advice,” she said. “You find books just popped through the letterbox sometimes – they’ve really helped with getting her to school and so on.

READ MORE: What kind of support does a foster carer get?

“There was one book called My Big Shouting Day, which she really connected with because she used to shout a lot. I read it to her every day. She knew the book off by heart.

“So there are lots of resources— and because I had done all the training courses with Lika before I started caring, I was able to step back and step out of the situation and decide how to respond to any challenges.”

Developmental delay: A different kind of fostering challenge

Julie said the biggest challenge of fostering a child with developmental delay is assessing how they’re settling in.

“If she had been a ‘mainstream’ child it would have been easier to tell how she was getting along,” she said. “You’d put down most of her issues to that fact they’d had to come into care. But with her, I’m always wondering if something is to do with her delay.”

delay in children

Julie said the biggest challenge of fostering a child with developmental delay is assessing how they’re settling in.

Julie said the secret was to be patient and encouraging.

“I try to show her that being unable to do something is a learning opportunity,” she said.

For example, Julie said the young girl had been unable to skip rope or use a yo-yo just a few months ago, but she can now do both.

“She’d be unable to do it, so she’d stop and wave her arms about,” Julie said. “So I said to her: ‘if you get to the point where it’s so frustrating you want to wave your arms about, put it away for a while and get it out another time. It’s good to fail because it means when you do manage to do it, you’ll be so pleased with yourself.’

“There’s been a huge improvement in her ability to cope with disappointment.”

Advice for foster carers on global developmental delay

What advice does Julie have for foster carers considering whether to take on a child with a developmental delay?

“If you’re going to take on a child as demanding as she is, consider if you have that capacity to do it,” Julie said. “I’m on my own; it’d be much easier with a partner. And it probably needs to be your only job.

“It’s akin to having a baby. You have to look for small milestones. But they’re very rewarding.

“When I see her succeed at something… it just makes you feel so proud.

“She’s just a lovely little girl trying to find her way. I can’t say anything negative about it. Yes, there have been points where I’ve thought ‘can I do this?’ But it is worth it.”

Live in South or East London and interested in becoming a foster carer?

If you’re in south or east London and you’re interested in becoming a foster carer, give the helpful team at Lika a call on 020 8667 2111. We’re here to answer all your questions.

We’re in the London boroughs of Croydon, Sutton, Bromley, Merton, Lambeth, Westminster, Wandsworth, Lewisham, Southwark, Islington, Camden, Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Ilford, City of London, Haringey, Newham, Redbridge, Barking and Dagenham, Hammersmith and Fulham, Kensington and Chelsea. 

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