What makes a good foster carer?
We have asked Pamela, a 32 year old teacher from London and former foster child, to share some of her story and experiences of living with foster families. We’ve also asked her to share pearls of wisdom on how she feels foster carers can best support the children in their care.
Tell us about yourself…
My name is Pamela although most of my close friends call me Pam. I am 32 and I live in Central London. I absolutely love it here and there are always lots of weird and wonderful things happening to keep me entertained. I am the oldest of six children and we are all very different but very close. I have quite a multi-cultural family; one of my brothers is half Irish and two of my sisters are half St Lucian, so growing up was really interesting as you can imagine and family get togethers these days are even more so. Whilst I was growing up my mum suffered from quite a severe mental health condition which meant that things could be quite tough at times and for a short period of about a year I was put into foster care by my mum where I lived with a family and one other foster child. I was about 13 at the time and before I moved into foster care I was actually in a children’s care home.
What were your experiences of foster care?
The children’s home was like the fun house, everyone leading everyone else astray and causing chaos, so it was actually quite calming when a foster placement was identified. The family I lived with were very religious and lived across the road from their church. When I first moved in I wondered if they were going to make me go to church. This was actually one of the first questions I asked. My foster mother Tina told me that as I was 13 I was allowed to decide whether or not I wanted to go. I remember feeling a massive sense of relief as I don’t consider myself to be religious. The family was made up of two boys and a girl and then there was the other foster child and me. It felt quite like your average family to be honest and they were generally quite welcoming but there were a couple of things that singled us out from them. At dinner we would all eat together but the biological children would get much nicer desserts than us. This felt awful but we never said anything. Also, as foster carers, the family received clothing allowance intended for us but we never saw any of that. I remember asking Tina about it but she said that it was spent on things like dressing gowns and slippers for us. In general it was quite a pleasant experience really but I always wanted to go home so I never really felt like part of their family.
What was the most challenging part of being cared for by adults who weren’t your own family?
I think the most challenging thing is not knowing what is allowed and what is not allowed, when you are at home you know this but anywhere else you need to be shown or told. It’s almost as if you need an informal guide when you move in to let you know if, for example, it’s alright to help yourself to food when you are hungry or what time you can stay out until or if you have to eat meals at the table with the family. I never minded doing anything really as long as I knew what was expected of me. The last thing you need when you are in unfamiliar surroundings with people you don’t know is to be told off for doing something you thought was normal.
What helped you overcome these challenges?
I learned by mistake really. When I got into trouble it made me resent the foster family and feel quite isolated but that doesn’t mean it should be like that for others.
What advice would you give to current foster carers to support them in their care of children and young people?
Make living there fun. Encourage the child or young person to do new things and praise them when they do these well. Don’t try to make it feel like their old home – this is a new chapter! Even if the intention or plan is for the child or young person to go home a foster home should be made of new, exciting memories that involve the new foster family.