BECOMING A CARER
Foster carers’ self-run support group helps lighten the load
Lika foster carers can take part in a monthly online support group, where they can meet, share ideas and experiences, and talk about situations and solutions, with people who understand exactly what they’re going through.
Being a foster carer is an amazing and often transformational life experience, but it’s also a big job. That’s why Lika has a lot of support structures and mechanisms in place to make sure no foster carer ever feels alone in what they’re trying to achieve with their young person.
One of those key support mechanisms is this virtual support group, held online via Zoom. It’s run by Lika foster carers, for Lika foster carers, and at various times of the day to ensure every carer who’d like to can attend a meeting that fits their schedule.
The support group has evolved over time, becoming a vital link between carers during the pandemic. These days they’re run by Lika’s new Foster Carer Ambassador, Nma Nzekwu. Nma is a foster carer herself. Lika staff do not take part in the support group—it’s a space for carers to share with each other—but the group can feed information and ideas back up to the agency, through Nma.
“We mainly talk about our struggles in fostering in the home,” Nma said. “But it also works as a bridge between Lika and the foster carers.”
One of Lika’s foster carers who sometimes joins the support group meeting is Kathy. Like Nma, Kathy is a foster carer based in London.
“Basically, we don’t come in with an agenda,” Kathy said. “It’s a chance for all the carers to say, ‘Hello, how are you? What’s going on?’ So, you can go on a call and say, ‘everything’s going great’ or ‘it’s just okay’.
“Or someone might come on who’s going through a dilemma at the time, or they’ve got a concern or an issue about how they’re coping, or how their young person’s coping with a particular issue.
“Sometimes it’s an opportunity for them to sometimes just vent. But other times it’s an opportunity to ask for advice or help or just say, ‘I’m not coping well’ or ‘the child’s not coping well’.
“Most people contribute by offering advice or telling them (the other carer) how well they’re doing, helping them, just acknowledging that it’s a difficult time but that they’ve been through a similar experience and there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Kathy said sometimes the issues that come up are big; sometimes they’re relatively minor. The important thing is that the atmosphere is really supportive.
“There are often times we end up having a giggle and a laugh,” she said. “It’s not all serious stuff, but it’s very much supportive.”
At Lika, foster carers are always part of a broader team who work collaboratively to improve the lives of the young people in care. Lika foster carers receive support from
- The agency team as a whole
- Their supervising social worker
- Professional support services
- Their own social support network (often trained by Lika as part of the process of becoming a Lika foster carer)
- Each other, through the support group and other arrangements
- Lika’s 24/7 support line.
Kathy said while there was a lot of support for foster carers from Lika, the support group provided “a different space”.
“There’s no doubt Lika is very supportive,” Kathy said. “I could phone up at three in the morning and say, ‘I’ve got an issue. Help me,’ and they’ll offer advice and support.
“But the reality is that they don’t live with the child 24/7. Other foster carers understand what it’s like when you’re living with a child who might have a big issue. Just talking to other people who are going through, if not the same thing, then something like what you are experiencing, it’s a kind of different language, because it’s not the professional language (of social work or psychology). It’s more relaxed. You don’t have to think about policy. You can just share your experiences.
Sometimes it just helps to share. Others might not come out with answers, but in fairness, quite often they do.”
Kathy said more often than not, most carers would leave the call feeling better. Someone has been helped. Burning questions have been answered. Voices have been heard. Concerns have been raised. Burdens have been shared.
“I think often you come off the call feeling it was a useful call, and it was valuable, and you’ve had a laugh, or you’ve had a moan,” Kathy said. “People have worked through what their issues are, and it feels like it’s a community. We’re a community of shared experiences.”
Not only do Lika foster carers have extensive access to peer and professional support, but the agency also provides a lot of training opportunities—both as part of the assessment process to become a carer and throughout the year once you’re working as a foster carer—to help ensure you have the skills, experience and confidence you need to be the best carer you can be.
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, City of London, Haringey, Newham, Redbridge, and Barking and Dagenham, Hammersmith and Fulham, Kensington and Chelsea.