Heather is a Fostering Support Carer for Break. She helps other fostering families get some much-needed time and space for themselves and other young people in their home, whilst also giving their foster child a place to stay which is supportive, safe and familiar.
“Before I adopted my little boy, I really wanted to foster but at the time adoption seemed a better route for me and my situation,” explains Heather. “However, I was still very much open to the idea of fostering and it was only after I started to use Break’s therapeutic service for my adopted child, that I learnt about their fostering service.”
With her three grown up children moving on and her adoptive son settled in school, Heather started to investigate fostering again and saw Break’s Fostering Support Carer role. “I knew that with my son and the learning difficulties he has, I couldn’t foster full time but with this role it meant that I could still help a child who needed it, but also be able to have the time to care for my son.”
Being a Support Carer means that Heather is carefully matched with a foster child through Break and she opens up her home to them. Through this the foster carers are able to have some time away and Heather gives the young person an opportunity to build positive relationships with others.
We’ve been to the zoo, we’ll go bowling or to the cinema, or go to the beach; have BBQs in the summer and water fights in the garden!
“I’ve been working with C, 14, and his foster parents for just over a year now. The matching process was done very carefully to make sure it was right for everyone, including my son, and we all got to know each other gradually. He now stays regularly with me one weekend a month and we’ll do all sorts of fun things together. Although he’s quite chilled out and would be more than happy to spend most of his time playing video games with my son, I do try and get them away from the screens as much as I can. We’ve been to the zoo, we’ll go bowling or to the cinema, or go to the beach; have BBQs in the summer and water fights in the garden! It’s like they’re brothers and they’ll happily play together making dens and getting up to all sorts!”
But Heather does admit that it’s not just about having fun, and she works closely with C’s foster carers, sharing information on how C is getting on, and together they make sure that the support he is getting is consistent from both carers.
“We’ve all got to be on the same page on how we support C and how we respond to any challenging behaviour ,” she explains. “We have a handover, and we share our carers log where we note how we’ve been working with C and highlight any problems we may have had. This is really useful. For example, if he’s had something quite significant happen to him during that month it’s good to know and to understand how his foster carers are supporting him, and what behaviours he may show when he’s with me. Even if it’s something he doesn’t want to talk about when he’s here, it’s good to be aware.”
As well as helping the foster carers, by having someone else reinforce the work they are doing, it shows C that others care and love him as well. “The children that come into fostering are likely to have experienced some form of trauma and neglect, and can often feel worthless, unloved and undeserving,” says Heather. “Through Break’s focus on therapeutic parenting and the fantastic training all Break’s carers receive on trauma and behaviour, we can work together on making sure C begins to understand that he is loved unconditionally.”
You’re reacting differently and saying you’re still deserving of love no matter what you do.
Talking about being a therapeutic parent, Heather says it’s not something that she had come across before her work with Break, but it has changed her whole outlook on parenting. “It’s a completely different mindset and can feel as if you’re almost always doing the opposite of what you think you should be doing as a parent. As a consequence of what they’ve experienced in the first few years of their life, development milestones are not met in the same way as a child that has received attuned care and nurture and this trauma can come out in all sorts of challenging behaviours. For example, when your foster child has a meltdown and they’ve called you everything under the sun, your response is not ‘Go to your room,’ it should be, ‘I can see you’re struggling, do you need a hug?’. These children are expecting adults to shout at them, to hurt them, to take things away from them but you’re reacting differently and saying you’re still deserving of love no matter what you do. It’s letting the young person learn through natural consequences, not punishment. It can be hard sometimes, and it can take a long time, but it does work.”
Heather does say she has started to see a change in C over the past year. “He liked to people please and would do everything I asked. Some would think this was great but looking behind this behaviour it was because he was afraid to say no and fearful of what might happen if he did. But at one visit recently, he refused to do something and I was so happy! It meant he wasn’t scared about how I’d react if he said no and showed me that he felt safe with me and understood in that instance he had a choice of whether he wanted to do it or not.”
The training is brilliant and I have monthly meetings with my social worker to talk through how everything is going.
Although the role can have its challenges, Heather explains that she is well supported with the training and supervision that she gets through Break. “The training is brilliant and I have monthly meetings with my social worker to talk through how everything is going. We also meet every six months with C’s foster carers and their social worker. On top of that there’s a great support group that Break’s fostering service provides for all their carers to access. We get to meet up and talk through any problems together, and more often than not, most people in the room have been through the same situation, or similar, and can therefore help you find solutions and really empathise with how it feels.”
Heather also points out that it’s not just the adults that need support but also the foster carers own children, and Break’s monthly group designed specifically for these children has really helped her son. “As a foster carer, the whole family fosters and this group gives your child a little bit of space just for them. It takes into account the individuality of each child and the different situations they are living in. My son really enjoys it.”
For me and my family, this role is a good balance. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done and I’m so grateful I’m able to have an impact in a young person’s life, making them feel special and loved.
From this type of help with Break also offering a monthly group for the children of foster carers. “As foster carer, the whole family fosters and it’s not just the adults that need support. The group gives your children a little bit of space just for them and takes into account the individuality of each child and the different situations they are living in. My son attends and he really enjoys it.”
Being a Support Carer can be incredibly rewarding and Heather says that it’s like having the best of both worlds. “I don’t have the full responsibility that the foster carers do, but obviously he is in my life now for as long as he wants to be, even when he’s left foster care. We message in between visits so he knows I’m always here, not just on that weekend. And although it can be challenging at times and you need to be able to deal with certain behaviours, it can be a lot of fun as well. For me and my family, this role is a good balance. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done and I’m so grateful I’m able to have an impact in a young person’s life, making them feel special and loved.
“I like to think the role I have in C’s life is making a difference. It’s given him another friend and it has helped him learn about different relationships. In his foster home he’s the youngest whereas here he’s a few years older than my son and he’s really embraced the big brother role! For his foster carers, we can share the load and support each other, which is so important for everyone’s wellbeing.”