How do Foster Carers impact the lives of those that enter their home?

Pippa-Marie SheppardCommunity

With Foster Care Fortnight having only been a month ago, here at Penarth View we have spoken to two amazing women who have opened their homes to children and young people, giving them the family and support they required at a time they needed it the most. 

Annette Sheppard and Nicola Jones are just two of many foster carers around Wales that have gone above and beyond for the community, welcoming children of various ages to live with them. 

Annette Sheppard, from Caerphilly, has been fostering since 1995.

50-year-old Annette Sheppard, from Caerphilly, has been fostering since November 1995. When asked about what inspired her to become a foster carer, she said: “We became foster carers because it was something I had always wanted to do having had a difficult childhood myself. I wanted to make a difference in children and young people’s lives.”

“We have fostered over 200 children and young people, some for just one night and some for years and into adulthood.”

Growing up in foster care can be a confusing and difficult time for many of those that experience it, however with Annette’s experience and true passion for making a difference to those that enter her home, these crucial years of development are made easier.

She added: “Being fostered can make a difference to many children and young people. Sometimes it’s about working with a child or young person and their families to get them home, sometimes it’s about a family having respite at a difficult time and sometimes it’s about taking care of a child or young person until they are old enough to take care of themselves whilst still maintaining their family links.”

“We aren’t there to replace their family, unless they are of course rejected by their family or have no family, but are there to try and support the children and young people working with their family whilst offering a safe, non-judgmental and loving home.”

Speaking about what makes the job worthwhile, Annette said: “The best part of fostering is seeing children and young people relax and enjoy themselves, to see them build strong relationships again with family and possibly returning with family.”

“Seeing them thrive and achieve in life. Seeing them grow into independent men and women.”

Nicola Jones has fostered 19 children over the past 9 years.

Nicola Jones, a 53-year-old from Cardiff, has been a foster carer since 2012. She said: “I’m a foster carer who has been fostering for almost 9 years. I first wanted to foster when my own children were young but my husband wanted to wait until they were older.”

“Prior to fostering I worked in primary schools as an administrator and many children, with challenging behavior, would often be sent to the headteachers office which was next to mine.”

“I would often spend time talking to these children, and it became apparent that the children were having difficulties at home. One particular little boy pulled at my heart strings and was at risk of going into care but when I asked if he could stay at mine with me for a while to give his mother time to sort herself out, my offer was refused by the powers that be.”

“This was when I decided I wanted to help reduce the pain these children feel that cause the challenging behaviors.”

When asked about how many children and young people she has helped since becoming a Foster Carer, Nicola added: “Since I started fostering, I’ve looked after 19 children of varying ages and for varying lengths of time.”

“When I first started fostering, I just wanted to give a child a good home where they were safe but it soon became apparent that the adverse experiences the children had endured made the child feel very angry and out of control.”

“This would often make it difficult for the whole family as we weren’t used to the behaviors that showed.”

“What I did learn was that the standard parenting didn’t work for these children. All children need to learn to trust again so I researched therapeutic parenting and changed my approach.” 

Speaking about what’s important about being a foster carer, Nicola said: “I believe helping the children to feel safe and being a good role model is most important. The children need empathy and understanding and to be accepted regardless of their behaviour which, at times, can be very hard when living in a family.”

“The most rewarding times are when children have happily moved on-ideally this is back to family when it’s safe for this to happen, but this can be to adoptive parents when done properly.”

“I strongly feel that children should be able to keep connections with the people they love where possible. Unfortunately, this isn’t always promoted by Social Services and causes additional trauma which isn’t always necessary and goes against more recent research.”

There is nobody more knowledgeable on the impact being a foster carer can have on a child’s or young person’s life than those that have experienced it firsthand. Here we hear from young people that lived in foster care and have willingly shared their positive experiences. 

Lucy Richards formed a bond with Nicola Jones, who previously fostered her brother.

Lucy Richards, a 23-year-old Mother of one, opened up about her experience in care. She said: “Growing up in foster care in my teenage years was quite an experience to say the least. It had its ups and downs of course, but that goes for any young person who has had a traumatic start in life. I was lucky enough to have experienced living in good foster placements and have the feeling of living in a safe environment.”

“I lived with two long term placements and 3 respite placements. My respite placement was one of the ones that became long term. With each of these placements, the foster carers had been specially trained.”

When talking about the impact being in foster care had on her life, she added: “”Being in foster care impacted my life positively. I’m still in touch with two of the foster carers, who continue to support me into adulthood. Nicola is one of those carers who fostered my brother and supported me in my later teenage years and into early adulthood.”

“She has recently supported me through being in a mother and baby foster placement which was a really difficult time. It had a positive outcome, me and my family stayed together. If it wasn’t for an exceptionally good foster carer and Nicola, the time I spent in placement would have been a lot harder to get through.”

“People around Wales should become foster carers because every child needs a positive role model. Foster carers can be just that, with the ones I know helping hundreds of children and young people. It’s difficult as a foster child to step into someone else’s house and accept them as part of your family, because all you feel is rejection. That’s all a foster child really knows. However, with time and perseverance, this can be reversed.”

Lauren Kyra Keyes and her Foster Mother, who she moved in with in 2015.

Lauren Kyra Keyes, a 21-year-old Care Leaver from Barry, has spoken about the impact being in foster care had on her life. She said: “I went into foster care when I was 15, 2 months before my 16th birthday. I ended up in foster care because my mum passed away and my family abandoned me.”

“I had no other option than to be placed with a foster carer.”

“I only ever had the one foster carer for the whole two and a half years that I was in care and herself, along with a man she cared for out of the social services setting, changed my life for the better.”

Speaking about her experience in foster care, she added: “They became my Foster Mum and Foster Dad and those words were words that I could never use when I first got put into foster care because I always had the attitude of, ‘You’re not my Mum and Dad, you’re just my Foster Carers.’”

“I soon opened up to the idea and they now still to this day, even though I’m not in foster care anymore, are my Foster Mum and Foster Dad.”

Lauren with her Foster Dad.

When asked about how her foster carers helped her during her life, Lauren said: “They took me in when nobody else would. They pushed me to achieve my GCSE’s, my A Levels and everything else I have achieved to date.”

“I still keep in contact with them and see them weekly. That’s how important and a big part of my life they have become for me.”

Talking about how her foster carers helped her into early adulthood, Lauren added: “My foster carers 100% helped me into early adulthood. They helped me move into my first flat at just 17-years-old. They helped me with anything and everything I needed.”

“They have always been there and still are to this day. If I ever need anything, whether it’s a lift somewhere, money, advice, guidance or even just a shoulder to cry on.”

Potential foster carers around Wales are being urged to take the leap and become a part of changing a child or young person’s life, with Lauren adding: “I think it’s really important that more people become involved with fostering because it only takes one foster carer to change a child’s life completely.”

“Look at me, my life has changed massively for the better and I’m doing so well for myself now.”

“Lots of children feel stuck or abandoned when first being put into foster care. It’s those foster carers that show the love and support towards children they’re looking after that brings the best side of that child out of them.”

“Lots of children are struggling, going through awful situations and ending up in the care system. Some aren’t old enough to understand why, others know exactly why they’re there. Either way, no matter the reason, all foster children deserve to be treated with the same love and affection from their foster carers and it should feel as if they’re not in care.”

“These foster carers should become these children’s family, and in my story that’s what happened. My Foster Mum and Foster Dad are my family.”

A 20-year-old Mother from Barry, who wishes to stay anonymous, has spoken about the impact that foster carers have had on her life as well as her sons who is in foster care. She said: “My child being in foster care has impacted me a lot. Sometimes I forget he’s not here and go to check on him, or go to get some children’s food ready. It’s impacted my mental health and I’ve struggled to maintain a bond and emotional connection due to his age.”

“My child’s foster carers have been amazing during this process, keeping me up to date with his developments, his health visits and his accomplishments. I have photo’s daily to see how much he’s changed.”

When asked why she thinks people should become foster carers, she added: “I think people should become foster carers because it helps out young parents who are stuck in bad relationships, and also young Mums who are struggling and need extra help.”

“It also helps your child form more relationships and they teach you how to keep healthy relationships with all professions.”