Meet the Spillane family, Kate and Kieron and their lovely fostering family Jessica aged 17 yrs., Anaya, 13yrs, Noah 8yrs and Pippa who is 6 yrs. old.
Some would be curious of why Kate and Kieron would find the time or energy to foster when they have such a busy household, but talking to this family through facetime and seeing their joy when they talk of fostering said it all.
Kieron told me they had been thinking of fostering for around 10 years, but they did not have the room. They had made enquiries but were advised that the time was not right for them as their own children were young and they did not have the room. Thankfully, this did not put them off, they moved to a new house to enable them to have more space, their own children were settled, so they revisited their desire to foster and 12 months ago they were approved by a local independent fostering agency (IFA).
I asked them what motivated them to foster. They told me that their own children have a good lifestyle and are happy and they wanted to enable other children to have the same. They had seen someone they knew in a local supermarket who worked within social care and this conversation led them to revisit their desire to foster and make the call to their agency. Kieron described it as “serendipity”.
So, what was important to them about choosing a fostering agency? Kate and Kieron talked to me about how the agency made them feel from the moment they chatted. The whole process was smooth, it was a seamless process and the whole thing felt like a “series of friendly chats”. I asked if they thought the assessment process was intrusive, they answered by saying “it has to be, but its how it was done that was important, it was all in the comfort of our home, at a time that suited us, with our children around, it was inclusive and natural”, praising David, their assessing social worker.
They applied February 2019 and were approved by the end of May 2019. They liked the ethos of the agency, how they talked about “matching” and giving them permission to say no to a child joining their family if it did not seem right for them all. They talked of how important it was for them and the agency that placing children alongside their family environment worked, and that their own and the agency’s motivation was around offering stability for children.
So, what about the Fostering Panel? How did they find this experience? Kate talked of being nervous, it was the unknown, but the agency did their best to reassure them and supported them throughout the process. Kieron said the panel chair came out to meet them first, talked to them about the process of panel and this put them at ease for when they entered the room.
I asked about the “waiting game” – they laughed and said that they went from feeling “excited and keen” to feeling “disappointed and waiting for calls”, how important it is to keep them informed, giving them updates if a child may or may not be coming, talking through the reasons for the match. Kieron talked about the process of referrals, saying it was like a “tender”, and how this sometimes felt frustrating and now understands that other agencies may also be sending their match for the same child and sometimes this means that things happen or they don’t.
Kieron and Kate added that knowing all the team was a great help, they talked of the “fantastic” support and, how, as a team they continue to support one another through the difficulties of Covid, via What’s App groups where they share resources such as crafts, and motivational learning and educational resources for children.
I asked what advise they would give someone who is considering fostering? After a moments thought they spoke of their own situation, “we didn’t need anything more in our family, we were a complete family, but because of this we knew we could offer children who might not have this, an experience of what it feels like, “ so, if you are considering fostering, look at your own unit and think of what you can offer these kids”
The Spillane family have recently rehabilitated two children back to their own family after seven months of being in their care. It was a learning curve for them as a family and one thing they took from this was how they took things for granted and presumed that other children have experienced daily life they way they do, this was not the case.
Whilst talking of the children, they positively beamed at how proud they were of all the family and the adjustments they made. How the children presented when they first came to stay and how they left, the lovely rich experiences and opportunity to be part of social groups such as Guides and joining a football team, that hopefully they will continue to do on their return home. None of which was materialistic, but about becoming part of a team and groups and learning from each other.
This is a story with a happy ending. The children have returned to their family and the relationship between birth parent and the carers was one of respect and acceptance which helped with the transition back home. In fact, they have all remained in touch, and whilst I was on the facetime call, they had one of the children they cared for on a separate facetime call at home with her mother. She spoke with me about how she was pleased to be back home with mum, but she now has more friends and is enjoying staying in touch with the family. This speaks volumes about this lovely family.
I had the privilege of speaking to three of the children within the Spillane family, and was so impressed by the maturity of Jessica, she was an impressive 17 year old who described their family home as being “busy” and said “having a few more children here is not a problem, you wouldn’t notice a few more” this gave me a sense of how inclusive they are, enabling children to become part of the family. Noah aged 8 yrs. told me he liked fostering as he “made new friends and got to play with other people” he added that he was sad when they left but “happy” to see them go back to their family. I cannot help thinking that these are our future successful foster carers!!
The family ensured they captured lots of lovely memories through memory boxes including photo books and the children left with a book about a bear that lost his mummy but was reunited with her. The children’s own mother is now reading this to her children at bedtime, the same as Kate did.
Kate and Kieron are proud of how their children adapted to fostering. It was not without challenges and getting to know how to get along. It felt hard when the children went, especially for Pippa, who is 6 yrs. old. Do we underestimate the loss carers own children can feel when children leave? Do we need to invest more time with carers own children to help them through the process of children coming and then sometimes going? The social events run by the agency certainly help with this. They told me of the great activities available to all children, together. I wanted to know how they helped their own children adapt to fostering. Kieron and Kate said that they treated all children the same, kept things fair and learned together. Their own children know that some children need to come and stay for a while to be safe. Noah told me “its important for children to come” – WOW, doesn’t this make you proud of him!
So, finally I asked – “what were their proudest moments?” and “what was “challenging” about fostering?” ….
The challenges were the level of contact and adjusting to the disruption this causes. Kieron said that after a few weeks of fostering he laid on his bed, head in hands saying to himself “I don’t think I can do this”, how “overwhelming” it all felt. The meetings, report writing, contact, it felt “intense” – he laughed and said “there are 3 more children joining our family in the next few weeks and no doubt I will lie on the bed and say it all again !”
So, I asked considering this, why do they do it then?
Kate and Kieron foster because it can create proud moments, they say, “seeing a child in a Christmas play, seeing their eyes light up when they see you watching them is wonderful” and “seeing them back home, sending us pictures of what they are doing makes us proud”. Kate showed me some beautiful pictures that one of the foster children had painted and left for them as a gift when she left. I could tell how valuable they were to them all and can’t help thinking that over the years they will have a whole collection of memories on show in their home, all telling their own story, some will be challenging, but what is clear is that this is a family that can see the positives and the strengths in children that help build self-esteem and worth. This is the biggest gift we can give to children.
Their highlights are “seeing children learn to trust, seeing them happy and smiling, in what could be their worst time, turning in to a nice time in difficult circumstances”
I would like to thank the whole family for allowing me into their home and for spending a little time with me talking about fostering. Chatting to families like the Spillane’s reminds me of why I decided to be a practitioner within fostering. When we spend a couple of minutes on Thursday evenings at 8pm clapping those wonderful NHS workers, lets spare a thought for all our incredible, dedicated, selfless fostering families and give them a long and loud clap for what they do day in and day out to make children’s lives a little safer and happier for however long this is needed.
Thank you to Acorn House Fostering Services for putting us in touch with their carers