Could you be a foster carer?
Cheshire East Council is looking for people to take on a highly-rewarding career and register their interest in becoming foster carers.
The appeal for more carers is a follow-up to 'Foster Care Fortnight' -- a national campaign in which Cheshire East Council played a supporting role.
Fostering is a deeply fulfilling way of life, which anyone who has a passion for giving children the best possible start in life should consider.
However, the Council realises that the best advert for this fantastically rewarding life choice are the very people who are already out there doing it and making us proud.
Single mum Anne Bentley, from Poynton, said: "I enjoy the fun I get from being a foster carer -- just the simple pleasure I get from looking after children.
"The key lesson I have learned is that every child is different. I have learned to adapt and adjust to every child who has been with me. You find you change and grow as a person by being a foster carer."
Karen and Robert Tulip from Nantwich already had children of their own and one of the most powerful emotions for them was the pride they felt when their foster children really connected with their own kids.
Karen said: "I enjoy being a part of a large family. I enjoy the children wanting to spend time with you and the family at mealtimes, where we are all together and can talk about how our days have been.
"Just sitting and watching everyone trying to get their point across, learning to take turns and the conversation often going off at a tangent. They're the moments I love."
The decision to become a foster carer should not, of course, be taken lightly and the Council understands that it is not always a smooth journey. So, there are dedicated support staff, who are only ever a phone call away, to provide help and answer any questions.
Margaret Sanders, a foster carer in Congleton said: "We struggled with one of our early placements and didn't ask for help straight away. Looking back on it, I think we were worried that people might think we weren't any good if we asked for help.
"But we let it go on too long. When we did ask for help, Cheshire East were absolutely brilliant. Now, whenever we feel we are getting anxious about anything, we are not afraid to ask for some advice and support."
Councillor Liz Durham, Cheshire East Cabinet member for children and families, said: "We are so proud of the incredible people in the Borough, who provide this fantastic service to our communities.
"We are looking for motivated, devoted people to become carers for children -- especially sibling groups and teenagers. I have two lovely, happy grandchildren with great family support. I am passionate that any child should be given a similar chance in life."
To learn more about becoming a foster carer, please call 0300 123 3223 or visit: www.foster4cheshireeast.gov.uk
Foster carer case study: Margaret and Rory Sanders, Congleton
Life as a foster carer can be something of a rollercoaster, admits Margaret Sanders from Congleton. There are highs and lows, but every now and again a moment happens which makes it all seem worth it.
"We have a 14-year-old boy living with us at the moment who has been on placement since he was nine. Just a few weeks ago, he turned to me and said, 'it's the best thing that ever happened to me, going into care.' I have to admit that up until that point I hadn't thought that was how he felt. It was quite a moment and it was the kind of thing that makes it all worthwhile."
It was nearly a decade ago that Margaret and her husband Rory set out on their journey to becoming foster carers.
"We'd always liked children and had four of our own," says Margaret. "Two have now left home and had families of their own, and two are on the cusp of leaving home. Our youngest daughter is getting ready to go away to university, and our son has recently joined the RAF. I also run a nursery in Congleton so have lots of experience of looking after children. In one way or another, children have been a big part of all our lives for a long time.
"We began fostering sort of by default really, without even thinking that's what we were doing. A couple of friends both went through some difficulties and needed a bit of respite from parenting and we stepped in to help. A friend said to me: 'do you realise you're basically fostering; why don't you talk to the council?' It was then I realised that's what we'd been doing all along, we just hadn't thought of it as fostering!
"At that point we began to think maybe this was something we might like to do and we began talking as a family about whether it was right for us."
Having sent off for an application form from Cheshire East Council, Margaret says they sat on the decision for almost a year.
"It was something we felt we should really take our time over. But eventually we decided it was the right thing to do and to apply and go through the assessment process and then the training. The training is really thorough and intensive but nothing quite prepares you for your first placement."
Margaret and Rory have fostered both short and long-term placements, the latter including the 14-year-old boy who has been part of the family for five years and will hopefully stay with the Sanders until he is 18.
Margaret admits they have learned a lot since their first placement – not least, not to worry about asking for help.
"We struggled with one of our early placements and we didn't ask for help straight away. Looking back on it I think we worried they would think we weren't any good if we did have to ask for help. But we let it go on too long. When we did ask for help Cheshire East Council were absolutely brilliant. Now whenever we feel we are getting anxious about anything we are not afraid to ask for some advice and support.
"You're never just thrown in at the deep end and expected to sink or swim – there's always help at hand. I've also been impressed with how much effort goes into helping your own children to adjust to life in a foster family."
It's been a life changing few years, admits Margaret, and she also believes it's given all the family a slightly different outlook on life.
"I think we've all realised that for some children, normality is living in a family without any boundaries, without any security and with very little nurturing. For our own children I think it's quite an eye opener for them to realise that, and in some respects it's made them appreciate us more. I don't think they take things for granted."
Margaret is keen for potential foster carers to think hard about their reasons for fostering before making a decision.
"You need to do it because you want to meet a need in the children and not to meet a need in yourself. So if you feel you want to foster because you want more children or because you want someone to come into your home and for you to love them and for them to love you back, then that's not the right reason to do it. You'll be disappointed I think if that's your motivation."
A sense of humour is essential for anyone setting out to be a foster carer, she adds. It's important not to take yourself too seriously and crucially not to take things personally.
"You do need a thick skin at times. Some of the children that come into your care can be angry. They're not angry at you but their anger comes out at you. You need to be able to take a step back and realise it's not about you."
When fostering is most rewarding is when you can see positive changes in the children in your care, says Margaret.
"Seeing the children grow, not just in stature, but in resilience, self esteem and confidence is perhaps the thing I enjoy most about being a foster carer. Sometimes you don't always see it yourself because the children are with you all the time. But then someone notices that they're making eye contact when they are talking to them and just walking in a room and saying hello and being more confident ... that's when you realise you're making a difference."
The toughest times are when a placement ends, admits Margaret.
"Sometimes the pull of home is too much and even though the reasons for coming into care are still there, some children make that decision to go back. You invest a lot emotionally in the children you foster and it can be really hard when they go.
"You cope with that by reminding yourself that you have made a positive difference in their life; you've helped make some good memories for them, they have had some good times and hopefully you have given them a good role model of what family life can be like when they go on to have children of their own.
"Ultimately I'm really glad we made the decision to foster. The positives certainly outweigh any of the sad or difficult times. And when a child turns to you and says it's the best thing that's ever happened to them, you know you've done something genuinely good."
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