FOSTER mum Liz has been opening up her home to children desperately in need of love, stability and hope for seven years. She talked to the A&T about the rich rewards and exciting challenges that come with each placement.
Her first was a young boy rushed to her home as an emergency placement through Blue Sky Fostering agency. Liz had been given just an hour’s notice and there were fears over his safety.
The child’s life until that moment had been one of misery and neglect, but Liz recalled how, arriving at her home, it seemed he instinctively knew he had finally reached a place of love and safety.
“He was literally grinning at us: me, my husband and son,” she said. “We’d all rushed out excitedly to the car to peer at him through the window and he just gave us this massive smile.
“I was terrified at first, but I had been training for this moment and it all came so naturally. He had been very badly neglected and had special needs, but like any child all he really needed was comfort and love.
“I quickly realised our decision as a family to open our home to a child in need was very much the right one.”
Liz was a children’s ballet and drama teacher and former British Airways air hostess when she began looking into fostering. A friend who worked for Blue Sky invited her to an open day and, as she puts it, she was “hooked”.
“At that first meeting we talked about the challenges, the training and what to expect as a foster career,” she said. “I did look at other fostering organisations but felt Blue Sky are excellent at supporting their carers, which I think is very important. They are always there if you need them. It feels like a family community and everyone looks after each other.”
Those hoping to become foster carers must go through a rigorous process, which includes talking about life experiences, good and bad.
“I found it a really helpful process,” said Liz. “Life experiences make you what you are. I come from a broken home and going through my life story was very therapeutic – it helped me put to bed a lot of things.
“Those problems you have had in the past can be really helpful in understanding what a child might be feeling.”
A social worker then assessed Liz and her family, and referees were also interviewed. The couple also went before a panel of social workers and other child care professionals.
“It can be scary,” said Liz. “But my advice is ‘just do it!’ I absolutely love it – I’ve never regretted becoming a foster carer; my only regret is I didn’t do it sooner.”
Liz is currently fostering a girl who came to her aged 10 from a very abusive background.
“She has been here four years now,” she said. “Our home was her fifth placement in two years and her behaviour is very challenging, but I won’t give up on any child.
“You have to be aware that with someone so damaged, it’s not going to be a fairy tale story; you are not going to suddenly change them, and they are not going to go skipping off into the sunset all happy.
“We are still on a journey and there are difficult times, but she is doing amazingly at school and she has made some very good friends. It has been good for my son to have her around too, as it has taught him to have empathy, he is very well-grounded.
“To be honest, helping really challenging children excites me – it has made me stronger.”
She counts the support she gets from Blue Sky as “vital”, saying: “There can be bad days with fostering, but you know you can just pick up the phone and they will be there.”
Blue Sky Fostering was founded in 2005 by CEO and social worker, Simon Lockyer. It now has offices across the south, including one in Ringwood.
The agency is currently appealing for more foster carers in the local area to provide a nurturing family home for vulnerable children and young people up to the age of 18.
It offers comprehensive training, 24-hour support, a competitive fostering allowance and camaraderie as a member of the Blue Sky fostering family. The agency regularly holds events for its carers and their families, and often celebrates the successes of fosterers and young people.
Blue Sky area manager Vanessa Bomphrey said: “Simon felt it was important that every child has the chance to be in a family environment rather than to have to go into a residential care home.
“We do take on a lot of young people with challenging behaviours. Without Blue Sky Fostering and our dedicated and wonderfully caring foster carers, our young people may not otherwise have had the chance of family life.
“Our stability rates are really high, with a lot of long-term placements, and our GCSE results are amongst the best in the country.”