The sterling work of foster carers is being highlighted at the start of Foster Care Fortnight, which launches today.
Independent agency asphaleia fostering, based in Worthing, offers care to children aged up to 18 across the south east.
Melissa Allen, registered manager, said: “We have always utilised this fortnight to showcase the brilliant work our foster carers do and, of course, raise awareness of fostering in order to recruit further carers for the children.”
Paul and Sonia Maddocks from Worthing have been fostering for four years.
They said at the start they preferred children aged five to 12 but until recently, they have always been given older teenagers.
Sonia has always wanted to foster, having come from a large family with eight children, brought up in a single-parent family.
She has also always done care work so knew exactly what they were likely to be dealing with.
“I always thought I would not have my own children and that is what has happened,” she said.
Paul’s first wife did not want children and although he and Sonia tried for their own, it was not to be.
“I heard a famous person say it seems selfish to have your own children when their are so many who need fostering, and that made me think,” he said.
“A lot of people are put off by the perception of the hurdles you have to jump over and I did go into it a bit naively but it wasn’t as bad as you might think.”
They were thrown in at the deep end as their first foster child did not speak English and could not read or write but they managed.
There have not been many times since that they have been without a foster child. One time, Sonia was literally changing the sheets after one left when she had a call saying another one was on the way.
There have been difficult times, including the young people absconding and self harming, but there have also been many rewards.
Paul said: “It is important to remember how much fun they can be and seeing the progress makes you proud.”
Jo Wells from Shoreham has brought up three children of her own as a single parent. She started fostering ten years ago, when her youngest child was 13.
“She liked the fact the spotlight was off her for a bit,” Jo recalled.
“Most of them have come from chaos. It brings perspective and she has said it is nice you can make a difference.”
Jo’s main focus now is mother and baby placements, which last for 12 weeks.
“The placements are very intense. It has to be a dry house and your life is on hold for the time you have them because they cannot be left alone,” she said.
“I don’t think the mums realise what hard work the placements are. I have to write diary sheets every day and the mum can write comments, so they see everything and you are not talking about them behind their back. I tell them I am not there to trip them up but I won’t lie for them.”
She said there had been difficult times but seeing a mum go home with her baby was rewarding.
“Some have been more irritating but I have never found anyone where there is nothing to like. They are just people.
“Sometimes it is awful and you think you are not helping but how nice is it knowing you have been instrumental in this mum going home with her baby.
“Working with them to get them home again can be really difficult but when they go home, that is rewarding.”
Jo also has a teenager who is semi-independent, waiting for accommodation. He is a refugee with leave to stay and is given £30 a week.
“He is given the money equivalent to benefits,” explained Jo. “Although it seems harsh, it is the right thing to do. He has got a part-time job.
“Young people who come as asylum seekers have often paid thousands to get here.
“You are supposed to treat them as your own family but you can’t totally. You try to involve them but they might have family here already.”
Sarah Knight and Robin Pibworth from Angmering say fostering is the hardest, most tiring, frightening and overwhelming thing they have ever done.
Sarah said: “When people think of fostering, it’s because they want to help, not thinking that the children that turn up on their doorstep may not want to be helped.
“It doesn’t matter what their mum and dad has put them through, they’re still their mum and dad and they want to live with them.
“Moving into a strange house with people you don’t know brings a lot of anger, sadness, frustration and uncertainty to both parties.
“As the weeks go by and you start to see the different behaviours, crying, shouting, swearing, hitting out, trashing the house, then comes the love, the opening up, the talking, the trust, understand and the wanting to lead a ‘normal’ life.
“Seeing a child walk into school after not going for six months is one of the proudest moments I’ve had. The first time a foster child asks you for a night-time hug, the first thank you, the first ‘help me’, the first ‘I feel safe here’ are amazing and all the times you think ‘why am I doing this, am I doing it right?’, fade away and you feel ‘yes I’m doing something good for someone else’.”
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