Fostering in Lockdown: Has your world shrunk?

I wonder what you’ve missed most in ‘Lockdown’?

Whatever your situation, I’m sure your life has been limited over the last 2 years. Perhaps you’ve missed loved ones, friends, being outside, being at work, or are just frustrated at being denied the chance to do what you want, when you want.

However difficult your situation, I trust you have some hope that life will improve.

We have two birth kids. The kid whose face you can’t see lived with us for 15 months. He loved the park and rarely grew tired of pointing out trees. He also liked sticks, leaves and the cafe.

My family became Foster Carers for our Local Council in 2010.

One of the first children we cared for was four years old.

On his second day with us he dutifully held my hand as we headed off to the local park.

He had very limited language.

As we walked across the grass, he stopped, pointed, and muttered something barely audible.

I looked to see what had caught his attention.

It soon became clear he was pointing at a tree.

That little boy spent the next 20 minutes stroking the bark, marvelling at the leaves, and staring up at its enormous height.

It was fairly evident that he’d never seen a tree before, and certainly never touched one.

We spent many wonderful hours exploring that park.

We worked out, purely by observation, that he’d never experienced the wonder of television, knew nothing of swimming pools, cinemas, shops, ball pools, or bath time. 

Over the 15 months he lived with us, we introduced him to all that normal stuff, the stuff we may all have missed over the last 2 years.

We also showed him a world where there was always enough to eat, you’d always be warm, and where people would not hurt you.

I guess that child had lived in a permanent “lockdown”, which ended when he came to live with us.

I know my family made a difference to his life.

My wife and I, and our teenage birth children have fostered seven children in total.  One lad came for just four hours, and one lad came for a day and is still with us seven years later. He has become one of the family.

Is it difficult? Yes. But the rewards outweigh the problems, and its value is unquantifiable. I’ve never run a marathon, climbed Kilimanjaro or run a FTSE company, However, I have convinced a kid that 3am is a bad time to play tennis, and that not all grown ups are dangerous.

If you want to find out more about fostering or adoption, please contact me or your Local Council

A bit about what I do

This kid is allowed on Social Media! In fact, he has more Instagram, Tik Tok and Snapchat accounts than anyone I know. He just likes setting them up. His Followers include me, my wife, and a Labradoodle called Maisie!

Liverpool has over 1500 Looked After Children. Could you foster one?

Phil Watson and his family have been fostering for Liverpool City Council since 2010.

Phil says ‘It can be challenging, exhausting, hilarious, but above all rewarding.  I can see the difference we are making to the children we have looked after. 

We chose to foster for the Council, because they don’t make a profit. This is very different from the Independent Fostering Agencies that operate in the city. We have fostered seven kids since we started. We had one little lad for four hours and one kid for over five years!  We can’t solve all their problems, but we know when those kids are with us, they are safe’

Foster carers need to be over 21, have a clean criminal record, be healthy and have a spare room.  You can be of any class, culture, heritage or sexual orientation. You can be single, in a relationship, own your home or rent. You don’t need to give up work to foster, as long as your work is flexible enough to cope with the demands of looking after a child.

As well as being paid, foster carers are exempt from Council Tax and get free Lifestyles Gym Membership.  Full training and support is given. Liverpool City Council are actively looking to find new carers. 

If you are interested in finding out more about fostering for Liverpool, contact Phil Watson at Phil.Watson@liverpool.gov.uk or visit www.fostering.liverpool.gov.uk.

Our journey to fostering

When men turn 40, it’s traditional to have a midlife crisis. I decided to become a foster carer. More accurately, my wife suggested we explore the possibility of becoming a foster family.

Humans flourish, but only in the right circumstances.

Our birth children were 5 and 7, and although I am biased, they are really rather fantastic kids, being academic, sporty and fairly sociable.

 My job as a secondary school teacher was demanding but going well.  My wife was a solicitor.  We lived in a semi detached house with pebble dash and a compost heap.  Perhaps we were in danger of becoming a little ordinary.

At first glance the risks seemed to outweigh any benefits.

Would we have room in our house and hearts for an extra child?

How would our kids be affected?  More importantly, would my wife still have time for me?

My wife took us along to an Information Event run by The Council. I’d been on worst dates!

We heard stories from a foster carer, and a young adult who had grown up in foster homes.  Their stories had us in  both tears and laughter.

Many adults who have grown up in care struggle in later life.

Many of our homeless , our prison population, and those suffering from mental health issues were once in care. This information offended my sense of justice. It was not enough to feel pity, I had to show compassion, and take action. As Christians, we were also strongly motivated by our faith and God’s obvious heart for the ‘orphan’.

Our own situation also influenced me.  My own children had begun to go on sleep overs.

I’m sure your kids have done the same or will do so in the future.  I remember my son, then aged five, showing a little bit of anxiety about spending a night at his best friend’s house.

I sought to reassure him. 

My son knew what he would be having for tea, he knew where the toilet was, he was taking his own duvet and pillow, his own bag of power rangers and a bag of sweets.  He knew what he’d be watching on TV, and he knew his Dad would be picking him up in the morning.

And yet, still he was nervous.

I began to wonder.  What would it be like for a five year old, or younger, to be taken to a stranger’s house and left there, perhaps forever?

 I knew we could keep a child safe.  We could provide food, a warm bed and some sort of reassurance.  This is the essence of fostering.

My wife rang the Council and registered our interest to become foster carers.

Six months later, we were approved as Foster Carers for Liverpool City Council.

A foster kid wrote this message on my iPad. Outstanding literacy and a lovely, precious sentiment.

10 years on and we have fostered 8 separate children.

We have had children for four hours, a week, six months , and one we decided to adopt.

We just fell in love with him, and he fell in love with us. He’s not the most articulate child and can have trouble accessing and expressing his feelings in a socially acceptable way.  However, one day when he had been with us a while he was being ominously quiet.  I found him in our lounge surrounded by shattered glass wielding a permanent felt tip pen.  He had taken a framed family photo from the mantle piece, punched the glass out, and added a picture of himself.  I’m not a psychologist, but it was fairly obvious what he was trying to say.

We adopted that little man a few months later. Although Hollywood would have you believe otherwise, adoption is not the end of the story and does not solve the problem of trauma. As a 13 year old, he is still fearful of unknown adults and still struggles when a routine changes. But he has a family now, a whole network of grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends who can help him navigate life. For him, statistically, the future is far brighter as an adopted child than as a ‘Foster Placement’.

Fostering is never even dull. This kid loved going to The Asda Cafe. He used the Free Refill Fizzy Drinks Machine to make potions! Then we’d go home. An afternoon of creative fun for £1.00.

Fostering is difficult, but the rewards outweigh the problems, and its value is unquantifiable.  Occasionally I encounter men of my age who talk about wanting a new challenge.  They run back to back marathons, climb Kilimanjaro, or become Vegans.  Meanwhile, I am trying to convince a kid that 3.00am is a bad time to play tennis, and  that not every adult is dangerous.  It’s probably not as glamorous as running a FTSE company, but my wife thinks it’s sexy and I get to spend a lot more time on the swings at the park.  Clearly, I am the real winner, and so are the kids who we look after.

We get significant support from the Council’s  Social Workers but have also become associated with a National Charity called Home for Good.

Home for Good’s mission is to find a safe home for every one of the 80,000 children in care, whether it be fostering or adoption. They also do a great job supporting those of us who foster and adopt, by running local support groups and providing resources.

Fostering isn’t for every one, but everyone should consider it before they decide it’s not for them.

If you’d like to find out more, contact Home for Good or your Local Council about fostering.