For some, the idea of opening your home up to a child or young person by becoming a foster carer may seem a little daunting but for Wirral foster carers Gary and his wife Sarah it had a positive impact on their family life.
With around 821 children in care in Wirral, 326 of which are teenagers, we caught up with Gary who is supporting our ‘Home is Where the heart is’, fostering campaign .
Together with their three children Gary and Sarah decided, in their midst of busy careers running their own business, they had the room in their home and heart to begin fostering.
Gary talks to us about the rewarding and life shaping journey they’ve had so far and gives some helpful advice for those considering becoming one of Wirral’s remarkable foster carers…
How long have you been fostering for?
We’ve been fostering for 18 months. After becoming registered, we offered some respite on weekends for young twin boys. It was hard, full-on but a lot of fun! Then COVID hit and we had to take some time to adjust to home schooling whilst running our own business.
With our experience in youth work, we started family mentoring for the Foster Care Team, supporting families with identified needs. It wasn’t until after our mentoring role started that we were presented with the idea of fostering teenagers.
Why did you decide to become foster carers for teenagers?
We had it in our minds that any foster child who stayed with us needed to be younger than our youngest child (eight at the time). However, we agreed to an emergency teenage foster placement. We felt an overwhelming sense of compassion and a desire to help.
Three months into what was meant to be a three-week placement, we were asked to consider a second emergency placement. We spoke with our children and it was an emphatic “yes”. So, whilst it wasn’t the original plan to foster teenagers, seemingly it happened by accident in some ways and in other ways it was just meant to be.
"Fostering teenagers definitely chose us. And we love it!"
What are the positives to fostering teenagers?
It’s easy to think of it as us helping them. Which is true in some ways, but in our experience...
"they have added so much to our family life."
It’s a two-way thing. Teenagers are going through, or have gone through, a lot of things and a lot of changes. It’s been an honour to be on a journey with them, helping them experience and create a new way of doing life and family. You have a unique opportunity to help them make good choices and fulfil their potential but, if you are open to it, they will also help shape who you are and enable you to be a better person.
I think creating a safe space they can call home, with your positive input as they grapple with life as a teenager, might even create a bond and fond memories that can last a lifetime.
What have you learnt from fostering?
I felt uneasy opening my home to a someone I didn’t know at first, especially with having three children of our own. It’s natural. Your hope, more than anything, is that everyone will get on and there will be peace and harmony. This is especially heightened when everyone is being home schooled from four different schools!
We’ve learnt that creating clear check-ins, routines, equal and fair boundaries, and personal space, along with sharing in the chores, has created an environment for good relationships to develop, and positive and fun memories to look back on.
I think it’s also important to create the space for dedicated individual time, as a couple, a family, and between an adult and child. We all need investment of time. Finally, if tensions are rising, take time to reflect, communicate, and move forwards together. I’ve found peace and harmony is something everyone wants and, when they know that is a choice and they know the path, they can achieve it.
What would you say to someone considering fostering?
You are allowed to be unsure when you get in touch with the team, but at least know you want to help and think you can.
Be prepared to make sacrifices. Having any child in your life involves sacrifices…or at least it should. I’ve only ever known them to be worth it. Remember, if you can even consider fostering a teenager, you are in a very privileged position in life.
It is an honour, a delight and sometimes a heartache to help a teenager grapple with life.
"If you think you can - do it! "
At the very least you will have made a big difference to someone but you might also find a friend for life. You may never feel fully equipped, no matter how broad your experience but you will receive training and support to help you. If you have love and kindness to share, then you can provide what these young people need the most.
If you can find it in your heart to help teenagers who need a loving home, like Gary and Sarah have, get in touch with our fostering team who are there ready to support throughout your journey. Visit www.wirralfostering.org