Lucy Stevens - 6th September 2023
Every summer the Eastern Fostering Services team slap on their mosquito repellent, don their scruffiest clothes and pack their rucksacks in readiness for the highlight of the fostering calendar: The Eastern Fostering Services Summer Camp!
This is a 2-night trip offered to our foster carers and the children we care for. The camp is in a beautiful, coastal setting and offers the carers and children the opportunity to build friendships with one another and enjoy some good, old-fashioned fun together.
Festivities begin on the Friday night with a warm welcome that gives everyone opportunity to say hello to the friends they know and the friends they’ll surely make over the weekend. Everyone is given a chance to settle into their tents. Usually once settled, everyone is starving hungry, but we have just the thing for that: a barbeque followed by, what else, a dance off! This is a fantastic ice breaker and sets the tone for the weekend. Barriers come down and everyone relaxes and celebrates being together.
With the sunrise comes breakfast! A lavish affair of pancakes with syrup, and as much cereal, toast and fruit that you can handle (which turns out to be A LOT). Excitement levels are high as a day of undiluted fun stretches before us.
An assault to the senses
In the morning, we split into small groups for activities which include archery and team-building assault course challenges: lifting one another up high walls, squeezing through tyres, tackling a climbing net, sliding down slides, wading through green water, balance beams and much more! Everyone rejoins the group for a well-earned lunch to build up strength for the afternoon It’s a Knockout challenge! This challenge offers 10 different inflatables to conquer, each with their own challenge-including a gladiator challenge, a water bucket challenge and speed and strength tests.
This year, the winners were the Massive Beasts. The team’s name was enforced rather than chosen, whether by co-incidence or not, the Director and Practice Manager happened to be in that team! Go figure!
The evening meal is invariably a very well-received fish and chip supper from the local chippy. There are usually lots of tired bodies by this stage of proceedings! Licking the salt and vinegar from our fingers, we ready ourselves for the entertainment: a silent disco (NOT SILENT AT ALL) complete with festival face paints and glowsticks.
We’re stronger together
For the team at Eastern Fostering Services, the camp is an opportunity to cement relationships, to form bonds of trust and respect, with the children and the carers. For the children, it is about the friendships they make and what they learn about themselves through the activities and the camp ethos of working together.
“From the moment I get to camp, I get a really happy feeling in my core,” says Eleanor Newman, Director of Eastern Fostering Services. “This reminds me why I’m still a Social Worker some 30 years since I qualified-it’s about bringing people together, a little outside our comfort zones sometimes, enjoying the community we have, our shared sense of purpose, and remembering we can all have fun no matter what.”
The whole team is always struck by how well the children all get on with one another. Despite differing ages, backgrounds, interests and personalities, there is a shared understanding that everyone has their story. The children and young people visibly relax because they know this, and they don’t have to worry about explaining themselves. This year, we had a young child with complex needs, she doesn’t use speech, she has hearing difficulties and she has significant medical needs. The other children just accepted her, were kind to her and made time to play with her, she was simply accepted as part of the gang.
“For me, the best thing about camp was seeing the encouragement the children had for each other in all the activities,” says Jo Elliott, Practice Manager. “Within my group, I heard a lot of cheering each other on and there was one particular child who over the last year has moved on leaps and bounds. Seeing her this year tackle the obstacles, there was no holding her back, the confidence she has gained was remarkable. I have seen her since the camp, and all she has done is tell me about the great time she had, and the friends she has made. Its why we do it, surely.”
Nurture in action
Of course, camping is tiring and when tiredness hit on Saturday, some of the children found their emotions came to the surface, however they managed these well, sorted themselves out and got involved in the group again. This has to be a testament to their foster carers who have helped them understand how overwhelming emotions can be, how it’s ok not to always be happy, and how it’s not the end of the world if you behave in a way that you’re not going to be proud of! Being yourself, making mistakes, facing some fears and trying out new things are all fundamental to camp-for both adults and children, and therefore everyone who fully embraces that spirit cannot fail to get something memorable out of it.
As Jo says, “With all the trials and tribulations that can come with fostering, events like this bring us all together and we get to see the kids, simply being kids. You can’t put a price on that.”