Lucy Stevens - 13th June 2023
At Eastern Fostering Services we support and nurture our carers too
The early days of being a newly approved foster carer with your first child can feel overwhelming. Some days are challenging, and you can feel very much like a fish out of water. It’s natural at times to have feelings of failure, worry and self-reproach, which you may find difficult to share with other professionals you want to show you’re competent and capable.
This is where Sharon comes in!
Carers nurturing carers
As the Carer Nurture Lead, Sharon’s role is to offer support to carers who are just beginning their journey – and indeed those who are well on their way – but in a more personal and less formal capacity.
“While Eastern Fostering Services provides a strong safety net, Sharon is there to offer a hand to stop anyone falling!”
Carers have to work with lots of professionals in the interest of the children, including our brilliant Social Workers at Eastern Fostering Services. Nonetheless, even with the best support some fostering matches fail early on, or break down later, so in trying to work out ways to avoid this, the team at Eastern Fostering Services has identified this gap in professional roles of a mentor to the carers, and Sharon is the perfect person to fill it.
Sharon has been fostering for over nine years. She has three of her own children who are now grown up and settled away from home with their own families. After they left, she had the classic ‘Empty Nest Syndrome’ and really missed that maternal role of nurturing, caring and the feeling of ‘family’. Her own mother had gone through exactly the same process when Sharon had left home and had become a foster carer. Sharon says that although it was difficult to share her mum, even as an adult, it clearly inspired her nevertheless, and she decided to become a foster carer too. Her motivation was a desire to make a difference in the lives of children.
She initially fostered for a big independent agency and even started a mentoring role there for some of the other carers. However, after three years with them, she began to feel disillusioned, having the sense that she was just a number, and that the agency weren’t child-focussed. It also seemed to all be about the money. She almost gave up fostering, but then she heard word of a small agency, Eastern Fostering Services, and met Eleanor, the director. She loved Eleanor and her attitude, and how everything the agency did was evidently fully centred around the children. So, she applied to transfer and hasn’t looked back!
She knows herself what it is to foster and to feel lost and unsupported, so she feels she can really help and relate to carers who might be feeling a bit at sea and lacking in confidence. Her aim is to walk alongside them, listen, and help them to build confidence, strength and resilience.
As soon as carers have gone through their assessment process and been approved, Sharon will give them a phone call to make that first connection. She will check-in with them every three weeks or so, either on the phone or in person, with the view to ascertaining any needs for more training, or what they might need to help them fully understand and fulfil their role. She’ll also be part of the incredibly important job of making sure the match of child and carer is working for everyone in the household.
New carers can really beat themselves up and have a lot of self-doubt. Sharon feels strongly that she is not there to judge in any way, but to be that kind, trustworthy person who will try to look after them a bit and thereby empower them. It’s all about keeping positive and hopeful and starting each day as a new day.
Understanding the complex and specific role of fostering takes time and practise. One of the key ways of dealing with the challenges of fostering is to never take things personally. As Sharon says, it’s about ‘taking a little step out of the box to look in’ – being more objective. But balancing all that with providing secure and loving care for the child is a constant tight-rope walk. While Eastern Fostering Services provides a strong safety net, Sharon is there to offer a hand to stop anyone falling!
She will also be looking at how the children are doing. There will be a strong emphasis on Therapeutic Fostering. The basis of therapeutic fostering is to see through the children’s behaviours, rather than to respond to them directly, thereby attending to deeper needs of the children and trying to understand what they’re expressing. Sharon describes it as, ‘rewinding the child’s brain so that they can go back and try to understand the world.’
Sharon is looking forward to increasing peer support between carers by hosting coffee mornings. She hopes that carers will use them as support groups where they can get together informally to share experiences, build relationships and give each other advice, strength and guidance. She believes these opportunities are extremely beneficial and valuable and will add to the general well-being of the carers.
We’re very lucky to have such wonderful Social Workers at Eastern Fostering Services, and every carer gets regular Supervision with their allocated Social Worker. The social work team is there to help the carers at any time, but sometimes carers just want to speak to another trusted carer.
Sharon says no carer should feel out on their own. Her objective to be the ‘glue that holds everyone together’.