Our Fostering Story
I’m Hazel and I’m married to Bill, we live in East Anglia and have been fostering with By the Bridge for 10 years. We fostered for a local authority before that. My background was as a Senior Technician in a University in charge of preparation of practical classes for undergraduate students.
We have no children but became interested in fostering 15 years ago and we now specialise in looking after teenagers.
Why did we choose By the Bridge?
The reason we chose to apply to By the Bridge, after checking out many other fostering organisations and local authorities, was that all the staff had been involved either as foster parents themselves or worked within that area which meant there was great understanding of the challenges of the role. I believe passionately that our teenagers are individuals who are valued and accepted the way that they are (or are not!) and this is the ethos of all By the Bridge’s work, they listen to and respect the young people in their care.
Additionally By the Bridge provides up to date training, good supervision and is involved with research to constantly update the skills and knowledge of all of us. There is a clear career structure and we have the opportunity to be promoted and do other training if we ever become bored!
10 years on…
Having joined By the Bridge 2 years after it began, and seen it develop from a very small company into one which is much bigger, they have retained their core values and I am still proud to work for them. I am treated as a professional, my opinions are listened to, suggestions have been acted on and I feel valued as a member of a dynamic team that always has the children’s wellbeing at the centre.
I have found the Therapeutic Surgery led by a By the Bridge psychotherapist (who is also a foster parent) valuable at the times I need some extra support, it helps me understand a difficult experience more clearly.
Teens are a better fit for us
Bill and I choose to work with teenagers and usually foster one young person at a time. We are therapeutic foster parents and I found the Certificate in Therapeutic Fostering an amazing course for both understanding our young people, and understanding how to avoid having my buttons pressed!
Foster parents are the ‘bridge’ that helps our young people become the best they can be, to enable them to have fulfilling lives, achieve their goals and parent their own children in ways that they themselves may not have experienced.
I believe it is important to keep learning and I enjoy all the training courses and supervision groups that By the Bridge provides. I am doing some of my favourite courses for the second and even third time as all children are different and provide different challenges and the more up to date knowledge and skills I have in my own personal “tool box” the better!
When I mention to that I’m a foster parent to teenagers, people’s attitude is often ‘wow that’s amazing I couldn’t do that” and they often appear to think that Bill and I are saint like! I explain that we always get much more back from the children we foster than we could possibly give.
I like working with teenagers as they are all different, challenging, thoughtful and constantly changing - which keeps us on our toes!
It is such a shame that some people feel nervous of caring for teenagers, they often have misconceptions about what it would actually be like. We like the freedom and fun that comes with sharing a home with a teenager, and we really enjoy our work. If it was too difficult we wouldn’t still be doing it after all these years!
All children and young people that come into care have suffered from trauma at some stage of their lives. Teenagers then have the double whammy of hormones, mood swings and finding their place in the world which can be a fairly challenging combination!
If we are willing to listen and walk side by side with them, respect and accept them for who they are then we can help them overcome their own personal challenges and develop into confident adults. This is what gives Bill and I satisfaction and pride in the job that we do.
How we’ve made a difference
Children come into care almost always thinking they are not very good and may blame themselves for much of what has happened to them. I am always amazed at the resilience of our young people and often feel working with teenagers that we have a role as coaches rather than parents.
The aspect I feel I get the most from is challenging the negative beliefs that our young people have. I can give them lots of positive recognition for their successes, but if they are unable to ‘hear’ that praise, then I need to change my approach!
We have a dog, and walking the dog, or car journeys, can be the best times to talk to children, I ask how much of the positive stuff they ‘hear’ and in the beginning that will always be 0 or even a negative figure. Over time I check in and usually after a year or more they are able to take on 75% of the good stuff and this change in their confidence is demonstrated in their conversations. We have now become ‘old’ and they can now teach us new skills!
They change in their physical posture and are able to look people in the eye and take risks in trying new things.
We encourage our young people to join in our family life including preparing vegetables, cooking and doing housework and although, like many teenagers, this is a chore at first over time we find they like spending time with us doing normal family things.
Many of our young people feel worthless particularly if they have displayed difficult behaviour, but I am constantly stunned by their resilience and willingness to change their behaviour – something lots of us adults have a problem with!
Building a trusting relationship is key to success
For many young people we are the first adults who have apologised to them; if we messed up or made a wrong interpretation of something they have done or said. Just this simple act can transform a challenging situation into one we can all learn from.
I am almost 60 now and I find that fostering keeps my mind active as I constantly need to be creative in my responses to typical teenage challenges and to be aware of when I am being lead up the garden path!
The biggest breakthrough for me was in understanding our young people’s chronological age does not equal their emotional age because of the traumas they have suffered.
When a difficult 14 year old suddenly becomes a screaming 4 year old I need to switch to communicate at that level. We need to help them regulate their own emotional world and eventually they can learn new skills to manage their behaviour.
We have fostered 4 teenagers with By the Bridge and although we may not always see immediate results, by providing consistency, care and hopefully some fun and curiosity they have all gained something from living with us.
We cannot change our young people, we can only change ourselves in the way we relate to them – as my foster son keeps telling me - You are the adult!