Tracey Johnson, 56, live in Medway, Kent. Along with her husband Steve she is a foster carer to two girls. Read on to find out more about Tracey and what it’s like to foster children.
Tell us about your family
I married my husband Steve in 2015 and between us we have 5 grown up birth children – 3 boys and 2 girls – none of whom live at home with us. Steve originally lived in the Midlands and his son still lives there with his former partner. My 4 children live 10 and 25 minutes from us, so we see them pretty regularly. At home now we have 2 foster daughters one of 11 and the other 13.
How did you start fostering?
We started fostering in 2017. My job prior to this was 6 years managing a Children Centre, working with families from my local area. Before that I had worked for 14 years within schools with children that struggled academically mainly because of issues at home which impacted on their behaviour at school. During all this time I met with quite a few children who were in the fostering system and decided in 2016 to leave the Children Centre and become a foster parent and foster a child, as my youngest was off to university and we had a spare bedroom.
After having conversations with all our children to gain their views, we decided that it was something we’d like to try. I contacted several agencies just for some information first, one or two of them were quite pushy about coming to visit, whilst others simply didn’t return our calls. So I decided to look at two options – my local Authority and one independent agency. Further to a visit from each, we decided to go with an independent agency.
Our reasoning behind this decision was that the child that would come to us would probably be from outside our area so there would be less chance of bumping into their family members making it less traumatic for a child and would enable us to give them a fresh start.
What support do you get when you foster?
Heath Farm Fostering, part of the National Fostering Group, offered us a really great package of support and training and also explained that there were a lot of different areas within fostering that we could potentially take up – as well as having a child live with us we could opt to mentor children or just be contact drivers, doing respite weekends or day care. They made us feel like we were in control in terms of what would suit us on a personal level. It was like a breath of fresh air, we felt we had made a good choice. We had to take part in quite a few assessments together and separately, also family members and close friends were spoken to as well. This process moved at our pace and we never felt that we were being rushed into it.
Our assessment took about 4-5 months as I was still working too, so appointments were made to fit around my work schedule. We then had to attend a panel meeting and presented to approximately 10 people that we had not met before – we were worried that we might not get the questions right. My husband was worried that he might get something wrong as he hadn’t come from any background of working with children, but we need not have worried at all – everyone was so friendly and welcoming and what we had initially thought would be an interview turned into an open discussion and we felt that we had joined an extended family.
The agency supports us financially too, not just with our wages but if extras are needed for school uniform or for example if you need extra bedding because of a medical need. The LA also pays for bus passes and school equipment.
What ongoing help do you get with fostering?
We are still with the same agency and even throughout these current difficult times I can pick up the phone and speak to staff from the agency at any time whether it be the Out of Hours Team my supervising Social Worker or even the Manager. They also have a good Therapeutic Team that work with the children in placement but are also there for the Foster Carers if needed.
What’s your favourite thing about fostering?
My favourite thing about fostering is seeing the child in my care flourish, when they smile and laugh, when they achieve staying in a lessons at school, when they tell you they love you because you make them feel safe and when they cuddle up to you and read you a story, I could write a list its amazing, both girls that are here call us mum and dad, which felt a little weird at first but they had said that it made them feel like they the same as all their friends at school.
What are the difficult parts?
Some of the difficulties we have encountered were when one of the older girls we had short term ran away from school and didn’t come home – she was missing for several days. I just felt helpless until I found her and brought her home.
Sometimes the child’s local authority do not give you or your agency all the information about the child you will be looking after, as they are just looking to get a child placed in a family home quickly. Another difficult part for me is when a child leaves your care to either move back with family or live independently, I miss them dearly like they are my own child going out there on their on their own. Luckily for me the 2 older children that have left us keep in touch.
My fostering is part of our family. We have just extended our family unit, the girls that are here are fully included in everything that we do, they relate to all my family members as their brothers, sisters, cousins, aunties, uncles and nans and grandads. They are here until they are 18 and can stay put if they like until they are ready to venture out into the big wide world.
Is there a special moment which makes it all worthwhile?
I’m not sure I have one special moment in particular that stands out as there are so many but it fills my heart with joy when they talk about me being Nan to their children, when they say they are never moving out as this is their home and when they talk to me about inviting me to their homes for dinner when they have grown up so they can cook for me. My little one made me chuckle when she asked what I was leaving her in my will for her inheritance. These children have so much love to give and they ask for so little – just to be here and to feel safe.
Where should people go to find out more?
If you would like to make a real difference to the lives of vulnerable children and young people in your local community by becoming a foster carer, visit www.fostercarers.com and start your highly rewarding fostering adventure. If you’re worried you won’t be accepted as a foster carer because of who you are, your work (or lack of work) or where you live, read these five myths about fostering.
I would always advise people to talk to other carers if they can, as well as reading up on it. There are a lot of different agencies out there , but be fussy and ask lots of questions. Fostering is for life and is very important for the child being placed in care. It can make a real difference to a child’s life. Be prepared to put the hard work in and the rewards are endless.
If you would like to find out more about how to foster you can attend one of National Fostering Group’s meet-and-greet fostering events. Click here to find upcoming events in the UK. You can also email them at firstname.lastname@example.org or call them on 0330 022 9135
I so hope my story makes you seriously consider fostering as an option. There are thousands of children in need of a loving, nurturing home. If you can help just one child, you’ll be making a difference.
*A different surname has been used for privacy purposes