Video: Kensington and Chelsea foster carers share their experiences

With this being National Fostering & Adoption Week, two foster carers from Kensington and Chelsea borough talk about their experiences in a bid to encourage other people to come forward.

Tereza Glai and Habtai Reda have been fostering for a total of 17 years. They have cared for a total of 32 young people, including those with behavioural difficulties and special needs. Recently they received a prestigious Foster Care Recognition Award from the Mayor of London at City Hall.

Kensington and Chelsea provides foster carers with financial support and training to ensure they are able to meet the needs of the young people and children they care for.

It’s important that potential foster carers can offer a spare bedroom for each foster child over three years of age, and that they have time, space, stability and patience in their lives to provide the child with the support they need.

Tereza said: “Our experience of the initial assessment was three months and it was intensive; we found the process very long and intrusive, especially when it came to personal information such as past and present relationships.

“Preparation training, when we took it 17 years ago, was not as intensive as it seems today. More recently, homework has been incorporated in the training to ensure people can apply the skills learnt, and to make sure candidates understand what they have learned and to reflect back their experience.

“I enjoy the training, which adds to my experience of dealing with children and young people. The skills I gain enable me to cope with all the issues that have come up over the past 17 years; it helps me be the best foster carer possible.

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“Settling children and young people from foster care into your home is the one of most challenging parts of being a foster carer, as everyone has a different style of managing their household.

“Children need to be welcomed in and made to feel at home, but at the same time they need to learn to value and respect the ground rules and the responsibilities that come with being part of a family.

“More often than not children come to us unplanned, although sometimes it is possible to have a planned placement.

“We welcome the children into the house and the whole family sits down together around the table and introduce themselves.

“We discuss the ground rules, which include not going into each other’s rooms and what it is like to live in our house. We find this makes children feel welcome. They understand where the snacks are, what time meals are and how homework gets done – followed by the time to enjoy themselves with the family.

“As a family, we encourage foster children to express themselves and create lots of opportunities for this to take place“As I’m a full-time carer, I take responsibility for the children that come to our home whilst Habtai assists with taking our own children and our long-term foster child to church and many more activities. We have this balance and it works, as I am around all day to support them in making a fresh, new start in our home.

“I class my job as being 24/7 and foster children are my priority. I check the diary, plan ahead and provide them with consistency; I am well organised and use my time effectively. I also make sure children know when we are going to do what and why, so that they feel they have some control over what’s happening.

“I support even their smallest endeavours and acknowledge even the smallest improvements they make. I encourage older children to do homework in the library at school and use homework clubs to increase their opportunities to be social.

“Sometimes I sit down with young people in the evening and we talk more confidentially about their health. We also discuss how they can keep themselves safe on the street.

“Some young people who have lived with me have shown challenging behaviour, but there is lots of support to help the child and you as the foster carer.

“Sometimes a child may make an allegation about you as a foster carer. It’s one of those situations that you think will never happen to you, but you know the saying – ‘You don’t know what the water tastes like until you taste it’!

“I keep a daily log of all events and on the one occasion we were exposed to it as a family, we gained substantial support from our social worker; we were able to look at it objectively and learn from the experience. As a family, it made us strong and enabled us to support one another through the intensive process.

“After this experience we sat down and celebrated the positive things in our life and moved forward, providing support to the next foster child in our lives.

“My most recent experience has been with an older child with special needs and it is something that I hold especially close to my heart. This young person has been living in our house for four years. He is still unable to live independently and I now have financial support for him to stay with us beyond the age of 18 years.

“As a competent, nurturing and patient foster carer, you easily develop an attachment to the child or young person you are caring for. Children and young people are amazing: they come into our home, adapt to our ground rules and, before we know it, become part of our family.

“It is the most fulfilling experience I have had in my life and I would encourage anyone who has the time and patience to seriously consider becoming a foster carer.

“As I said, it’s a journey of finding the right balance and a constant challenge, but ultimately becoming a foster carer and the experience I have gained has helped me become the person I am today.”