When she arrived, our second foster baby was weak and pale and poorly. She had a viral infection along with severe feeding problems, and life was tough.
But she was tough too, and she’d soon start smiling again once she’d been sick after nearly every feed.
We got on with the job, met her various doctors and nurses and advisers and together we helped her to get stronger. We found her a milk she could digest and she put on weight.
We knew a little about her background, but didn’t see her mum for some weeks. Her dad was attending most of the ‘contact’ sessions arranged at the special neutral contact centre, where he could meet his daughter for an hour or two, and they got on well. It looked like she might have to go for adoption, however, which could take some time given her health conditions.
I wondered what had happened to mum. What does it feel like to have your baby taken away after several months? How would you cope?
And then, baby’s social worker told us her mum was going to come to a contact session. The social worker had been in touch with her regularly, and it was clear mum’s situation had changed for the better.
The key word when foster carers meet their child’s birth family is ‘professional’. You need to be supportive, straightforward and non-judgemental. But you also need to ensure the child remains safe and loved and happy.
In this case, there were no problems at all. Mum was also supportive, straightforward and very grateful that we’d been helping her baby.
We got to know baby’s mum as she reintroduced herself to her child. It turned out she’d been looking after her little girl very well during her first months of life, helping her with her feeding regime, cleaning up the vomit every day, attending her appointments.
But then, she and baby became very ill at the same time. Baby was brought to us, and mum went to hospital in a critical condition.
She recovered, and as baby started getting stronger and more determined, so did her mum. She began seeing her daughter three times a week at the contact centre, and then attended hospital appointments with us. To any outsider, she would have come across as a normal loving mother of a one year old.
Dad supported baby going back to live with her mum, and after several months of monitoring and meetings and doing the right thing for herself and her baby, the court made its decision.
There were two more weeks of baby seeing us and mum together almost every day, and eventually our foster baby moved back to live with her mother, and we said goodbye.
It doesn’t always end this way, we’ve been told. Sometimes birth parents try and fail, and sometimes they barely try at all.
But for us and for this mother and her beautiful, brave little daughter, this was a great result. People say foster caring is ‘rewarding’. Frankly, that description doesn’t come close.
For more information about fostering in Sheffield go to www.sheffield.gov.uk/fostering