Kind hearted youngsters who welcome other children and young people into their homes are encouraging adults from across Sheffield to do something amazing and foster.
Many foster carers have their own children who share their home, toys and their parents’ time with their foster brothers and sisters – ensuring the process is a whole family affair.
Sheffield City Council is backing the Fostering Network’s work to recognise and celebrate the valuable contribution the birth children of foster carers make to the lives of hundreds of other young people every year.
The Sheffield Fostering Service currently has over 280 fostering households in Sheffield who look after more than 295 children but there are not enough prospective foster carers coming forward, particularly those able to look after sibling groups.
Madison Flint, of Woodhouse in Sheffield, has supported the role of her mum, Donna Flint, as a foster carer for the past five years.
The 12-year-old Aston Academy pupil says fostering can be rewarding for all the family, but communication is the key to ensuring everyone is happy.
“I really wanted my parents to be foster carers because I’m an only child and I thought it would be like having brothers and sisters around,” she said.
“When we got our first foster child to look after I wasn’t bothered about sharing my mum and dad, I was more worried about whether we’d get along together. The first child we had was four-years-old and I was eight then so we played and got along together like any other sisters would, which was great.
“What I really love about fostering is knowing that you’ve really helped a child. We feel very protective of them when they come to live with us and if they are younger children I play with them and we read books together to get to know each other better.
“I think any birth children of foster carers need to be understanding about other children’s behaviour because they won’t always behave as well or have the manners you may have been brought up with. So I’ve learnt to set a good example. You have to be a good sister and learn to listen if they want to talk to someone closer to their own age, rather than a parent or social worker.
“The hardest part is always letting them go because if they have stayed with you for a long time they feel like your brother or sister. But I just have to accept that it’s best for them to go back to their birth family or to be adopted while understanding that our family has helped prepare them in the best way possible for that.
“I’d say to any young person whose parents are thinking of fostering that it’s a great thing to do – it makes you feel good and I’m proud to be part of a family which fosters. Knowing that we’ve helped a child through a difficult part of their life is really rewarding.”
Alice Brothers lives in Meadowhead with her parents Betty and David and together they have fostered more than 40 children and young people.
The 17-year-old Meadowhead Sixth Form pupil says people thinking about fostering should talk to their own children from the outset to ensure they are on board.
Alice said: “When my mum and dad wanted to start fostering they spoke to me and my older brother and asked how we felt about other children coming to live with us because their own parents couldn’t look after them. I thought it would be exciting because it would be a new experience for our family and it would be like having another sibling around the house.
“The longest we’ve ever had a child is three years. He was a little boy aged three and when he came to us he was very shy but he soon started to come out of his shell. You could even see the physical difference in him develop – he began standing up straighter and became stronger. It was lovely to see him develop like that.
“I think if you want to involve your family properly in the fostering process you have to be honest with each other and ask questions if you are worried about anything, whether it’s big or small. It’s also just as important to say when it’s going brilliantly.
“I think any parent would worry about how their own children would deal with fostering but you learn together as you go along.
“I think to be the son or daughter of a foster carer you have to have certain qualities – you can’t be self-indulgent, you have to be selfless and generous with your time and possessions. You have to understand that some children haven’t had anyone to give them a hug when they’ve needed it, or someone to help them with their homework or read them a bedtime story.
“The best thing about fostering is that you appreciate different people’s backgrounds more, you appreciate their culture and beliefs and where they have come from.”
People interested in becoming foster carers can attend regular information sessions run by the Sheffield Fostering Service
Alternatively, information is also available from the Fostering Network and existing sons and daughters of Sheffield foster carers are supported by dedicated social workers and at monthly ‘kids group’ meetings in Attercliffe.
Alice added: “I’d recommend any parent thinking about fostering to go to the information sessions and courses and speak to people who do it, and not just adults who foster but young people like me too. It’s such a rewarding job but you need to be open and honest with your own children first. You need to tell them it will be difficult and you may have some challenging children to look after. But there’s a lot of laughter, love, joking and playing in our house so it will be fun too.
“The hardest part will always be saying goodbye to foster children and the house feels empty when they’ve gone, but before you know it you’ll have someone new to look after and you just have to get on with it.
“I’d say fostering is a great opportunity to change someone’s life. If you love children and want to do something which will really help, then you should definitely do it.”
Most people can be a foster carer, whether they are single, divorced, widowed, retired, unemployed or working.
Foster carers can be from any ethnic background and be gay, straight or bisexual. The level of care offered can vary from those offering short breaks or temporary care to providing a permanent home for a child or young person.
Foster carers able to look after sibling groups and teenagers are particularly needed.
Councillor Jackie Drayton, Cabinet Member for Children, Young People and Families at Sheffield City Council, said: “I am so pleased to be celebrating young people who do a great job supporting some of the city’s most vulnerable young people. It simply wouldn’t be possible for their parents to foster successfully without the dedicated support of their own children.
“These young people make a valuable contribution and I’d like to say a big thank you to them for the brilliant job they do. I hope that Madison and Alice’s experience of being part of a fostering family really inspires other families to do something amazing and take the first steps to becoming foster carers too.”