Lockdown has glued us together,” says Helen about her current family of her 20 year old son, a teenager who’s lived with her for 8 years, and a nine year old who arrived last winter.
“We have to have a routine, so we do schoolwork until 12, then I work at my computer until five. At the moment I have to play teacher, I do my own job as a bookkeeper and I’m a foster carer. I hear from people I work with who tell me they’ve been sitting in the garden having a beer, and what have I been doing? You don’t want to know what my reply is!”
Sheffield’s 250 or so foster carers have been getting on with their jobs under lockdown like every other Sheffield family. Looking after children who’ve had difficult starts in life brings pressures, but staying at home under lockdown has had benefits for some foster carers too. Three local foster carers tell us their lockdown stories.
Karen: Looks after brothers, aged 11 and 8. The 8 year old joined his brother in November after leaving another placement.
“Lockdown has been good for them in a way, because it’s brought them together. When the youngest first came, you couldn’t leave them together for two minutes without them falling out, but they play together a lot more now. They’d been separated for three years.”
The children had experienced ‘extreme neglect’ in their early life, says Karen, and have been learning to speak English with Karen at the family home with her husband and two teenage sons.
“The youngest one missed a lot of school early on in his life, he missed his foundation learning, so we’ve been able to go over a lot of stuff he missed out on. We’ve been going out to the park, which is good for them, and playing football and table tennis in the garden. It’s been a houseful, but actually it’s been great. I’ve loved it.”
Gemma: Looks after a boy aged two, who was placed with her as a baby, with the suspicion of being exposed to alcohol in the womb. She also has her own daughter, now 8.
“I think he’s enjoyed this time because he knows what to expect. He likes being at home and having his own comforts, and not going to noisy and busy places which are challenging for him and effect his behaviour.”
Her daughter enjoys helping out with her little brother, and has got to know him better during the lockdown, says Gemma.
“I have to make sure they’re not listening to all the doom and gloom, and just want to make sure they’re safe and happy and busy. We have little ‘missions’ to do – my daughter has to find a letter posted in the garden from what we call the ‘lockdown people’. It might be finding a stone and painting it, or finding sticks to make something. The first one said they had to do a chore in the house, and they washed the dishes, which was a bit cunning. There were lots of bubbles! My daughter has enjoyed having the company, I think.”
Helen : Looks after two boys, one a teenager and one at primary school, and her own 20 year old son also lives at home.
“When the lockdown started, it took us all a while to get over our personal fears and come to terms with the situation. In a normal week we don’t always have a lot of time together, so it’s brought us together as a family. It’s nice not having to chase the clock.”
Her younger foster child has been in and out of care over several years, and spending more time at home has helped him settle down into his new family. Helen says she’s had the chance to learn as much about his needs and his personality as she’d have picked up in a year of normal times.
“I think because of lockdown he’s realised this is his home now. He’s got his feet under the table,” she says.
“Because I’ve kept myself calm, it’s kept them calm too. And I’ve turned the news off.”