A New Longton woman says being a parent and child foster carer is a ‘joy’ and a ‘privilege’.
Alison Dawson has been a foster carer with Lancashire County Council for five years.
During that time she has looked after six families, supporting a mix of dads and mums between the ages of 14 and 40 having difficulties looking after their baby or young child.
“Fostering was something I always thought I’d like to do, right from when my own boys were small,” says Alison. “I was on my own bringing them up, so I decided they needed all my attention, but as they got older I still thought I would like to do it.
“When the boys were in their teens I got married again. I talked to my husband about fostering and he was really keen. However at that point we wondered if we’d be too old as we were both in our 50s. A social worker friend reassured us that wasn’t the case, so we started the process of becoming foster carers.”
Alison went on the LCC website to register her interest, and soon after a social worker visited.
“We answered some simple questions, and when the social worker suggested parent and child fostering we said ‘yes’ right away. If we could so something to help keep families together then that would be even better.”
After a period of training, Alison and her husband started fostering. While she had been a midwife and her husband a nurse, Alison believes her experiences of volunteering with vulnerable people has been more valuable to the foster carer role.
“When parents come to us they feel very vulnerable as they know their baby might be removed from their care,” Alison explains. “They often have low self-esteem, and think the placement will only serve to prove they can’t look after their baby.
“One of the most important things we can do is give encouragement. We praise the little things the parents are good at, which boosts their self-confidence. They just need someone to believe in them, and then you see them blossom.”
Alison talks proudly about a particular incident with one young mum.
“Sometimes the turning point can be with an activity that’s nothing to do with childcare. I’d started doing some baking with one mum who had said to me, ‘I haven’t even got a swimming certificate, I can’t do anything’.
“The first time we baked, I made cupcakes while she watched. The second time she helped, and the third time she made the cupcakes on her own. She was so pleased with herself and so delighted that we went straight round to show her mum what she’d done.
“That was the start of the mum realising she could achieve something.”
The baby or child and their parents typically live with the foster carer for around 12 weeks, but Alison has experienced longer placements too.
Of course being a parent and child foster carer has its challenges.
Alison talks about the practicalities of dealing with wet towels and muddy footprints while making families feel welcome in her home. And there are times when plans have to be put on hold because a parent needs her to be there.
The psychological side of things can also be tricky.
“There are lots of ups and downs. Often the parent’s mental health is affected by the situation, and they can feel very low on some days.
“You also have to try to understand why people stay in abusive relationships, or why they spend their money on cigarettes when it’s so obvious that the baby needs something. Staying non-judgemental can be a challenge, especially after a few months of the behaviour.”
For Alison, the good parts of the role outweigh any difficulties.
“With the babies, the best part is the joy of watching them grow, explore, and reach their milestones. You get to experience them developing into a little person, a little character.
“In terms of the parents, it’s such a privilege when they feel able to be honest with you and share what they’re struggling with. Once they’ve identified the problem, we can start to ask for help, be that with mental health, drug or alcohol addiction, domestic abuse, or something else.
“It’s then when you have the hope they can start to make changes and sort out their lives for good.”
Lancashire County Council’s fostering service has launched a new campaign to find foster carers who can welcome a vulnerable parent and their baby into their home, at a time when they need extra support and might otherwise be separated. To find out more, visit the Lancashire County Council website or call the fostering team on 0300 123 6723.
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