Gerry and Kay Nellis
South Eastern Trust foster carers
“If you’re thinking about fostering, the chances are you have the capacity to help someone in some way, so stop thinking and take the plunge. You might even come to love it as much as we do!”
Kay Nellis tells us about her and her husband’s experiences during their first year of fostering:
“In April 2012 I was driving home from work as a freelance trainer, listening to Radio 4. I heard an interview which highlighted the need for foster carers in Northern Ireland. I was deeply moved by the need for secure placements for children at a very upsetting and vulnerable time in their lives. When I got home I told Gerry, my husband who had recently retired following a knee replacement, and he was also very interested. Having worked since he was 15 as an electrician, Gerry was finding adjustment to retirement difficult. No longer able to participate in sport, he dreaded a sedentary lifestyle. Having raised 4 children of our own and having looked after many children at times of crisis in our own families, we knew we could accommodate a range of children’s needs including comforting the distressed, encouraging the negative, motivating the weary and entertaining the bored.
The next morning I made the call that was to be the beginning of a new lifestyle for us both. We spoke to a number of social workers over the next few months and agreed to go on the next available training course which was in September 2012. We found the course enjoyable and informative but also a little bit frightening, as we were forced to reflect on our own strengths and weaknesses and to have a plan for when our tried and tested resources failed. We continued and for a further 6 months we participated in weekly assessments. The assessments were invasive, thought-provoking and sometimes time-consuming. Assessment checks included our adult children and their partners, none of whom live at home but who all visit regularly. We then went forward to the Fostering Panel for approval.
I can still remember our nervousness at the thought of “going to panel”, no matter how much our recruitment social worker tried to comfort us. We felt exposed as they had written details of all our personal encounters and vulnerable as they knew our responses to difficult questions. The panel knew our naivety and life experiences. I don’t ever want to forget that experience as it keeps me alert when children come into my home. No matter how often I tell new arrivals they are welcome, that we will support them and that no one will harm them while they are with us; they feel exposed, fearful and vulnerable. The only thing that will convince them is our abiding consistency, patience, attention and composure.
Our preferred type of fostering in the first instance was the Emergency Scheme. Our rationale was that we could put up with almost anything for 28 days. We were determined not to let the children down and if we were not suited we knew we could see through the month and then resign without disappointing a child or making them feel responsible.
We worried unnecessarily. The children were a delight, although troubled in some way. Not only were the children away from home, family and all that is familiar to them but they also had to adjust to our lifestyle, diet, routines and expectations. From the start we committed ourselves fully to our new responsibilities and were rewarded 1000 fold. The children entertained, enlightened, corrected, informed and stimulated us. We heard music we had never heard before and watched soaps and TV programmes with a whole new perspective. The children instructed us in technology and fashion and tolerated our shortcomings with humour and generosity. We started visiting tourist attractions again, brushed up on our maths and history and took part in activities long since abandoned to photo albums of our children’s youth.
One of our greatest anticipated fears was the thought of children moving on. Could we cope with preparing them to move and losing them from our lives? In truth this has not been an issue and we have fostered 9 children to date, ranging in age from 4-15 years and in duration from 2 weeks to 6 months. The moving on process was well managed and facilitated. On each occasion we talked through the move with the children and we celebrated our time together and gave them mementos and photos of their time with us.
We are confident that we have made a positive contribution to each of these children’s lives. We have given them a good home experience, appreciated their company and valued their talents. We do not regret that they lived with us nor that a better long term or kinship placement was sourced for them. Do we miss them? Yes definitely! We have lots of fond memories of each of them, but we don’t fear for their future or feel guilty for our limitations. We will do what we can, as best we can, for as long as we can and that’s how we manage the children in our care and our own expectations.
It’s important to note that we did not do this alone. Our own adult children accepted our devotion and commitment to fostering. They welcomed the foster children’s participation in all our family events and holidays and acknowledged their achievements and encouraged their talents. We had an excellent supervising social worker who understood us well and worked to our strengths. She kept us on board even when things got tough. We had the opportunity to take part in regular training organised by the Trust and met many lovely people through our participation, some of whom have become friends.
We have just completed our first year of fostering and are due to “go to panel” again. This time we are much more confident in our role as foster carers. My advice to potential carers is if you’re thinking about it, chances are you have the capacity to help someone in some way, so stop thinking and take the plunge. You might even come to love it as much as we do!”
The South Eastern Trust is currently looking for people for all types of fostering including respite (ages 8-17 years), short term and long term (all ages). If approved, carers will receive 24 hour support, allowances and training.
Anyone interested in fostering is asked to contact the Fostering Duty Social Worker on (028) 91270672 or enquire online.