Irene McCaughan

Belfast Trust Foster Carer

Irene McCaughan BHSCTTogether with her husband Ian, part time teacher Irene McCaughan, has been a foster carer for Belfast Health and Social Care (HSC) Trust for the past year. Here she shares her experiences of fostering siblings, Jenny (12) and Rob (11)*.

With four grown children of their own, becoming foster carers was something Irene and Ian had always wanted to do. “We had thought about fostering for years. My husband used to attend an event every year where his exhibition would be beside the HCS Fostering information stand. Each year we said that we would look into it. Eventually when our youngest started university we felt that the time was just right.”

Irene herself experienced tragedy at the age of 15 when her sister and only sibling was killed in a car crash aged just 16. “I believe you have to live life to the full and for me that has meant helping others. I learned at a young age that life can be so short so you have to do as much as you can while you are on this earth. Ian and I were both just open to the idea of ‘giving it a shot’ and although we initially talked about the idea of respite foster care we were open to possibilities.”

It turned out that Belfast HSC Trust was in particular need of long term foster carers for children in the eight plus age group and the couple were asked whether they would consider long term fostering for brother and sister Jenny and Rob. “I have always said two is easier than one,” says Irene. “Not only are they good company for one another but they are a vital support to each other.”

An important part of the foster carer’s role is to facilitate regular contact with a child’s birth family. The children see their wider birth family, including their maternal grandmother, on a regular and frequent basis. “Jenny and Rob are able to offer to support to each other after these visits. Yes, at times they do fight like most siblings, but just last week Jenny hid a wee note in her brother’s overnight bag for him to discover while he was on a school trip. I often think what would have happened if the children had been on their own with separate foster carers.  I suppose my own childhood, where I was really like an only child after my sister’s death, was a personal experience to draw on. I’m so glad that the children live here together”.

When asked about any challenges which the couple has faced as foster carers, Irene has to think. “I suppose we have drawn on our own parenting experiences. There are general challenges for any child as they approach the teenage years. We parented our own children through ‘normal rebellion’. We had the late night worries when they were out with friends, learning to drive, pushing the boundaries as children do. All the usual stuff.

“But what really helps a foster carer is to be flexible, adaptable and patient. It is important to try to understand the background the children come from. It may not be the way I was brought up or brought up my own children, but I have to be open minded to the children’s previous experiences and I find that helps us in our role as foster carers.”

Irene also recognises the vital support which her own wider family offers. “We find it very useful to take respite opportunities. Our grown up children are able to help out and take the kids to youth club at the weekend so that Ian and I can go for a coffee together or a meal out. It is important for us to look after our marriage as well without feeling guilty about that.”