Sean and Marette McGivern
Sean and Marette McGivern are from West Belfast and have been fostering for Belfast Trust for 17 years.
The couple always had an interest in fostering, right from the early days of their marriage. When their own daughters were aged three, six and nine they decided to start the process to apply to become foster carers. They have since had a son (now aged six) and in addition foster a teenage girl (16) and a nine year old girl on a long term basis.
Marette previously worked in a family centre. It was here that she enjoyed regular contact with children and families and the experience helped in her decision to consider fostering. Sean recalls watching a programme on TV almost 20 years ago which reignited the couple’s interest in fostering and, as he says, “triggered our consciences” that it was time to do something about it.
Marette is now a full time housewife and mum to four children and two foster daughters. Several years ago, the McGiverns agreed to consider respite fostering. Since then they have, as they put it themselves, looked after a number of young children “for a few weeks here and there”. In some cases this has been to assist a parent in need of some support and respite from the day to day care of their own child. On other occasions the couple have provided respite to other foster carers during the summer holidays or occasional weekends.
When asked about the most important qualities of a successful foster carer, Sean and Marette answer without hesitation – flexibility.
“You have to be flexible in every way”, states Marette. “In some ways you are sharing your house. There are lots of visits – your social worker, the child’s social worker and a health visitor if it is a baby or toddler”. Another important aspect of being a foster carer is formal ‘contact’ with the child’s birth family.
“It really helps if you can work to get on with the child’s family”, advises Marette. “It makes all the difference”. Sean adds that tolerance and patience are important as well as “an ability to want to get mucked in to the social aspects of a fostered child’s life”.
Sean is proof of the value of this ‘mucking in’ mentality. A typical Saturday can involve football training, swimming lessons, dance class and ju jitsu. Sean, the only driver in the household, is on the go all day. But this is all part of the high points of fostering young people for Sean. “Seeing what the kids achieve is a real point. One of the girls recently travelled to Cork to play Gaelic football for her club and she also got placed in a swimming gala. Our older foster daughter is pursuing her A’ Levels. It is all about giving them the fuel to do things for themselves…Watching as their confidence grows and grows”.
When asked about any major challenges along the way or low points the couple acknowledge that their path as a fostering family has been a fairly smooth one to date. Support groups, training and the help of a dedicated social worker have all been significant. “When you need help and advice, the support network provided by Belfast Trust is there”.