Tuesday, January 22, 2019


One of the things that takes a bit of getting used to when you start your fostering career is the feeling you get with each new arrival after bedtime on the first night. There's somebody else's child sleeping in your home!

I've never forgotten a rookie mistake back in my early days. I told the child that if he woke early and was frightened he could knock on our bedroom door and I would get up and look after him. And so he did.  At 1.50am. He wanted to go to the toilet.  He couldn't go back to sleep, so I stayed up with him downstairs watching videos of Thomas The Tank.

Even if your own children had sleepovers, fostering is light years different.

When you host a sleepover you have the comfort of knowing the children's parents aren't far away. If there's a problem you can call them. On top of that all the children know each other and can support each other. And you know the children who are staying with you; they are friends of your own child.

In fostering the child's parents are not contactable. If there's a problem you have to fix it. The child knows nobody in your home, and you don't know the child yet.

Mind, you're not entirely on your own.

Blue Sky provide a 24 hour service - even Bank Holidays and Christmas. I've used it a few times. They have someone on call round the clock. I'd say to people who are thinking of fostering that it's worth finding out if your local authority or agency provide that level of back-up, because even if you never use it the knowledge it's there is hugely reassuring.

But whatever the back-up, the first night a new child is sleeping in your home is an amazing experience for the Foster Carer.

There are the practical things. It's rare, but I've had kids who hadn't slept in a nice clean bed before. Never had pyjamas, used to sleep in their clothes. Children come into care who don't know how to clean their teeth.  Children who at dinner don't know what knives and forks are for, thought food only came in cardboard boxes. 

There are the emotional things. Children who are almost always so timid and fearful that the top job is to calm them, help them feel safe and secure. Convince them that they have nothing more to fear.

I've also had (slightly older) children arrive who are so capable and confident that I wondered what the problems at home might have been. It usually turned out they'd learned to rise above the noise and lift their lives above what had been going on in their broken home.


Whatever and whoever the new foster child is who arrives at your home, it's one of life's most exciting experiences.

As a Foster Carer you get information up front about the child. Before the child arrives your Social Workers show up to supervise the arrival. Then those professionals leave, and it's down to the key professional. You.

I've mentioned some of my tricks of the trade before such as having a small gift wrapped and ready for the child based on the information I've gleaned about their likes and interests. 
I ask them to take off their shoes as they come in, which is a powerful symbol that they are at home. 
I crouch down to their eye level when I say hello, rather than tower over them. 
I use their first name often as one's own name is usually a comforting sound. 
I find out if they have a cuddly toy and if so make its acquaintance; you can ask the cuddly toy questions which the child answers about herself; "Teddy is hungry and a bit frightened" translates itself. 
I show them where the toilets are and how to use them and make sure they know they can go whenever they need to. 
They get their favourite food for their first meal with us, and I serve the food in bowls in the middle of the table and let them help themselves so there are no fears about being given a food item they don't like the look of. Plus they can arrange the food on their plate to suit - lots of children don't like food to touch other food.
Most of all I try to make them feel at home in their own room, and settle them down for their first night's sleep in my home.

When they have fallen asleep is when I have the time to experience a wonderful sense of fulfilment. It's a rush of blood to the head and heart for a person such as myself who is special in no way but suddenly finds herself overwhelmed by a surge of special emotions. 

I feel a sense of purpose and pride and pleasure in hoping that the child's life is already starting to turn around. And It's my arm around their shoulder doing the turning.

I don't get carried away mind, there's a long way to go, plenty of mistakes will I make along the way, plenty of times I'll be less than 100%, but that's human, and Foster Carers are human first and foremost.

But for a brief moment, that first night a vulnerable new child is receiving care, sleeping in my spare bedroom, fostering feels like a privilege to be cherished.


  1. Oh first nights are definately interesting! I've looked after six children in the past three months, three planned respite and three as last minute emergencies (one of those was only 30mins notice). The planned kids I knew a little about them and bought a few things to customise their rooms - Spiderman blanket, Paw Patrol teddy etc. The emergencies was a lot harder in that sense, but ultimately whether planned or emergency I'm still providing a safe secure place to stay for the night.
    I do have some backups though. I've always got frozen pizzas, breakfast bars and crisps (not the healthiest but they do get eaten rather keenly). For their rooms I've always got squishees and soft toys, both of which seem universally popular. I've know an older teen to sleep with Bagpuss!
    First nights though are the hurdle, and once its over and done with things can settle down.
    Oh the six kids I've had two wake me up in the middle of the night, both from being in pain rather than nightmares. Tending to bruised children was hard.

  2. 6 in 3 months Dana, that's great for any Foster Carer and 30 minutes notice is one for the record books too. Maybe you're doing something right...?
    Seriously may I pay respect for your fostering work in every regard. Keep a diary alongside your records (if you have time), if ever you turn it into a book I'll be first in the queue. Obviously your fostering is the main thing to you and that shines through. Oh, quick ps, comfort food for children coming into care is an absolute essential in my book. My argument is there's plenty of time to get their diet right, let's start with them by helping them feel that life can be good.

    1. Yes indeedy I've had six kids since approval. Shortest was one night, longest 21 nights. The 30 minutes' notice was for just one night. That was a very fraught social worker (whom I knew) who had a lad needing a place just for the night. Luckily spare room was already made. Whilst I didnt have much info on him, I trusted the SW enough to know he'd be just fine with me. He stayed literally til 830am when another social worker came to pick him up. Despite being young he was very 'with it'. He'd packed a bag and had his PJs and clean clothes for the next morning. Though he did forget his toothbrush.
      Food. Yes I've tried to blend a bit with the food. As in start off with just things I know they'll eat. Without exception they've all loved pizza, snack bars and crisps. Some have loved fruit. Only one liked veg! But a full belly, even if it rubbish food is the main thing. With the child who stayed 21 days, by their second week we started alternating dinners. As in one day they cooked dinner (with my help) and we both ate it, and the next day, I cooked it and we both ate it. Whilst he grimaced at all the greens, he stuck to the deal and did eat them. By the time he left he went from not knowing how to boil a pan of water for pasta (!) to being able to do some basic meals - spag bol, burgers with greens, roast veggies etc. I gave him a cookbook as part of his leaving pressie actually.
      A diary. Ah yes I do have one. Though admittedly I am about two weeks behind.

  3. Hey Dana, always worth keeping the spare bedroom ready for an emergency call. We work a lot on trusting our SWs, they haven't failed me yet. Food is such an issue with looked-afters isn't it? I'm with you, a full tummy (whatever's in it) is a big start early days. Well done on the cookery classes, too, that's er...fod for thought.
    Keep scribbling your diary when you get a moment or two, it'll be a best-seller.

  4. We have just had this for our first ever placement. I’ve been following your blog during the approval and the first night was just as you said! We are settling into it a bit now but it’s been some week. We haven’t met other carers (yet-bring on training) so it’s been great to hear first hand thoughts from you. Thanksx

  5. Congratulations and well done! Welcome to fostering! Enjoy the good feelings as much as the challenges and you'll revel in it.
    Thank you for taking the time to add your comment, it's difficult to find time for anything other than fostering especially during the start-up periods.