I wouldn’t have missed being a foster parent for the world

When Jennifer and her partner Asa decided to look into becoming foster parents, little did they know the experience would enrich their own lives as much as those of the children they would be looking after.

As Foster Care Fortnight 2017 begins across the UK, Diagrama Fostering is calling for more families to get involved as The Fostering Network reveals  7,000 more carers are needed to offer loving, stable and secure homes to children and young people across the UK.

Diagrama’s not-for-profit fostering agency, rated GOOD by Ofsted, covers the south east of England where around 830 more carers are needed, particularly to look after older children, siblings together and children with additional needs.

Foster carers Jennifer and Asa, from Worthing, are backing the campaign and urging others to consider fostering. Here they share how fostering has enriched all their lives and why they have chosen to foster with Diagrama.

When Jennifer and her partner Asa decided to look into becoming foster parents, little did they know the experience would enrich their own lives as much as those of the children they would be looking after.

“It can be life changing, in a really positive way,” says Jennifer, 42, who together with Asa has looked after nine different foster children at their home in Worthing, West Sussex, over the past eight years. “It’s not without its difficult times, of course, but being a foster parent is an ongoing journey that I wouldn’t have missed for all the world. I’m just so glad we went ahead and did it.”

Jennifer and Asa got together as a couple in 2004 having met, appropriately enough, while watching the Children’s Parade at the Brighton Festival. Asa was with his son Giovanni, who was nine years old at the time, while Jennifer had her niece for company. They now have two children of their own – 11 year old Rocco and Florrie, who is six – who have also benefitted hugely from the bonds formed with the foster children that have shared their home. But what was it that first made the couple take the plunge and consider becoming foster parents?

“I was a support worker who used to work with people with learning disabilities and mental health issues,” says Jennifer. “It was a job where you saw first-hand the significance of having the right kind of upbringing in the right kind of surroundings. When a parent of someone with learning disabilities says ‘Go for it, you can do it!’ to their child, showing how much they believe in them, then that child can go on to achieve huge things. Having someone there who believes in you can be life-changing. That’s an outlook Asa and I shared. We talked about fostering and thought ‘This might be something worth looking into’. So we did.

“Our first placement was a baby and it was a really positive experience. Since then we have had nine children to stay with us for anything between three days to six years! It can be hard, especially with long-term foster children, because attachments have been made. But the other side to it is knowing you have made a difference in someone’s life. One of our foster children ended up at university which we were overjoyed about. It was massive for her but it was also massive for us because we’d been there with her on part of that journey. We had given her a peaceful place to be able to go on and achieve her potential.”

Jennifer and Asa stress the importance of receiving the right support as foster parents. “Finding the right agency or support that will work for you is vital,” says Jennifer. “After we became foster parents, we didn’t want to become what you might call hardened carers. I wanted to love, to be true to myself, and I wanted to work with people who respected that and felt the same way. That’s what brought us to Diagrama. I liked how they were and I liked them as people. They used words such as ‘emotional’ and ‘love’. It wasn’t the kind of polished, cold professionalism that you can find in some areas of the care system. It was about the children. That’s the kind of support we have received from Diagrama. The right kind of support.”

So what advice would Jennifer give someone who was thinking about fostering? “Perhaps the secret, if you are going to do it with somebody else, is to make sure that you’re both on board with it, even if one of you is more in the foreground than the other,” she says. “It’s a profession. It’s a lifestyle. It’s what suited us. I still really enjoy and love it, even after all these years. I still get excited by the right people coming along. I still get excited by the way we all fit together as a team – because it is a team effort. Look into it, find out if it’s for you, and if you think it is then find the right agency or support. If you don’t try and find out, you will never know.”

Diagrama Fostering is holding two information drop-in events during foster care fortnight where you can find out more about the children in need of care, the application process and the support and benefits our foster carers receive. The first event is on Thursday, May 10, 2017 at Airport House, Purley Way, Croydon CR0 0XZ from 6.30-8.30pm and the second, on Tuesday, May 16, 2017 at the Ardington Hotel, Steyne Gardens, Worthing, BN11 3DZ from 10am to 12noon. Alternatively, call our team today on 0800 802 1910 or email fostering@digrama.org for more details.

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