Thinking of fostering? Advice from Northern Ireland's Foster Carers of the Year
With over 2,000 children and young people in Northern Ireland in foster care, the need for foster parents is hugely important.
Northern Ireland Foster Carers of the Year, William and Valerie Newell, have been fostering for over 13 years and know first hand the rewards and challenges it can bring.
The couple, who also look after their three children, share their advice for anyone who is thinking of becoming a foster parent.
1. Anyone can be a foster carer.
You can be a foster/kinship foster carer:
- whether you have your own children or not
- if you are single, married or living with a partner
- if you are in or out of work
- whether you live in your own home or rent
- whatever your race, religion or sexuality
2. Start by picking up the phone.
Becoming a foster parent can be arranged through your local Health and Social Care Trust - you just have to pick up the phone.
Tell them you are interested in fostering and ask if someone could possibly come out to your home to give you advice and explain the whole process.
Even if you are only able to foster at weekends as part of respite care, it will make a huge difference.
3. Don't be afraid to ask for help at any point in the fostering process.
From the beginning you will have social workers on hand to answer any of your questions and offer advice.
There will be initial interviews and home visits and again when you have a child or young person stay with you. The social workers will be available to address your concerns, either over the phone or at home.
Don't be afraid to ask!
4. Know that fostering can be challenging.
Take it one day at a time.
Everyday brings different challenges of some sort and you have to take it as it comes and work through it bit by bit.
But you have to always consider whatever is in the best interest of the child - they are the number one priority through everything.
5. You have to foster together.
If you are a fostering couple, one person can't say one thing, and then the other say something else. You have to keep to the same rules - one set of rules for the house with no uncertainty whatsoever.
6. Set boundaries
Clear boundaries within your home is important and the child or young person might not like them, but you have to stick to your guns.
Stability is hugely important in a foster home and this will ensure the child knows that your home is a safe place.
8. Know that the child or young person will need a lot of your time.
Every circumstance for a child staying in foster care is different, but what they all need is your patience, kindness, time, stability and respect.
It is hugely important to listen to what they are saying and for them to know you are a person they can talk to.
9. Enjoy your time with the children and know that you've made a diffence.
A highlight of being a foster parent is watching the children develop and grow, and to know that they have complete trust in you.
To see a change in them from when they first come to your home is fantastic.
When they first arrive they might be shy or withdrawn, but after a few weeks to see their wee faces beaming with smiles and laughter, and their personalites shining, that makes everything worthwhile as a foster parent.
William and Valeries were named the Northern Ireland Foster Carers of the Year earlier this month at the The Fostering Network’s annual awards.
"We were very shocked and very honoured," said William.
Valeries added: "We didn't know we were going to win the award so we were both totally shocked. We were still sitting in out seats looking at each other with everyone standing-up around us clapping.
"And we thought, 'Well, we better go up and get our award'."
The couple were nominated by their two foster children who say any child would be lucky to live with them.
According to William and Valerie, they ‘fell’ into fostering through family links. They started to help out and have never looked back.
The couple’s foster child, said: "My brother and I lived with six foster families before we came to live with Valerie and William, but this is where we are staying.
"We are so happy and safe here. They are always there to help and guide me and get me the support I need. They mean the world to us and any child lucky enough to live here would be happy and healthy like I am now."
If you think you might have the time and space in your life to become a HSC Trust foster carer please call 0800 0720 137 or visit www.adoptionandfostering.hscni.net
Other useful websites:
Belfast Telegraph Digital