A life-long commitment to fostering

Fostering involves many different people who all contribute to make sure that children in care can thrive. Janet Smith, trustee of The Fostering Network since 2015 and chair of the board since 2020, has played different roles in the lives of young people throughout her life. Here she shares her story with fostering and how it all began.

I have been involved in fostering since the 1950s when my parents were approved as foster carers. Back then, the approval process was very different: my mum told us that someone was coming to see if we could look after children and me, my brother and my sister were warned to be on our best behaviour. My mum cleaned the house until we scarcely recognised it and even got out the best china to offer the child care officer a cup of tea so were all set for the visit. I don’t remember much about the visit but I know that there was only one. The child care officer looked around the house and much to my mum’s horror she ran her finger along the top of the door at one point to check that it was clean. Luckily, she must have thought we were ok and the house fit for purpose because as we passed! How different from the assessment process today... 

The children in our home

Throughout my childhood, we looked after eight young children over a period of seven years. Most children stayed for short periods but we had two babies come live with us on separate occasions for a year. The children who stayed for a short time often had to be looked after because their mum was going into hospital for an operation or to have another baby and there was no one else who could have taken care of them after them during that time. I remember that the mums of the two babies who stayed for longer both visited us. One of the mums came to our house for an evening meal every week and she fed, bathed her baby and put him to bed. As children, we loved having other children staying but over time we found it harder to say goodbye as they moved on and so my parents decided that we should stop fostering. 

Finding my dream job 

My vision of the social worker’s job was that she spent her day bringing babies to families, having a cup of tea with the foster family and then doing it again. I thought that was really cool and I decided that I would become a social worker too. I was lucky enough to achieve that ambition and worked as a social worker for more than 40 years, the majority of that in family placement in the West of Scotland. It was an absolute privilege to work with many foster families over the years and to witness the amazing job that they did with vulnerable children and their families.  

The unchanged importance of foster care

It is fair to say that the job did not turn out as I had imagined as a seven year old when I first told my parents that I was going to be a social worker... Lots in fostering has changed too since my family had embarked on their journey. However, the basic task of supporting families to work out a solution that would ensure that children were cared for safely and in a situation where they could grow up to become happy and healthy adults is the same now as it was when I was a child growing up in a foster family.

Fostering changes lives and foster carers who are providing children with a safe and loving place to stay for as long as they need play a crucial role in society. If you think you could offer this to a child, I ask you, as the daughter of foster carers, a social worker and trustee and board member of The Fostering Network, to look into fostering. Now is the perfect time. 

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