New family members, challenges and a vocation - becoming a foster family

For Willow, becoming a foster family meant significant changes. Less alone time, more social interaction, and being outside of his comfort zone a lot more. The 15-year-old, who has sensory processing difficulties, had to get used to the new situation at home but was intrigued to foster right away. He now plays a vital part in the household and supports his parents in delivering the best possible care for a boy with ADHD.

I am fifteen years old and my family have been short-term fostering a seven-year-old boy, named Sam, since April 2019. This might not seem like a long time compared to a lifetime, but I hardly remember what home life was like before Sam joined us. Over the last year, I have not only grown as a person, but I have been taught many life skills and gained a vital understanding thanks to fostering.

When everything changes

I was the youngest child growing up in my family, with three older half-sisters. I had not cared for younger children, so the entire fostering experience was very new to me. I loved having time to myself, and I am very introverted so I would never choose to be in social situations. But when my parents discussed fostering, it sounded appealing and I was willing to give it a go. I had more than a year to process the upcoming event, yet I think I never allowed myself to understand how much of a change this would be for me. I had always hated change. So, when Sam suddenly joined the family with two days’ notice I still did not feel prepared.

Sam has ADHD and is very much extroverted, he is constantly requiring attention and physical contact. For myself, living with sensory processing difficulties, I hated hugs, noise, long conversation. In other words: any interaction with a person who I wasn’t close with. The sudden change in atmosphere, once he had opened up and became more himself in the days after he arrived, was overwhelming for me and I felt very out of place in my own house. But I soon learnt how to adapt myself and my mindset for helping to look after Sam. For the next two weeks after he moved in, I kept a daily note of one thing I found difficult about the day and two things I enjoyed, which helped me to adjust to the new environment and process what was happening each day.

New beginnings...

Sam arrived in our home in floods of tears and endlessly repeating that he did not want to stay with us. It was heart-breaking for everyone involved as our main hope was to provide him with the most welcoming and loving experience in our household through this part of his life. Luckily, it would be another four months before we’d see him cry again. We spent time to learn who Sam was, what his situation was and how to help him. We would learn what he enjoyed, how to praise him, how to talk to him and how to challenge misbehaviour. We are also trying to help Sam understand his own situation, how he is now safe, why he can’t go back home and what will happen in the future. One of the most confusing and difficult things for me to understand has been why he would even want to return to his home where he has made such negative experiences.

... and old patterns 

Getting Sam to respect adults and understand that they are likely to know better is very tricky. Sam didn’t have boundaries before he came to live with us, so he was (and still can be) reluctant to abide by rules, since he had not known any before. I thought about this a lot and recently, it occurred to me that to him, adults don’t deserve respect and a lot of the time they are incorrect. You can’t tell him to trust adults, because he won’t believe he can. You can’t tell him to respect adults, when he hadn’t got any respect back. You can’t tell him to listen, since he’s never been listened to. You can’t tell him to not hurt adults, since that’s what he’d learnt to do as he’s grown up.

Personal growth

I have never been brilliant at reading people’s emotions. I can sympathise and guide someone well once I understand how they feel, but I don’t naturally pick it up from basic interactions. It is therefore important for me to talk to my parents and know how they feel about fostering so I understand for myself when things are getting too troublesome and don’t misunderstand what is going on. Throughout the time Sam has been living with us, I have thoroughly enjoyed being able to suggest ways to my parents on how to support Sam in order to help him in the most ideal way possible. 
I have learnt many things while fostering. Not only how to sympathise with Sam when he’s struggling but understanding children’s behaviour when they have made traumatic experiences and how to deal with challenging behaviour. I can also tell when people need breaks and how to set boundaries. 

I enjoy having my family and myself care for a fostered child. I like learning from the challenges that come with it and discussing with my parents how to overcome them. Because fostering is never about one parent or the fostered child, it’s about everyone in the household, and it’d be much harder without us all.