looked after children
What business does a white family have caring for black children, or a Muslim family caring for a white girl? And maybe you are right. There are many families out there who are better suited than us. Yet when the call came, on a bleak November evening, we were the ones who opened our door to three children who were tired, cold and frightened. We provided warm baths and towels, hot chocolate and cookies, a bedtime story, a warm bed. We dried tears, and held little hands until sleep finally came. And we set three extra places for breakfast, in silence as we tried to understand the scale of the challenge we had just accepted.
When a move away from their home area is necessary children should get the support they need to thrive and stay safe. They should be able to stay in touch with family and friends when appropriate, and they should receive a return home interview.
In October 2014, Dave, who had cancer several years before, was re-diagnosed. We were told it had spread to several parts of his body and to "enjoy the next 12 months". Devastating news, but we were given hope with a drug trial that was available. We decided not to tell the children until after the treatment.
Change needs to come from the top. Directors of children's services can lead by example, giving foster carers an equal voice in their fostering and adoption teams, instead of treating us like providers of bed and breakfast, as is the case too often. Respect for foster carers, no less than we deserve, is what most of us really want.
If I paint a particularly bleak picture of a typical summer in the world of fostering, I apologise. Yet these are some of the concerns that preoccupy the UK's 55,000 fostering families as they prepare for the end of term. This summer they will carry much of the burden of caring for society's most vulnerable children alone, with little help from their communities. I just thought you should know.
We never forget what a privilege it is, to be granted these memories and to share in the joy, nor do we underestimated the scale of the responsibility we have been given. We also are conscious that each milestone we witness is a milestone withheld from a birth parent or grandparent, or a moment that has not been shared with a forever family.
It takes a village to raise a child, as the refrain goes. Fostering is a commitment that affects a broad community. Our grandson will feel the departure of our foster children keenly, but he will not be the only one. Over the past 18 months or so, they have been loved by so many people, both old and young.
No two foster carers are the same, and no two children are identical. Hence, the need for the handbook to reflect a diversity of approaches. Our ambition is that foster carers old and new will reflect on the experiences of our contributors and reflect on how these learnings may be relevant to their own approach to foster care.
When a foster child arrives, we usually do not know how long the placement will last. It may be for days, weeks or months. This placement has lasted for almost one year and a half. That's two birthdays, two Christmases and two Easters.
Our long weekend was possible only because of the availability of respite care, arranged through West Sussex County Council, for whom we work as foster carers. Our children were able to stay with approved, experienced foster carers who make their home available to give full-time foster carers like us a break when we need it.