When sitting in taxi ranks waiting for a fare, Andy used to see adverts on the taxis in front for foster carers. Thoughts filed away for later, they would reappear one day when an advert played on local radio and Andy made the call to find out about fostering with Carolina House Trust. Andy had had enough of constant night-shift and increasingly longer hours, and wanted to find a role that would let him spend time at home with his young family.
Andy said, “We lived in a big house with my Mum and Dad. Mum and Dad decided to move out for some peace and quiet and around the same time I paid attention to the fostering radio advert. A week or two later I spoke to Caroline and wondered about our spare rooms.”
“I contacted CHT because I remembered the name, ‘Carolina House’. Me and a friend used to go around with a boy who lived there when I was about 14. It was a local foster agency that I had already heard of. It all happened from there.”
Andy and Caroline have three children a son aged 21 and two daughters aged 15 and 12. They are foster carers to two boys aged 19 and 15 who have lived with them for around five years each. Andy is the main carer and Caroline works during term-time for HMRC.
Andy thinks the experience of being foster siblings has been beneficial to his children.
Andy said, “They have grown up used to fostering. The youngest was 9 months when we applied and they haven’t know any different. The girls were too young to be involved in the assessment but the assessor did speak to my son. He probably didn’t understand. He just liked the idea of seeing more of his Dad.”
“My kids don’t remember the first girl who lived with us temporarily. It was a challenging time for the young person, who was very distressed, and for Caroline and I. We then had two teenage girls who lived with us for 5 and 6 years each and they were like big sisters to our young girls and our son. I think they all really benefitted from that”
There has been no conflict between the young people who have shared Andy and Caroline’s home beyond the normal squabbles between siblings. The foster children have shared their experiences of life so far and Andy believe it has made his own children feel fortunate about their own settled home life.
Application and assessment
“Caroline was unsure at first – I don’t blame her. It’s a big step. Someone from Carolina House Trust came to visit us and we were still deciding, but after a second visit we decided to go ahead with the Skills to Foster training in 2009.”
Andy has seen an improvement in the support provided by CHT since the start of his fostering career, “Things are getting better and better. It’s always easy now to talk to someone if we are feeling anxious about something and want to talk about it. There is a lot more training now, but less people from outside CHT. It’s good to hear other views sometimes, especially from people who have been in foster care. It’s good to come to the CHT Head Office for training because as a foster carer you don’t have a place of work, but you are part of something. When you are at home all the time, you can forget you are.”
Andy and Caroline very rarely take time away from the family on their own. Andy says this is because they have three children of their own as well as foster children to find someone to look after. He also says that they don’t expect to, having chosen to have their own family and be foster carers. He adds, “We don’t look for short breaks unless we are very stressed. The children and young people who have lived with us have sometimes have arrangements where they stay with their parents some weekends and that might create some downtime, but we are always on hand for them if they need us.”
Instead, the couple like simple activities like dog walking. Caroline enjoys shopping and Andy likes to go for a run or cycle. Andy says, “I run with a group of friends for fun or cycle in calm country roads.”
Andy says like most parents of teenagers, it’s difficult to get everyone to do things together. He says, “In the summer we would go to a park and have a BBQ. I sometimes take one of our young people to watch football. The other young person and the girls don’t want to come with us to Dundee but if we got to watch Newcastle United in Newcastle they will come because it’s more exciting. We go to Chinatown before or after something to eat and visit the club shop. I enjoy it too. It’s a fun road trip for a weekend.”
Andy said strict lockdown was challenging because everyone was at home all of the time and needed to be entertained. He added, “I found schooling the hardest. At first, the young people were just asked to do a few hours. By the second lockdown the young people were asked to do a school day online and were sitting in front of laptops all day. They would be flagging by lunchtime. We tried all being in one room together, but we just distracted each other. They then migrated into their own rooms, and I would go in and out checking they were working. I wouldn’t like to have to do that again!”
Andy’s advice to people thinking about fostering would be, come along and listen! He says, “I have been doing this for 12 years so it can’t be all bad. When I talk to people about fostering they often have two extreme views – you earn lots of money and you have to cope with bad kids. I once explained to our neighbours who asked what a young person had done wrong that I couldn’t tell them why she was in foster care, but I could tell them it is never because of a child doing something wrong.”