Debbie was in her late thirties, with a birth daughter, Mica, aged ten. She wanted another child and was considering long-term (or permanent) fostering. Debbie attended an open day organised by PACT (an adoption and fostering agency), thinking they would reject her for being single, living in a council house and having to work – but they didn’t! Five years later, and Brooke, their long-term foster daughter, aged nine, is settling in well. Debbie tells her story to Sophie Offord…
I’ve always been a single working parent. I went back to work when Mica was six months old. I think part of being an independent person is to have that identity you get from the workplace. Nowadays I work 16 hours a week for the NHS, from 10.30am to 2.30pm, and I can still be a full-time mum: doing the school run, getting the dinner on. I don’t miss out – and Mica and Brooke don’t miss out either. I decided on fostering because adoption wasn’t financially feasible.
Although the whole process towards being matched was quite long, I don’t think this was because I was working. We were looking for the ‘right’ child to fit in with our family. And then, in late 2004, we found Brooke. Within a few months, she was part of the family. My workplace was very good when I told them I was planning to become a long-term foster carer. However, there was nothing about fostering in the employment manual, only their policy on maternity and adoption leave. I took that manual to my boss and I presented my argument that, although I was long-term fostering and not adopting, I was going through the same process, with all the meetings, introductions, and so on. They took notice and told me to apply for maternity leave – and I got it. I was entitled to up to six months, and I took four.
Sometimes people think working might be difficult to juggle with fostering because of things like complex contact schedules. However, we manage to fit it in. Brooke has contact with her Gran every other month, and it always happens at weekends because Brooke has after-school activities on weekdays. Because I fit my hours around the children, I’ve never needed regular childcare. Brooke goes to a council-run play-club in the summer. They develop a lot of skills there, and do more activities in a day than I could do with them in a week! It gives them a wider network of friends and builds their confidence. Because of that confidence, Brooke’s also made friends from swimming and trampolining. She’s obviously happy going to the play-club, because she comes back such a chatterbox!
There are many benefits to Mica and Brooke having a working mum. I’ve always taught my daughters, if there’s something you want, you have to try and achieve it. Brooke’s already looking at what she’s going to do when she’s grown up, thinking about how she’s going to earn money! I’ve got the same rules and expectations for both of them: go to school, go to college (so you can get that job), and work your way up.
There’s no need to feel guilty if you have to carry on working. The parents of Brooke’s friends work, so she doesn’t feel any differently. It’s commonplace. We all have to go out and do some sort of job, unless we’re millionaires! It’s also a chance to just be you, as well as earn some money. Although I was very lucky to be able to take maternity leave with Brooke, the days did feel quite long when she was at school! Part of me was thinking, I wonder what’s going on at work?
You need to think about what you can financially handle, the time you need on your own, and the time you need with your children. I used to do part-time care in the community, as well as part-time hospital work, but I gave this up when I fostered Brooke because, in a sense, I had another job as a mum. I lost that money but I have the fostering allowance, which helps. I miss my clients but it makes things easier as a family.
My advice to working prospective foster carers would be: approach your manager. Because then you can go to your social worker and say, this is what my workplace offers. You’ve done the research. And if you are flexible, maybe it’s time for a career change! The essential thing is don’t be shy – put yourself forward! There are so many children who need a home, the security of having their own room, their own things. And there’s so many people out there who could offer this to the hundreds of children who need just that!
Brooke’s real name could not be used in this article.
Originally published in the Be My Parent newspaper.
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