Renfrewshire Council

Shona: They're not your child but you give them as much love and affection as if they were yours

"They're not your child but you give them as much love and affection as if they were yours," says Shona, who fosters children with her husband, Graeme.

They became foster carers in 2016 and currently look after up to three children of any age at any one time. They also have two children of their own.

"When you look after these children, the love that pours out of them for you is amazing. They may have had different childhoods from our own children, but when they stay with us, we give them the same love and affection. I tell them that I love them before they go to bed to let them know that we do love them.

"My children love the kids being there. They are older now, but they still live with us. It's so good seeing our kids interact with them. It's always busy in our house and our kids love it just as much as we do."

As well as up to five children and young people staying with them, Shona and Graeme also have two dogs.

So, what is it like being a foster carer?

"It's about giving children the basics and lots of love and care. Some kids haven't experienced some of the things our kids took for granted. I remember one child who stayed with us didn't understand what the big deal was about Christmas dinner. She hadn't experienced any big family celebrations before, such as parties on birthdays or weddings, and was just amazed that we were all celebrating.

"For another child, he hadn't realised that you could have fun in a bath, and you almost couldn't get him out of the bath once he realised how much fun it could be.

"Every child is different, and you need to make sure they have the basics, which includes showing them that they are loved and safe with you. They need to be looked after and cared for, and to feel like they are part of our family. Every child is part of our family, whether they stay here only for a short while or longer.

"When one child said I was his safe person, it made me feel so happy he could feel safe with me, that I could provide that for him. These children have so much love to give."

Shona and Graeme now have one child living with them permanently, known as a permanent foster.

"When we were waiting to find out if our first permanent foster child could stay with us permanently, I remember she would ask when it would go through. She wanted it to become permanent, to feel like part of our family. Even though we treat all our foster kids as part of the family, it was almost as if until the paperwork came through, that she couldn't believe it to be true.

"We didn't expect to end up fostering on a permanent basis. We started out looking after children on a short-term basis, and you see them go off and find their forever homes. You understand that they are not your kids, but you still form an attachment to them. You want them to be safe and loved, even when they move on from living with you."

What support do you get from the council?

"Staff are always on hand to support you. You can text, phone or email them any time and they will respond as soon as they can. They are always there to help and there is always an on-call officer during the night and at weekends if you need them.

"Things can happen at any time and knowing you have that support to ask, 'is this behaviour okay?' or to discuss things that happen at school, it is really reassuring. Usually, it is nothing to worry about and it is nice to hear that, it puts your mind at rest.

"I also went in for an operation last year and needed time to recover and the team were great, organising short breaks for us. I really think that aided my recovery and after we got the kids back, we all went on a trip in our caravan as a wee celebration."

What was the process like to become a foster carer?

"We contacted social work and we were sent a pack to read over. We then went to preparation groups and those were insightful. There was a foster carer there to answer questions about what it is like to look after foster kids 24/7.

"We both really enjoyed going to the preparation groups. We were excited and each week we felt like we were getting more out of it.

"After the preparation groups, we then had visits from social workers and they ask you everything about your life, and your extended family's life. I thought it was fine at the time, because I am an open book, but it can be quite emotional. It's best to be up front about everything and we were prepared to go through it because we wanted to be foster carers. If you are looking after vulnerable kids, you need to be emotionally strong to look after them.

"We were childminders before we became foster carers, so we knew a lot about the care commission, and it felt really easy for us. Overall, it took us about nine months to go through the process, but it can take up to a year on average."

What has been some of the most memorable moments?

"I remember one wee girl we had, and we still have contact with her and her family, she came back to our house and felt so secure with her new family that she was able to walk right up to Graeme and hug him. She also wanted to see her room again, which no longer had any of her stuff in it but seeing it again was really exciting for her. It was really lovely to have that connection.

"Anytime we get a photo from one of our foster children's new parents showing us what they are up to now, it's a joy to see them so happy and know we were a part of helping them find their forever home.

"It's good to know that most people still feel comfortable keeping that connection going, even if they have adopted the child. It's nice to see them doing well and know that we remain part of their lives.

"With our permanent foster child, we have experienced so many firsts with her that we never expected from an older child. Things like taking photos on the first day of school or celebrating her birthday all stick in my mind. I am so glad we have been able to give her so many good experiences."

What's the one thing you want everyone to know about fostering?

"It doesn't feel like a job. Sure, not every day is going to be a good day, it's 24/7 and is one of the biggest commitments you will make, but if you can handle it, it's a great thing to do.

"Sometimes you need to give the parents of the child support during contact time, and there is a lot of sending them daily photos and updates, so they know their child is safe and well. It can be hard for them, and you are doing what you can to support them.

"You need to be open minded. Sometimes you will learn about a child's history, and it can shock you, but it is important to know so you can fully support the child.

"Ultimately, you are also the voice of the child, and you need to always remember that. You need to advocate for them when there are decisions being made about their future, such as what type of family home would best suit them.

"When kids move on from your care, it can be hard. It's emotional to experience but you know that you've done your part and they are either moving back home or being adopted. Most parents see us as friends, so when you are able to stay in touch, it makes it all worth it because you can still see them grow and be happy."

We'd like to thank Shona and Graeme for speaking to us about their experiences with fostering children.

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