Renfrewshire Council

Norma: I wanted to give Sarah a chance to grow and develop her own skills

"I wanted to give Sarah a chance to grow and develop her own skills. I wanted to give her that chance and I just couldn't let it go," says Norma.

Norma and her husband Pat have fostered Sarah since she was six years old, initially on a short-term basis. At eight, they took the step to permanently foster her. Sarah is now 18 and is a thriving thanks to her foster carers.

"It was a huge step to take to permanently foster Sarah at our age. We had lots of experience from fostering different kids through short-term care, some from their birth parents or family and some who were living with other foster carers to give them a break. It helped us see different types of kids and recognise their different needs.

"We were unable to formally adopt Sarah, however, we were able to foster her on a longer-term basis and develop our relationship, and later on apply to have a permanency order granted. All of this was the legalities of it all, but the main thing that mattered was that Sarah to us was our daughter. Sarah sees us as mum and dad and is also fully part of our immediate family and friends.

"Sarah belongs in our family completely. She has been with us for many, many years. Sure, we've had our ups and downs like any family, but in a strange way all these moments were wonderful. We never thought we would have a child to call our own. It just didn't seem to be on the cards for us, but then when Sarah came into our lives all that changed.

"It was challenging when we first had Sarah as she needed a lot of support. She's 18 now with new challenges to face but I really believe it's all the ups and downs we've been through together that has helped both Sarah and us to grow and have the chance to become a family."

Norma and Pat initially began doing short-term foster care, before becoming permanent foster carers to Sarah. Short-term foster care means looking after children or young people for short periods of time, such as overnight, a weekend or a couple of weeks. They ended up looking after a few different children, some on a regular basis.

So, how did they get into fostering?

"We talked about fostering when we were younger, but we knew our work life wasn't suitable for raising a foster child at that time.

"Then, when we were in our early 50s, things changed and suddenly I was in a term-time job. We heard that there was an information event on fostering taking place and I went along just to find out more. I spoke to the social workers and an older young person who had been fostered at the event. They gave us a lot of information to digest.

"Pat and I then talked it over and decided that teenagers were not for us, and neither were babies and young children, but primary-school aged children would be fine. We also decided that short-term care was best for us due to our jobs.

"Over the years, we have fostered about 30 children, some of them were known as 'rolling short-term placements' and we had them often, such as every week or fortnight. We still see our very first foster child too. It is so nice when you can still find out how their lives are going."

What was the application process to become a foster carer like?

"When we first started the process, we didn't expect to have the level of scrutiny you have to go through, but all of it is necessary. You are responsible for a child's life, for their care and wellbeing, and you need to be ready for all that entails.

"You've got to be open and honest about everything in your life. There is no point trying to make it sound better than it is. Your relationship doesn't need to be perfect, but you need an awareness of any issues and the resilience to work through problems. If you lie or hide something, you will get found out, so just be honest.

"There's no point going for this as a couple if one person is wanting it more than other. You both need to want it.

"You also need to realise that you aren't going to be perfect at it. All parents make mistakes, and those mistakes make you get better. Having looked after a lot of children through short-term foster care, it helped us realise that all children are different and each one needs something different. You might be the right person for them, or you might not."

What was it like to do short-term care?

"For us, it was about helping children to see something different, even if that was only for a short period of time. I've been asked by a lot of people 'how can you give them back?' and, yes, it took me a while to think about because there were children that I didn't want to give back, but if I could show them that there was something different out there to life, that their life didn't need to be the way their birth families interacted with them, then that was good.

"My hope was that their time spent with us would stay with them and they would know they could have a different way of life, that there was a different path out there for them. If they hadn't had short-term with us, they might never have known otherwise."

What are some things people might not know about fostering?

"You need to realise the amount of time you are giving up to foster children. It's not just when you are looking after them, but also meetings you need to go to. You need to advocate for them.

"You can also have times when you are annoyed, when you are dealing with not only the emotions of the child but also your emotions. All parents will know of times when their child is having a bad time, but with foster children it is about being aware that they have much more needs.

"You have to be prepared to give up your time and be selfless. It's just like being a parent to a child.

"You don't need to be perfect, but you do need to have an awareness of what you are offering a child and what they need, and if they don't match, to speak up and let the child get the right support as early as possible. Sure, there is a feeling of guilt, and it is hard, but if you try and fight it, to continue when you know it isn't helping the child, you aren't fulfilling their needs."

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

"That all the hard work and sacrifice is worth it. When you see a child and they look at you in a totally different way from how you got them, when you see the difference you can make, it is worth it.

"The other part is not to be frightened to fail because that is the only way you grow. If you don't fail then you aren't growing or learning, you are stuck. Sometimes, you don't know you are ready, so you have to be prepared to take that first step and go for it. I am a great believer to go through a door because you can always go back. Try everything, and don't be afraid to fail.

"You can pull out of fostering at any stage. It is a long process to go through, but if you go for it and decide it isn't for you, that's okay. You are allowed to change your mind, but for all the things you are hesitating about, take a leap of faith. It's the first steps that are the hardest and then after that you are just following the path.

"The ultimate reward is making a difference to a child's life. You get back a sense of achievement just from doing that. If you go through with all the training and being open to the process, then you will find yourself in a world that is completely different, but very rewarding."

Sarah is an anonymous name we gave to the young person Norma and Pat look after.

Find out more

Email us a question