Sheffield foster carers lock down family life
“Lockdown has glued us together,” says Helen about her current family, which includes a teenager who has lived with her for eight years, a nine-year-old who arrived last winter and her own 20-year-old son.
“At the moment I have to play teacher, I do my own job as a bookkeeper and I’m a foster carer. People I work with tell me they’ve been sitting in the garden having a beer and ask what have I been doing. You don’t want to know what my reply is.”
Sheffield’s 270 foster carers have been getting on with their jobs under lockdown like every other family.
Looking after children who have had difficult starts in life brings pressures, but lockdown at home has had benefits for some foster carers too – three foster carers from across the city have shared their lockdown stories.
Katie, aged 49, looks after brothers aged 11 and eight, who had been separated for three years before the youngest joined Katie's family in November after leaving another placement.
She says: “Lockdown has been good for them in a way, because it’s brought them together. When the youngest first came, you couldn’t leave them for two minutes without them falling out, but they play together a lot more now.”
She says the children had experienced ‘extreme neglect’ in their early life and have been learning to speak English at the family home with Katie, her husband and two teenage sons.
Katie says: “The youngest one missed a lot of school early on in his life, so we’ve been able to go over a lot of stuff he missed out on. We’ve been going out to the park, which is good for them, and playing football and table tennis in the garden. It’s been a houseful, but actually it’s been great. I’ve loved it.”
Gemma, 33, looks after a boy aged two, placed with her as a baby, with the suspicion of being exposed to alcohol in the womb. She also has her own daughter, now eight.
She says: “I think he’s enjoyed this time because he knows what to expect. He likes being at home and having his own comforts, and not going to noisy and busy places which are challenging for him and affect his behaviour.”
Gemma says her daughter enjoys helping out with her little brother, and has got to know him better during the lockdown.
She says: “I have to make sure they’re not listening to all the doom and gloom, and just want to make sure they’re safe and happy and busy.
“We have little ‘missions’ to do - my daughter has to find a letter posted in the garden from what we call the ‘lockdown people’.
“It might be finding a stone and painting it, or finding sticks to make something.
“The first letter said they had to do a chore in the house, and they washed the dishes, which was a bit cunning.”
Helen, 55, looks after two boys, a teenager and a boy at primary school. Her own son also lives at home.
She says: “When the lockdown started, it took us all a while to get over our personal fears and come to terms with the situation.
“In a normal week we don’t always have a lot of time together, so it’s brought us together as a family.”
Her younger foster child has been in and out of care over several years. Spending more time at home has helped him settle down into his new family.
Helen says she has learned as much about his needs and personality under two months of lockdown as she would have learned in a year of ‘normality’.
She says: “I think because of lockdown he’s realised this is his home now. He’s got his feet under the table.”
Coun Jackie Drayton, Sheffield Council cabinet member for children, young people and families. thanked the city’s ‘remarkable foster carers who really are changing lives’.
She says: “We always need more foster carers, so if you’ve been inspired by their stories, get in touch.”See sheffield.gov.uk/fostering or call 0114 273 5075.