Fitting in fostering with a career and my family life

Diagrama’s Adoption and Fostering Team Manager Margaret Gardiner tells us of her experience not only working within an Adoption and Fostering agency but as a Foster Carer herself.

Since 2002 I have worked for several independent fostering agencies and joined the charity Diagrama over 3 years ago. Initially I was employed as a supervising social worker supporting foster carers in the South East and have subsequently worked as a Learning and Development Manager, a Registered Manager and am now one of Diagrama’s Fostering and Adoption Team Managers. I also spent ten years managing a Residential Family Unit, living on site for five years with my husband and our three children. Working in the Residential Family Unit, included supporting parents to care for their child and being part of a team that helps and assesses the parent’s ability to care and safeguard their children. 

My husband and I were teenage sweethearts and we have always shared the same dream of bringing more children in to our family. From the age of 15 we talked often of either fostering or adopting children after we had our own birth children.  Like with many things in life, the time never seemed right until 17 years ago, when our first grandchild was a year old. My husband was made redundant and we decided to seize the opportunity that this change to our lives had given us and fulfil our dream. Our initial plan was that my husband would be the main carer in our home, and I would continue working with foster carers. 

Once our first placement was made, I quickly realised that there wasn’t a magic key to a box which held all the answers and sometimes all I could do was empathise with the foster carer as to how challenging life could be. I learnt so much from the carers I was supporting, and they knew that because of our home environment I understood their challenges and frustrations but could share and enjoy their delight in small successes.

Initially my husband and I fostered three unrelated teenage males, what can I say, we were younger and very enthusiastic and perhaps a little naïve! My goodness we learnt a lot, life was very busy and we got to know the local police quite well.

It was interesting and enlightening to see how the boys developed their own pecking order in our home which was clearly illustrated by where they sat at the dinner table. The teenager that had been in our home the longest sat opposite me near the top of the table and the others took great delight in moving up a space whenever someone left. However, they automatically moved back down the table when one of the boys came back to visit! Life was not without challenges and there were some days when dealing with fostering issues at work and then coming home to more fostering trials was disheartening. But I was always able to separate my work and home life and as soon as I walked through the door I was once again the carer and not the social worker.

As a family we had always had an open home policy with our own children who knew they could bring friends round at any time. By the time we started fostering, our children had left home so becoming fosters carers seemed a natural extension of the open home we had embraced for years. All three of our children moved back home at various times while we were fostering but that is whole other story!

Our life fitted round the needs of the boys and they were wholeheartedly welcomed by our children, the wider family, friends and in time by our five grandchildren. Four years ago, we made the decision to return to parent and child fostering. We have cared for five families and have had the privilege to support two families as they moved back into the community with their children and witness two children successfully move to their new forever home when their birth parents were unable to give the level of care they needed. 

Working in fostering and adoption has allowed me to become a more understanding practitioner and a better foster carer. I feel able to take my experiences from both positions to enhance my practice and to ensure that we are being realistic of our expectations of foster carers and striving for best practice in all we do. For me it’s also so important to have amazing colleagues and managers, who understand the issues I may be facing at home and always being there to offer me support and guidance.

Life is busy, but I wouldn’t change either welcoming those teenage boys, or welcoming the families who now come into our home.  It is an absolute pleasure to see some of the boys we spent hours agonising over, becoming parents, and ensuring that their children do not have the lives that they once had. Hearing about the lives these boys are making with their new families makes all the challenges we encountered along the way so worthwhile!

Watch Margaret’s story here.

 

If you are interested in Fostering with us and want to find out more you can register to attend our next Fostering information evening here.

Or Email us at fostering@diagrama.org or call 0800 802 1910