Foster Care Fortnight returns to Rhondda Cynon Taf this month - with the men and women who are already caring for the county borough's children taking to the streets to spread the word about their fantastic vocations.

The annual event is a celebration of the work of foster carers, who open their hearts, homes and families to 680 babies, children and young people in RCT who, through no fault of their own, cannot live with their birth families.

Between them, the Fostering RCT family provides the love, care and support each and every child deserves, helping them deal with school, friendships and personal development until they can return to their birth families or move on to adoption.

It takes a certain kind of person to be a foster carer, but not as you may think!

The carers of Fostering RCT are aged from 21 to their late 70s. Some are married, some are single. Some are gay, some are straight. Some own their own homes, some don't. Many love sport and beach life while others love walking, travelling and reading.

Each and every carer is different, but they all share a 100 per cent commitment to the wellbeing of the child or children in their care - for as long as they stay.

They all have their own motivations for wanting to be foster carers and, just like any family, it is their differences that make them so strong.

Fostering RCT is recruiting new foster carers now. You must be 21 or over and have a spare room to accommodate a child.

You must also be prepared to work as part of the professional approach to the care of children, working alongside social workers, teachers and other experts.

Find out more about Fostering at the Fostering RCT roadshow:

Drop in and have a no-obligation chat with our friendly fostering team - and the men and women who are already foster carers - at any of the events below:

Thursday, May 17th - Aldi in Talbot Green from 4pm to 7.30pm.

Friday, May 18th at Treorchy Library from 9am to 12pm, High Street Social from 1pm to 4pm and Aldi in Upper Boat from 5pm to 7.30pm.

Saturday, May 19th, the team will be in Llantrisant Leisure Centre from 9am to 12pm, Pontypridd town centre from 12pm to 4pm Argos in Pontypridd from 4.30pm to 7pm.

On Sunday, May 20th, they would love to see you at either B&Q in Pontypridd from 10am to 12.30pm or Co-Op in Tonyrefail from 1.30pm to 4pm.

You can also meet our carers and find out more at www.fosteringrct.co.uk or www.facebook.com/FosteringRCT

An open letter to anyone who is thinking about becoming a foster carer from Paula Payne, who has been with Fostering RCT for nearly nine years.

An open letter to anyone who is thinking about becoming a foster carer from Paula Payne, who has been with Fostering RCT for nearly nine years.

To anyone who is considering becoming a foster carer.

First of all I would just like to say a little about me and the job that I do, I am a full time single foster carer and I look after one to three children at a time.

paulapayne

I have one long term placement at the moment. 

A young lad who will be 16 in October of this year, I have looked after him since he was seven years old and he will be with me until he is ready to move on.

I would just like to say what a fantastic lad he is.

We have our ups and downs as would any family but we have a bond that will last a life time.

It is perfectly natural for a child that has been removed from their home to miss their parents, but over time you build up a bond and a trust that is like no other, you are not there to replace their birth parents but to help them through the traumas they have suffered and to try to help them understand their self worth and to see that life can be good.

All the time you are doing this, there are people who are working with the parents, going to court and meetings to make these children’s lives better.

Sometimes it can be done in a few weeks, or a couple of months and sometimes it takes longer, but being a foster carer means that there will come a time when they leave and move on. 

Be it when they are older, adopted, go home to parents or go to a long term carer to be looked after until they are old enough to fend for themselves as do our own children.

I am writing this as I hear many people saying “oh but how do you let them go?”, “I could never do that as I couldn’t let them leave.”
Over the past two years, I have had two short term placements along with my long term placement.

The first was a five-month-old baby and his four-year-old brother, we had many hurdles to overcome as the baby had a dairy allergy that we were not aware of and was quite ill, so had many visits to the doctors and his brother missed his mam which is understandable, but we got through it with lots of love, patience,  routines and  boundaries.  

The children were with me for nearly eight months. The baby learned to sit up, crawl and he cut his teeth and also had his first birthday with us.

His brother had his 5th birthday with us also. Through all this, their mam was sorting out her life and working to getting her children back, which I am pleased to say she achieved and is doing well. 

It is heart wrenching to let these children go when you have a bond with them but I still see the boys regularly and have a fantastic relationship with their mam, both the children are as happy as can be and are always smiling, it is where they want to be and that is all you need when you see the children happy and thriving and I know I have done my job well. 

The next placement was a four-year-old boy who came with attitude issues -  also to be expected when they have been taken from all that they know into a stranger’s house. 

But as with the other two, love, patience, routines and boundaries worked their charm. 

He became the most loving, genuine, polite child anyone could wish to meet. 

Everyone who met him loved his chat and charm. He has now been gone for three days and the house is so quiet and empty, he has gone to the best family for him, where he will have everything and more that he would want or need.

We had a lot of introductions and sleepovers before he moved on and he built up a bond with his new family, he was prepared for his move and I would read him special books adapted to be enjoyable for children to help them understand their situation.
So if you have read this and are considering fostering , then please do.

There are many children out there that would love someone to help them out of a bad situation, yes it is hard when they move on and, yes, you do grieve for a while - especially when the house is silent and you find you have way too much time on your hands.

But then you have a new placement and you do it all again because when you can see the light in that child’s eyes when they get the love, kindness and safety that they crave and deserve it makes it all worthwhile. 

THAT IS WHY I FOSTER AND LOVE MY JOB

Find out more and order your no obligation information pack now.

“I know you’re nervous and I am too, so let’s get through this together” were the heartfelt words foster carer Elaine Kerslake whispered to Emily*, the teenager who arrived in her care last year.

She could only imagine how Emily, 13, felt being taken into care through no fault of her own and brought to the home of a stranger.

Elaine Kerslake Foster Care 3So Elaine, 58, (pictured here with her daughter, Maddy) took the time to reassure Emily that she was safe and that she would be there to help and support her for as long as she needed.

Since then, they have formed a close, strong bond and work together – with the support of their social workers – to ensure Emily has a safe and happy childhood.

From settling into school, forming appropriate friendships, developing hobbies and staying safe when she is out with her friends or using social media, Elaine helps Emily overcome the challenges all teenagers face – whether they are in care or not.

In the months since Emily arrived, she has thrived and her teachers have commented on how much better she is doing in school. Elaine says she is so proud of Emily and seeing her develop into a confident young woman is the only reward she could ask for.

Elaine, who is married to Paul and has four children and eight grandchildren, first began fostering with an independent agency which placed children all over the UK.

She moved to the Council’s Fostering RCT service in 2009 and now provides a local home for one of Rhondda Cynon Taf’s looked-after children , keeping them in the only communities they have ever known.

Elaine explained: “Of course Emily had a tough start in life, but it is not her fault. Many looked-after children didn’t have a consistent guardian or advocate. They don’t know how it feels to be put first and don’t benefit from the advice and discipline they need to make the right choices.

 

“This affects their confidence, how they behave, how they respond to things and how they react to others. This can be anything from refusing to try new foods because they are used to a restricted diet to not having the skills or confidence to manage interactions with others.

“From the moment I met Emily I just bonded with her. I wanted to show her she was safe and cared for and do everything I could to make her life and future better.

“I promised her she had me in her corner for as long as she needed me and I have not let her down. I know how much she is relying on me so I couldn’t.

“Whether it is chatting with a cuppa about an issue she has with a friend, or dealing with problems in school, I have been there to stand up for her. She has never had that before so it means a lot.

“By being the adult and the guardian and not letting her down, she trusts me. She knows she has someone fighting for her and that has made her bloom and become more confident, which is all the reward I need.

“And Emily’s needs are no different to the needs of my children and their friends – or your sons and daughters for that matter.”

Elaine explained how many people tell her they could not be a foster carer as they do not have the professional skills and strength they assume they would need to deal with children who have difficult backgrounds.

“I cannot lie and say there are not ups and downs and challenges, because there are,” Elaine said. “But then I had the same with my own children and my friends had the same with their own children. Emily is not vulnerable because she is in care, she is vulnerable because she is a teenage girl trying to find her place in the world and, until recently, she was trying to do it all on her own.

“I do not have a social work degree or psychology qualifications. I am a mum who knows how to love and care for a child and I am committed to doing what I can to help Emily as she makes her way through life, when no one else would.

“If you have those qualities and that commitment then you are on your way to becoming a successful foster carer.

“I am lucky as I have the most wonderful social worker, Lucy, who is assigned to me to support me and offer me advice, training and awareness to help me be a better foster carer.

“Emily also has a dedicated social worker too, so there’s a team of us all working shoulder-to-shoulder to raise her.

“Then, of course, there are the other foster carers, many of whom have become my close friends. We all support each other, share stories and are just there. It is a very special environment and one I am so pleased to be a part of.”

Cllr Geraint Hopkins, Rhondda Cynon Taf Council’s Cabinet Member for Children’s Social Services, Equality and the Welsh Language, said: “Elaine is one of hundreds of people from all walks of life who have stepped up to ensure the children of Rhondda Cynon Taf are raised in safe, supportive homes within the communities they have always known.

“Without people like Elaine, we have no choice but to send our children to wherever there is a place for them, which could be hundreds of miles away.

“I consider Elaine a foster care warrior, who has a firm and unbreakable commitment to the children in her care and is with them every step of the way. For some of our looked after children, their experience with people like Elaine may well be the first time that they have had someone stand up for them and put them first and, for that, she should be commended.

“Of course, you do not have to be an Elaine to foster. It takes many different people with many different skills and personalities to make Fostering in RCT a success. All you need is a spare room, commitment and a sense of humour.

“You have the undivided support of a dedicated social worker, as well as the help of other foster carers and there is the chance to train and learn. There are fees and allowances that reflect the role and the children you care for. Find out more today.”

*Emily's name has been changed but her circumstances, stories and experiences are real. 

Find out more and order your free information pack now

 

Pontyclun’s Lynda Coomber is helping to foster futures with the support of many, including two very special little helpers – the two girls she provides long-term foster care for!Foster Lynda Coomberrr

Lynda, who has been working for Fostering RCT for the last 10 years, has two girls aged 10 and 11 who are in her care long term, which means they will stay with her until they reach adulthood.

But she also provides shorter-term care, for a few weeks or months, for other looked-after children who need it the most and welcomed a 13-year-old girl into her home on a short-term placement at the end of last year.

Lynda, who says she still gets excited every time the phone rings asking her to help another young person, strives to be as welcoming as she can be when a new child or young person is brought to her home.

She said: “I put on a big smile and be cheerful as I know how frightening it must be for them to arrive at the home of someone who is, at that point in time, a stranger to them.

“The two girls who have been with me for three years and seven years know the household well, so they step in and share their toys, music players and more.

“It was so heartwarming when the girl we have with us now arrived, and the two youngest girls were showing her around the house, sharing their toys, books and music players and reassuring her that ‘Lynda is lovely, you have nothing to worry about’.

“They can see it from both sides. They know what it is like to be taken into care and both were in her shoes once. But they also know me, my family and my household and can share that with her too.

“They all sat down together and made me thank you cards for Mother’s Day and it meant so much to me.

“I could not foster if it was not for the support of my husband, my children, my grandchildren, the Fostering Support Team and the other Fostering RCT foster carers who began as peers and mentors and are now my friends.

“But the two long-term placements I have also make it special as they intuitively know what to say and do to reassure and welcome a child who has come to stay with us on a short term basis.”

Lynda, who has five children and 10 grandchildren, applied to be a foster carer when her own children left home and started families of their own. Her youngest child was 21 when she began fostering.

Since then, she has cared for over 50 boys and girls in the last 10 years and says she loves being a Foster Carer and would not change it for the world.

She says while it does come with challenges and there may be issues you face that you are not sure if you can deal with or not, seeing a young person grow in confidence, develop interests and friendships and do well in school is such a reward.

Lynda explained: “You have to be willing to just sit and listen to a child and then work with them to help them achieve what they want to achieve.

“So many people think fostering is about dealing with troubled children and managing issues that have happened in the past. Of course it is true to say that children in care have not had the best start to lives, but most of them are children who just want to do well and enjoy the things every other child of their age gets to enjoy.

“Simple things such as a meal around a table with the family, help doing homework and, of course, fun on the weekends and in the holidays.

“We are lucky enough to have a caravan in Porthcawl and the foster children love to go there. For some it is the first time they have been to the beach.

“Thanks to the regular coffee mornings held by foster carers to ensure we keep in touch and support each other, we have a strong group of friends and we try to get away to Spain every year, all the foster carers, their own children and the looked-after children – we have such a good time!”

Lynda says fostering is not for everyone, but she believes there are many people out there who have thought about it but have not yet taken the first step.

Her advice to them is to take that first step and find out more. There is so much information on hand to help you make the right decision and the Skills to Foster course provides an exceptional insight into the role, what is expected of you and what support you can expect in return. If, at the end of that course, you feel fostering is not for you, at least you have found out all that you can.

Fostering RCT is recruiting foster carers now. All you need is a spare bedroom and the commitment to make a difference to the life of a child who needs it the most. A sense of humour is also a must.

There is no set kind of person who is a foster carer. Fostering RCT welcomes married and single carers, those who work and those who are retired. You don’t need to own your own home and it does not matter if you have your own children or not. Fostering RCT is a Stonewall Top 100 LGBT employer.

Find out more and request your free information pack via www.fosteringrct.co.uk

Meet more carers and read their stories and secure the latest news from the Fostering RCT Facebook Page

Rhondda Cynon Taf Council's Fostering Team is proud to not only be a Stonewall Top 100 LGBT employer, but also one that is recommended to others time and time again.

Graham and Tyrone adopted their son Ollie, now three, via Rhondda Cynon Taf Council as we were recommended to them by New Family Social, the charity for LGBT families and families-to-be.

Graham and Tyrone DO NOT USE 29

Two years later and the Pontypridd couple knew exactly where to go when they decided to become foster carers and have recently welcomed their second young looked-after child into their home.

They say the process into fostering for Rhondda Cynon Taf was as supportive, understanding and simple as the adoption process was.

The first child to be placed with Graham and Tyrone was an eight-year-old boy who has since returned to his birth family.

When they were asked to care for a 15-year-old boy, it was, at first, something they did not think they could do but as he settles into their home - and benefits from the skills and experience Graham and Tyrone have thanks to their careers - they are urging other people who are considering fostering to take the first step and find out more.

Fostering allowed Tyrone to leave his job as a special needs teaching assistant and he focuses on fostering and raising their son full-time.  He has applied the skills and experience gained from the training that he has received from the Rhondda Cynon Taf Council Fostering Teamas well as his previous experience in education to ensure the teenager is happy, reassured and settled.

Graham , a South Wales Police officer, continues to work and also says the skills and experience he has from the training that he has received both from RCT and throughout his career have helped him to be a better foster carer.

Graham and Tyrone are no strangers to the support provided by Rhondda Cynon Taf Council. They adopted their son via the council in 2014 after its friendly, supportive and welcoming process was recommended to them by New Family Social, the charity for LGBT families and families-to-be and also their lesbian friends who had adopted their child via the council.

The same approach is applied by the Council to potential LGBT foster carers and the Council is proud to have been recognised as one of Stonewall’s Top 100 employers.

Graham and Tyrone initially considered adopting a second child but after consideration wanted to help and support a number of children and families and after discussion made a decision that fostering would allow them to do this.  Tyrone had always wanted to foster and the pair began the discussions that led to them applying to be foster carers.

Key to this decision was the fact their own son benefited from 10 months of extraordinary care from his foster carer before they adopted him.

They say fostering is part of his life story and the process they went through to adopt him opened their eyes to fostering and the hugely important role that foster carers play in the lives of children and young people.

They also felt their individual skills and experiences from their professional and personal lives would make them good foster carers and, as adoptive parents, knew they could care for a child in their home who had experienced difficult early life experiences.

Both agree the fostering assessment and approval process was relatively plain-sailing and very similar to the adoption process. They say it would not be an onerous process for anyone who was truly passionate about becoming an RCT Foster Carer.

Tyrone explained how their fostering journey began when they started their assessment in February 2014 and went to panel in May of the same year. They were approved shortly after their panel date.

He said: “Our first placement was shortly afterwards in June 2015 and we had an eight-year-old boy who lived with us for a few months. Receiving the first phone call and then having a social worker arriving with him a few hours later was nerve-wracking, but we got on with it and tried to make him feel as relaxed as possible.

“We kept saying to ourselves how we would have felt if, at eight years of age, we were suddenly put into a house with complete strangers.

“During those first few months, we attended professionals meetings and supervised contact with his family. We did experience some challenges along the way, but received great support from our supervising social worker.

“Our second placement is a teenage boy with Autism, which was a bit of a surprise to us as we had initially thought our preference would be younger children with no additional needs. However, my experience of working with children with Autism meant we felt we had the right skills.”

 

Graham added: “We are so pleased we were asked to consider looking after a child outside of what we originally considered as that little push has been great for us. We would encourage anyone considering fostering not to forget about older children and those with additional needs.

“As foster carers, we are here to offer a happy and safe home, while helping young people reach their full potential. We see ourselves as professionals, who are there to get the best for the child who is placed with us. That involves making contact with agencies and attending meetings to speak on behalf of the child.

“We've enjoyed our time fostering so far, it's been a challenge and we hope we've helped a little along the way.”

 Find out more about fostering in RCT by calling 01443 341122