Being a single working professional and living in rented accommodation was no barrier to fostering for new carer Sian, who says it’s the most fulfilling thing she’s ever done.
Having lived in the borough for much of her life, and taught in a local secondary school for more than a decade, she felt ready to take the next step in giving young people a secure and loving start.
When she approached Wokingham Borough Council to express an interest in late 2021, she was worried that she would struggle to balance fostering with her work commitments.
But the council’s team offered help and assurance from the outset, making sure she knew what to expect, how to tackle common challenges and how to fit her job around it.
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Sian took in a young person in September last year and the pair have formed a close connection, helping them adapt to their new surroundings and become happier and more confident.
She says the flexible, ongoing support offered by the council’s care workers and its wider carers’ network was crucial for both of them.
This includes a wide range of specialist training and support as well as social events and activities, both online and in person, and access to a 24-hour helpline.
“The first few weeks were ups and downs - I'm not going to pretend it was easy or that the young person settled immediately, but there was nothing I wasn’t prepared for”, Sian said.
“I was incredibly well supported and knew I could ring someone at any time, which was particularly important as a single carer.”
Making it easy to take those first steps
Like all applicants, Sian first went through a series of assessments so the team could learn more about her.
She said: “It's quite thorough but never felt intrusive. They asked about my life, childhood, relationships and things like that but I understood why and never felt I was being 'tested'.
“It was just about knowing me better so they could help as much as possible and get the right training in place. It was like having a friend round for coffee and I looked forward to every visit.
“You do address difficult parts of your life but in a reassuring and gentle way, and focusing on how you could support a young person who's gone through similar things.
“I got through the assessment quickly but that was my choice - they made clear that I could go at my own pace and take a break if I wanted.”
A calling that fits with the rest of your life
Sian discussed her fostering plans with her school and her landlord, who were both supportive, and the council ensured meetings were scheduled around her teaching.
She said: “As long as you're open from the start, everyone around you will do what they can to help - and there are times when things get incredibly busy.
“There’ll still be sleepless nights but it's definitely manageable, both living on your own and with a job, as long as you ensure the support is there.
“My work treat fostering exactly the same as if they were my biological child. If I need a day off to look after them because they're ill, that's absolutely fine.”
Sian has made dozens of new friends through the borough’s fostering network, some of whom are now among her closest, and still benefits from formal support.
Although her journey hasn’t always been easy, this has kept stresses to a manageable level and helped her make the most of the blossoming new relationship.
Overcoming difficulties along the way together
“Being a foster carer will never be plain sailing - there'll always be challenges however long you’ve been doing it, said Sian.
“You're working with children who, sadly, have had traumatic early experiences and they all deal with it differently.
“Sometimes I’d doubt myself or feel anxious for no clear reason as it was a huge change after living on my own. I rang my social worker who explained that was normal, which helped me feel I could overcome any problems.
“They do make sure you're doing things properly, of course, but they always check you're okay and have everything you need. That made the transition so much easier and the young person in my care is now thriving and settled.
“It's great being in touch with other carers from the start, because sometimes you need to talk to someone in the same situation.”
A visible and lasting difference to young people’s lives
Sian and the young person in her care recently celebrated their first Easter together, which offered them a chance to reflect on their progress.
She said: “Special occasions can be challenging as they may miss how things used to be, but you can talk about how they’re feeling and help them celebrate in different ways.
“They said this was the best Easter they’d had, which was so touching. It’s nice to help them make happy memories, which don't replace existing ones but do offer new experiences.
"The best thing about fostering is seeing a young person make progress and start opening up. There's so much laughter in my house now and it’s lovely.
“It’s a pleasure to have them around and see the difference I’m making. There are still challenges but it's worth it - it'd be hard to find anything as rewarding.”
Could you help us?
Wokingham Borough Council is encouraging more local families to come forward to foster children and young people in the borough.
Children can come into care for a range of reasons, whether their parents are struggling with their responsibilities or need respite from caring for someone with additional needs.
It may also be that a parent is having medical treatment or sadly, in some cases, that their homes aren’t considered a safe place for them.
Candidates from all walks of life are urged to get in touch, particularly those who could look after unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, big sibling groups or mother-and-baby families.
To find out more, call 0118 974 6204 or visit fostering.wokingham.gov.uk.