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"It really is the best job in the world, but it doesn’t feel like a job"

Barry and Martha playing with tablets on the sofa

Thursday 11 February 2021

Meet Sally and Barry, respite carers for a young girl with disabilities. They talk about the joy they get from supporting another family through fostering.

"Fostering is the best decision we ever made.

When my mum passed away five years ago, I knew that I needed a different direction as I had been caring for her full-time. She had been a social worker for children with disabilities in the fostering team.

I therefore felt a natural pull towards fostering, but my husband and I still thought long and hard before we made any decision.

We had both worked in care for most of our lives, so not only felt like we had the right experience but had an affinity to helping others. I had supported children with disabilities in residential homes, whereas Barry worked with adults with disabilities in care.

So, we went along to an information evening for fostering at Essex County Council, looking to specifically foster children with disabilities.

We were certain that fostering was the right decision for us.

We have now been fostering for four years and have looked after five children with disabilities, always for respite care. We are specialist Fee-paid Short Break Carers which means we look after children who require a high level of support and have more complex needs.

12-year-old Martha has been with us for three and a half years now. She really is a part of our family and we know she sees our house as a second home.

Each month she stays with us for 14 nights, including the daytime. She has particularly high needs, as we need to bathe, dress, and feed her, so we only foster one other boy. He is aged 15, with similar disabilities, and stays with us for three nights a month.

Martha has her challenges, as she cannot verbalise how she is feeling. This often leaves her feeling frustrated and impacts on her behaviour. She also has difficulties in sleeping so we have learnt to work around her and have adapted our routine to suit her. Willingness to be creative and resourceful is key to fostering.

She loves being outside, getting messy and being with people. When we take her out to the zoo or to the beach, we love seeing the joy in her face. She is very inquisitive and likes to people watch. During winter, and of course with covid restrictions, it’s a little harder but we get out the bubble machine, shaving foam and paints indoors. She just loves sensory activities.

We were unable to see her over Christmas because her family had to isolate with covid and that was very hard for us. It felt like there was hole in our lives.

We don’t just feel like we are making a difference to each child we foster, but also to their families and their wider family. It struck us early on when Martha’s parents commented that they could play monopoly with their other three children whilst she was with us. They could never have done that with her around. Its these small opportunities that can make such a big difference to a family.

You may be worried that you won’t be able to cope as a foster parent, but you get great support and specialist training from Essex County Council and other foster carers. Any child placed with us is carefully matched to best suit our skills so we can confidently meet their needs.

We really do feel that being with us is the best option for Martha. She copies behaviour very quickly, so we like to feel that we’re a positive influence on her by giving her as normal life as possible. She feels like part of our family.

Fostering is just so fulfilling and satisfying. The joy we get from fostering Martha is enormous. It really is the best job in the world, but it doesn’t feel like a job. Looking after someone else’s child and being trusted to do so is such an honour – we are being trusted with those that are most precious."

Sally and Barry have made a huge difference, not only to Martha's life, but her whole family's too. Hear from Georgina Tweed and her husband how the support of foster carers has changed their life.