A foster carer from Neath Port Talbot has shared her 30 years of experience to help inspire more people to also make a difference in a young person’s life.
Back in 1991, Annie Lewis was married, had children of her own, two boys aged seven and eight and was working as a chef, when she contacted her local authority to become a foster carer.
But Annie’s story begins much earlier as a troubled teenager in care herself.
Annie said: “When I was 14, I was an extremely challenging teenager. I had difficulties in my own family and was always running away. I was living in a residential children’s home where I met a young girl who was only eight at the time. I remember thinking this is wrong. I knew she shouldn’t have been there, with teenagers like me, but there were no foster carers available to have her. She latched on to me as a big sister.”
Annie later moved back home with her parents, but at that point she knew that one day when she was a grown up, she was going to do something about it.
Fostering with her local authority in Neath Port Talbot, Annie met many inspiring foster carers. “There weren’t many foster carers back in those days. But I remember meeting other local people who fostered, who were always just a phone call away when things got complicated. I made some lifelong friends and we formed a close community.”
Annie describes fostering as an unusual way of life. “When some people say “you get paid for it” I’m afraid I lose my cool. Fostering is not an occupation, it’s a vocation. It’s a way of life, not a job.”
Annie has cared for many different children over her 30 years, the majority being boys often with behaviour or health issues. Annie explained that a lot of the challenges were understanding what they were going though.
“It’s difficult to understand why someone would do that to a child or allow someone else to do that to a child. Some of the things that parents say to their children aren’t true. They see you as competition.” Annie who recently celebrating her 60th birthday, explains that her age now helps, as the parents see her as a grandmother figure.
Annie’s advice to anyone new to fostering is to stay calm and not take it too personally.
“You need to vent your own anger about the situation. I take 10 minutes with a cup of coffee and look at the sea. You need to find that one thing that gives you peace so you don’t burn out. I use the social worker and other local foster carers to talk to.”
“Almost every child and young person, regardless of why or what has happened to them or why they are in care, always want to go home. You need to find a way to help them to understand why they can’t go see mum or dad. With all the complexities of each situation, you need to help the child to understand what’s happening.”
“I was quite quiet in the beginning, but what I’ve learnt over the years is that being quiet isn’t going to help a child. You have to stand up for them. I know now what I’m allowed to say and do, if it’s what the child needs.”
“You can’t fix things for all the children, but you can fix it for one, and it doesn’t always work.”
“I had one child, in my 30 years it was the first time that things ended quite badly. And I questioned do I really want to still be doing this. I changed track and did a different type of fostering for a while. Then I met a young man, and you can’t help but fall in love with them a little bit. He’s a teenager, hopeless with money so I’m helping him to learn, he does jobs around the house and he’s going to make a very good husband to someone one day.”
“One of my fondest memories was a child who went onto a new adoptive family. We still keep in touch and he’s grown up now with a partner. I’ve done all sorts of fostering over the years, but adoption is my favourite.”
“I have an amazing family. Both of my sons are in their 30s now and I have six grandchildren. They’ve only ever known Granny having different kids in the house. My sons are such tolerant laid back understanding men because of growing up fostering and I’ve had great support from them.
“I remember the things I went through as a teenager. I now see myself as a bridge over troubled waters, helping children from a time in their life where there is sadness, tears and rough times. I’m the person walking them over the bridge to where there’s a better future for them.”
Councillor Alan Lockyer, Neath Port Talbot Council’s Cabinet Member for Children’s Social Services, said: “I’d like to congratulate Annie on her 30 years of service as a foster carer, and also thank her for sharing some of her personal experiences with us.
“I’m sure it will be of great benefit to both those who are currently thinking about becoming a foster carer and those who are going through the same experiences as a carer at the moment.
“We are always looking for new foster carers who can provide a safe and loving family home to local children and young people. I would urge anyone who is thinking about becoming a foster carer to get in touch with our Neath Port Talbot Fostering team.”
For more information on becoming a foster carer in Neath Port Talbot, visit https://www.npt.fosterwales.gov.wales or call 01639 685866.
Lead image: Annie at Margam Park (Image: Neath Port Talbot Council)
Becoming a foster carer is ‘one of the most rewarding things I’ve done’ says Swansea teacher
A teacher who has also become a foster carer says it is one of the most rewarding things he has done and is urging others to think about committing to help make a difference to the lives of young people.
Dafydd Howells started fostering nearly two years and is also a full-time teacher of 20 years. It was through his job of teaching that inspired him to become a foster carer.
He said as a teacher he saw the impact fostering can have on children’s lives when they lived in a home with a positive influence.
He added: “Fostering is something I thought about doing many years ago but didn’t do anything about it. One day, I was chatting to a colleague in school who also fostered and it made me think it was the right time to explore my interest. I saw information about one of the local authority’s fostering open evenings and decided to go along to gather some more information. As they say, the rest is history.”
Currently, the council’s not-for-profit fostering service need more foster carers to care for local children and young people. There are many benefits of fostering for your local authority as Dafydd explains.
“By fostering with the local authority, I feel that I can help the young people within the community I live in, offering them a safe, stable, and encouraging environment to thrive in.
“On a day-to-day basis, I have a supervising social worker who can help and support me, both with advice and training, as well as helping to support me with the needs of the young people in my care
“They not only provide the initial training needed, but also an ongoing training programme which both develops me, but also enhances the care I am able to give.”
Many foster carers refer to fostering as one of the most rewarding things they have done – and Dafydd is no different.
He said: “It is very hard to explain the rewards of fostering . . . the greatest feeling is making a difference in a child’s life. I offer both short break and long-term fostering, and it’s been lovely to offer support to families in the form of respite, as well having a long-term placement with me, and the stability I’m able to offer.
“I currently have a 17-year-old boy who I’ve had for several years, and it’s a pleasure seeing him develop into a responsible young man and preparing him for independence when he’s ready.
“Being a foster carer is by no means easy, but I’ve never done anything so rewarding in my life. By being a foster carer, you get the opportunity to enrich a child’s life.”
Whilst there are many rewards of fostering, there can understandably be challenges at times. However, Dafydd shares his advice to anyone interested in becoming a foster carer.
“There are parts of becoming a foster parent you can prepare for, whilst there are other parts you just can’t. Keeping on top of your training is an excellent way of being as prepared as you can for as many different situations as possible. Not every day will be a challenge, but you will certainly face a few you weren’t expecting along the way. The support of your family and friends will go a long way to help you, in particular with babysitting, as well as being a good listening ear when you need it.
“To get you through everything, undoubtedly a sense of humour what’s needed. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Asking for help doesn’t mean you’ve failed; it means you want to do the best. Lastly, get a dishwasher! I never knew it was possible to have so many dirty dishes.”
Anyone who is interested in fostering and following in Dafydd footsteps is being invited to attend a virtual information event being organised by Foster Wales Swansea.
On Wednesday 19 January the team will be hosting an online event via Microsoft Teams, 6-7pm. There will be the opportunity to find out more information, and meet both staff and foster carers.
Swansea Council’s Cabinet Member for Children’s Services, Elliott King, said: “We really need more foster carers so if you are interested in fostering then book onto the virtual information event or contact Foster Wales Swansea directly.
“Now more than ever, we need new foster families who have a spare bedroom and have what it takes to change the lives of local children and young people. If you are ready to embark on this very rewarding role, you are just what Foster Wales Swansea is looking for. It could be the start of a new chapter in your life and that of a child’s.
“In return, you will receive excellent training opportunities, 24/7 unrivalled support, and generous financial payments. In additional you become part of a wider community with other fostering households.”
To book onto the event, please email firstname.lastname@example.org providing a contact name and email address, or phone (01792) 636103.
For further information about becoming a foster carer, call 0300 555 0111 or visit www.swansea.fosterwales.gov.wales
Foster carers’ children thanked for their vital role
Swansea Council is highlighting the valuable role that foster carers’ own children play in a fostering family as part of Sons and Daughters month (1-31 October).
The Fostering Network’s annual campaign celebrates and recognises the incredible contribution that sons and daughters give in welcoming foster children into their families.
The council’s fostering service, Foster Wales Swansea, is supporting the campaign in recognition of providing loving, safe and friendly homes for other children.
Many people might be concerned about the potential impact of fostering on their own children and the main reason why they choose not to become foster carers.
However, 47% of Foster Wales Swansea’s carers have birth or adopted children still living at home and their presence can make a real difference to foster children.
Aflie, 12 and Rosie 10, are siblings and very much enjoy being part of a fostering family.
Rosie said: “I like that my family fosters and I’m really proud. I think all children deserve to be safe. I feel that I make other children happy. I have met lots of new people.
“I made new friends when I went to the sons and daughters group as I got to talk to other children whose family fosters. I love my foster brother. He is funny and he makes me happy. I like that I get to see the children who come to live with us grow up and become the best they can be.”
Alfie added: “Foster carers have a positive effect on vulnerable children in the society we live in. I believe that some people hold back on fostering because they think that their own children won’t like it but I completely disagree.
“Fostering is amazing and if anything fostering makes life more fun. Since fostering, me and my family have helped lots of children. I now have a foster brother who is a big part of my life. I feel I set a good example for him to follow and love that he is part of our family.
“The hard bit of fostering is when children leave but it makes me happy to know my family has helped them. When I grow up I want to be a foster carer.”
The Foster Wales Swansea team run a support group for their foster carers’ own children so they feel supported and can speak to other children who are part of a fostering family.
Councillor Elliott King, Swansea Council’s Cabinet Member for Children’s Services, said: “I would like to say a massive thank you to all the children of our foster carers and celebrate the important contribution they make to foster care. I’m so proud of what they do. I want to pay tribute to them for creating loving, safe and friendly environments for other children.
“I understand that many people thinking about fostering could naturally be concerned about the potential impact on their own children. However, our foster carers’ own children are testament to the positive impact that growing up in a fostering family can have.
“Seeing life from another’s perspective can be an enriching experience and can help a child learn and develop as an individual. They play a vital role in helping foster children to adjust to their new environment, and can become a mentor figure in helping a foster child to settle into their home and meet new friends.
“Sons and daughters of foster carers are unsung heroes and we want each and every child and young person who grows up as part of a fostering family to know just how important they are.”
Fostering is a whole family approach and everyone in the household will be involved in the decision to foster and the assessment process. Foster Wales Swansea run a specific sons and daughters support group where activities and events occur throughout the year. It’s a chance to meet other children from families who foster and share their experiences in a fun and safe environment.
Foster Wales Swansea still need more foster carers. For more information, visit www.swansea.fosterwales.gov.wales or ring 0300 555 0111.
(Lead image: Swansea Council)
‘Exceptionally rewarding’ – foster carer details her experience for new campaign
A local foster carer has detailed how rewarding the experience is as part of a campaign to attract more people into foster caring in Pembrokeshire.
The campaign is being run by Foster Wales, the new national network of 22 local authority fostering services in Wales.
As part of the campaign – which is being backed with TV and online advertising – foster carer Sue from Pembrokeshire has outlined her own experiences.
Sue, a single parent with two daughters, details why she got involved in foster caring:
“I’d been working with vulnerable children as a Pastoral Manager in an inner-city Primary School throughout my daughters schooling years, so they’d been aware of the unmet needs of others from an early age.
“Both felt passionately that all children had the right to a loving and nurturing start to life and appalled at the thought that not all children get it.
“Over the years, my daughters urged me to foster, along with the children I worked with in school who were either in the process of going into care or were there already.
“Once my daughters settled comfortably into their second year of university, I knew it was time.
“I sold my house and moved to Pembrokeshire to be closer to my parents, cousins, and extended family for the support I knew I would need.
“When asked what age range I said any but was adamant that I wanted to keep siblings together, if possible. Over the years I had seen too many siblings split up.
“Ironically, I ended up being matched with a nine-year-old identified as emotionally more stable without her siblings in the same setting, due to her own needs.
“It was on the understanding that I would not have any other foster placements as she craved 1:1. It was felt that I would provide the therapeutic and nurturing parenting that she desperately needed. We hit it off right from the start!
“My daughters and family all welcomed her, love her and taken her into the family. We sing and dance and laugh a lot.
“Don’t get me wrong, there are times where the trauma of her past is heartbreaking to witness.
“I feel honoured that she allows me in to support and see her through those times.
“It is 24/7! It can be physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausting but boy is it worth it when you see the difference you’ve made.
“My supervising social worker is an absolute star – always there with an encouraging word and the essential emotional support you as a care giver need, not to mention great advice, ideas, and avenues to try.”
Asked what advice she would give to someone thinking of fostering, Sue said: “Investigate the practicalities, the financial implications, and geographical barriers.
“Hard hitting question but are you doing it for your dreams or for the benefit of the child?
“I went into this idealistically thinking of what I could offer emotionally without thinking seriously of all the practical things I wasn’t able to offer.
As your foster child may need therapeutic intervention or additional medical appointments and checks, contact with family members as well as taking to clubs – ask yourself whether you are able to facilitate all of these without impinging on your work and earning potential.
“I wish I’d learned to drive before applying for fostering as being a non-driver as I find it a barrier to providing the best care for my foster child.
“So, saying all that, fostering is exceptionally emotionally rewarding when you do go into it with your eyes wide open and are fully prepared both practically and financially and I don’t regret getting into it for a moment.”
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