When it comes to foster care, it isn’t just children and teenagers in Gloucestershire who need fostering, but parents and their children too.
SoGlos spoke to Sharon Gillett from Cheltenham who shared a glimpse into what it’s really like to foster a parent and child – dispelling some of the incorrect assumptions people can make.
Tell us a bit about yourself
My name is Sharon Gillett and we went into fostering seven years ago. My mum was a foster carer and we were her respite carers. After going on many journeys with her, we decided that we would love to make a difference to children ourselves.
Why did you decide to become a parent and child foster carer?
We decided that looking after a parent and their child was what we wanted to do, to try and stop children having to come into care when they get older. We felt that we could share basic parenting skills with the parent, so that they could learn to respond to their child’s needs.
What does becoming a parent and child foster carer involve?
Parent and child foster carers provide a safe and secure home for a parent and their child, usually a baby. The foster carer is in the unique position of helping the parent develop alongside the child. They give the parent the extra help they need to prevent the child from coming into care. This usually involves teaching them practical parenting skills, like bathing and feeding, alongside encouraging them to nurture and engage with their baby and to respond to its needs. Parent and child fostering is usually short term, lasting about 12 weeks.
What were people’s reactions when you first said you wanted to be involved in becoming a parent and child foster carer?
People are always surprised when we say not all of our mums are teenagers. We have had 16-year-olds all the way up to 34-year-olds, and it’s not always for the reasons you may think.
They may come into a parent and child foster home due to domestic violence, drug or alcohol issues or just to learn how to love, bond and care for their child. We can have babies that we collect straight from the hospital from birth and others that arrive with us at a couple of months old.
What is it like to foster a parent and child?
We had a young mum during the first lockdown who was suffering with her mental health. She came to us eight weeks into lockdown. She was well dressed when she arrived and so was the one-year-old. Mum arrived at 5pm on a Friday night, scared and feeling alone. She had brought tea for the baby and set it out in the high chair to let her feed herself. While the baby was eating, she told me she had no bond with her child, she didn’t love her and had wanted her adopted at birth, but was told by her parents that she couldn’t.
Things unfolded over the next few days. Mum decided that as there were people around to care for her baby she didn’t have to and she started to shut down. After a very rocky week, I managed to get the emergency mental health team on board to finally give her the help that she had needed for well over a year.
After daily mental health support for several weeks, we finally started helping Mum with confidence with her baby. By the end, she was spoon feeding her, eating with her, having a bath with her, generally enjoying making memories with her and getting down on the floor and being silly with her.
She told us it took her seeing her child being cared for by someone else to realise she was a fantastic mum and she was doing a good job with her and to realise that it’s okay to have off days as she isn’t Wonder Woman.
What is the most rewarding thing about being a parent and foster carer?
We have had a total of 28 mothers and babies and most are still together. We keep in touch with the vast majority of them, meeting up and offering support and friendship when needed. We get regular photos and updated milestones in their lives, which means the world to us as a foster family.