One local family who foster with their local authority in Denbighshire is Manon and Huw, and their children Mabli (15), Boas (13) and Ethni (9). Here, Manon explains what it’s like being a part of a foster family, and how every member of the family plays such an important part in welcoming new children to their home and lives.
"Fostering is something you do as a whole family," Manon says. "It's a decision for the whole family because every family member contributes towards providing a stable and caring home for a child who is looked after."
Manon has wanted to foster since before she can remember. "When I was about 15 years old, I remember someone asking me what I wanted to do when I was older. I answered, absolutely certain and without a doubt, I want to adopt and foster children."
And that’s what happened.
Manon has worked with children throughout her career. After working as a one-to-one assistant to a child with Down’s Syndrome, and supporting her throughout her education from the age of 3, this inspired Manon to want to adopt a child with a disability.
“People would often ask why adopt before having our own children, or they would take for granted that we weren’t able to have children of our own. But we wanted to adopt first, so if we did have our own children in the future, they wouldn’t know any different.
We adopted Mabli, who has Down’s Syndrome, when she was only 11 months old. She is now 15 years old, and is quite a character!”
After adopting Mabli, and then having two children of their own – Boas and Ethni – Manon and Huw were ready to consider fostering.
“I remember the feeling, even today, of driving home in the car for the first time with Mabli after we’d adopted her,” explains Manon. “I wanted other people to have that feeling too, so being able to provide foster care for babies and young children who were likely to be needing adopting was something we felt we could offer as a family.”
When Ethni was 2 and a half, Manon contacted her local authority in Denbighshire. “From the very first phone conversation, I knew that fostering with our local authority was right for us, and I don’t regret choosing that at all. We have had the best possible support and guidance from our Foster Wales Denbighshire team.”
A personal process
“Understandably, the process of becoming an approved foster carer is a detailed and personal one – your social workers come to know you better than you know yourself! I’m a very open person, but not everyone is the same, so it’s important that you feel comfortable and that you can trust your fostering team to support you at every step of the way. We gained a lot from the process – and enjoyed it, to be honest!”
Manon and Huw were approved as foster carers in 2015, and welcomed their first child in the autumn of that year. Since then, they have provided long term foster care for 7 children, and have fostered many children on a short term basis. “We chose to foster babies and children between 0 and 5 years old so that our children would be older than the foster children – we felt that this age range suited our family needs best.”
Life is never dull!
“The positivity that comes from fostering, for us as a family, and for the children we have fostered, gives us huge satisfaction and means that life is never dull!
“There are so many highlights and memories, and often it’s the small things that stay in the memory, like offering foods that they’ve never tried, things like spaghetti bolognese and Sunday lunch, and seeing them enjoy and asking for more!
I remember giving one little girl a skirt, she’d never worn a skirt before. I’ll never forget the smile on her face as she danced around the room in her new skirt!”
Positive experience for our children
“Growing up in a fostering household has been an extremely positive experience for our children, and it has given them lifelong skills such as empathy and compassion, and they definitely have developed to be more caring and considerate of others.
It has been wonderful to see the foster children being accepted by our children, and even more special to see close friendships and relationships being formed that will, I hope, last forever.”
They love fostering as much as we do.”
Boas, who is 13 years old, treasures the special time he gets with the foster children. "I like to see the foster children learning new things during their time with us, like walking and crawling, and saying their first words”, Boas said. “I have a lot of fun with the children and like to teach them new tricks such as clapping, high fives, fist bumps, kicking and catching a ball."
Keeping a positive attitude
While fostering does bring many positive experiences, there are some unique challenges as well. One challenge is the inevitable matter of saying good-bye to a foster child. “We have been honest and open with our children from the start about what fostering is, and we deal with the experience of saying good-bye to a foster child by keeping a positive attitude,” Manon explained. “Highlight all the good experiences and the positive impact they’ve had on these young children’s lives by giving them a loving and secure home, until they can move on to a more permanent situation that’s right for them.
Of course, we do experience a range of emotions when a child leaves our home, and we must go through a grieving process before we foster another child. The sadness of seeing them go is often mixed with happiness from knowing that we’ve helped to get a child’s life back on the right track after a difficult start.
We must also remember that the process of moving on is a gradual one - whether that’s to their family or to be adopted, and most of the time we keep in touch with the families afterwards. Not many people realise that!”
It needs time
So, what does Manon consider are the most essential skills and personal attributes to be able to foster successfully and to help others decide whether life as a foster carer is right for them?
“You need time and the ability to communicate. You’ll be caring for a variety of children from every background, so you need to be able to deal with a lot of different people who are a part of these young children’s lives, such as schools, health professionals and the biological family of the child. The first weeks of a placement can be very busy!
You also need an open mind. People will often come to their own conclusions regarding foster children’s biological parents, and they’ll say something like how can they give these little children up? But it’s much more complicated than that. I’ll never judge the parents, and I always try to maintain a good relationship with them.”
Changed our lives for the better
“If you’re thinking about fostering, start by contacting your local authority Foster Wales team for an informal chat. There’s no need for you to commit to anything until you’re ready. You can even start as a short break foster carer by providing essential support to a foster child temporarily. This could be a good way to learn more about the role, gain experience and see whether fostering is suitable for your family before caring for children on a short-term basis.
Fostering has definitely changed our lives as a family for the better, and I’m so grateful for that.”