Paula has been a foster carer for The Foster Care Co-operative for over eleven years, and lives in Bristol. She is highly experienced, and specialises in Parent & Child Together (PACT) placements.
"Well I have to say it started with our own family. We came together as step families so the children were used to having to adapt to new situations. When raising our children, we tried to give them everything we could. They didn't have everything but there was never a shortage of love. Caring and sharing is a big part of family life so why not give it to another child in need?
The whole family had to be ‘in’ with the idea of fostering to make it work. We did a lot of research with the whole family to prepare us for the challenges ahead. Once we had made the decision to go ahead, we changed everything in the house from that day on. We put into practice every stay safe measure possible. Everyone had to adapt to new house rules and we did this before having a placement so it was a natural thing and wasn't seen as implemented because of the placement.
When we take in a new placement, we treat him or her as one of the family. We all do chores, we all share in outings and holidays - the same as it always was. This can be achieved with some great planning. The person you take in may not be comfortable doing the things your own children like doing. They may also be scared of doing things or going different places. There could also be triggers that you didn't realise existed and they might be angry with the world for being abandoned and take it out on you. You soon learn to not take it personally... because they have no one else to be angry with.
When we need time out for our own family, respite gives you that time to reconnect with your birth children. That time away or at home is needed, so you should never feel guilty for taking that time out - you have to protect your own family as well.
Fostering can be very tiring and mentally exhausting, but it is also very rewarding. Having the help and advice of great social workers helps make things run as smoothly as possible. You are never alone. There is always someone who can help you. Seeing your placement succeed is the biggest thrill you can get, just little steps mean a lot. Achievements big or small mean the whole world to someone who had nothing.
Changing the life of a young person is rewarding in itself. Even your birth family feel proud of this. This is why we do it: to make a difference to someone who has nothing."