A woman from New Longton says being a parent and foster carer is a “joy” and a “privilege”.
Alison Dawson has been a foster family with Lancashire County Council for the past five years.
During this time, she has looked after six families, supporting a mix of fathers and mothers between the ages of 14 and 40 who have difficulty caring for their babies or toddlers.
“Foster care was something I always thought I would love to do, from my own boys’ childhood,” says Alison. “I was the only one raising them, so I decided they needed my full attention, but as I got older I still thought I would like to.
“When the boys were teenagers, I remarried. I spoke to my husband about fostering and he was really excited. However, at that point we wondered if we would be too old since we were both in our fifties. A social worker friend reassured us that this was not the case, so we started the process of becoming foster families.
Alison took to the LCC website to express her interest, and soon after, a social worker visited her.
“We answered a few simple questions, and when the social worker suggested fostering, we immediately answered ‘yes’. If we could create something to help keep families together, that would be even better. “
After a period of training, Alison and her husband started fostering. While she had been a midwife and her husband a nurse, Alison believes her experiences volunteering with vulnerable people were most valuable for the role of foster family.
“When parents come to us, they feel very vulnerable because they know their baby could be taken out of their care,” says Alison. “They often have low self-esteem and think the placement will only serve to prove that they can’t care for their baby.
“One of the most important things we can do is give encouragement. We praise the little things parents are good at which builds their confidence. They just need someone to believe in them, and then you see them blossom.
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Alison proudly talks about a particular incident with a young mother.
“Sometimes the turning point can be with an activity that has nothing to do with childcare. I had started baking with a mother who told me: “I don’t even have a swimming diploma, I can’t do anything”.
“The first time we baked, I made cupcakes while she was watching. The second time she helped and the third time she made the cupcakes herself. She was so happy with herself and so delighted that we went straight to show her mother what she had done.
“It was the start of the mother’s realization that she could achieve something.”
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The infant or child and their parents typically live with the foster family for around 12 weeks, but Alison has also experienced longer placements.
Of course, being a parent and a foster family has its challenges.
Alison talks about the practicalities of dealing with wet towels and muddy footprints while making families feel welcome in her home. And there are times when plans have to be put on hold because a parent needs her to be there.
The psychological side of things can also be tricky.
“There are a lot of ups and downs. Often the mental health of parents is affected by the situation and they can feel very bad on certain days.
“You also have to try to understand why people stay in abusive relationships, or why they spend their money on cigarettes when it is so obvious that the baby needs something. Not being judgmental can be a challenge, especially after a few months of behavior. “
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For Alison, the good parts of the role outweigh the difficulties.
“With babies, the best part is the joy of watching them grow, explore and achieve their goals. You can experience them becoming a little person, a little character.
“When it comes to parents, it’s such a privilege when they feel able to be honest with you and share what they’re struggling with. Once they identify the problem, we can start asking for help, whether it is for mental health, drug or alcohol addiction, domestic violence or whatever.
“This is when you have hope that they can start making changes and sorting out their lives for good.”
The Lancashire County Council Reception Service has launched a new campaign to find foster families who can welcome a vulnerable parent and their baby into their home, at a time when they need extra support and could otherwise be separated. For more information, visit the Lancashire County Council website or call the reception team on 0300 123 6723.
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