Foster child's loving act has carer close to tears

Hertfordshire foster carer Sarah Smith with her nephews Max and Lucas

Hertfordshire foster carer Sarah Smith with her nephews Max and Lucas - Credit: Courtesy of Hertfordshire County Council

The pandemic has been a difficult time for all parents, but especially for new foster carers who have welcomed children into their homes during a time of great upheaval, social restrictions and future uncertainty.

Sarah Smith, who lives on the outskirts of Stevenage, began the fostering application process just before the pandemic began last year, and in September welcomed her first foster child - four-year-old Matthew, whose name has been changed to protect his identity.

Sarah, 37, said: “I’ve always wanted to foster ever since I was little. My sister says she can remember when I was about eight and we both had our dolls, she would say, “This is my baby,” and I would say, “This is my foster baby.

“On my mum’s side, her mum and dad fostered, so that may have had an influence."

When Matthew was first placed with Sarah, COVID rules allowed a visit to a water park and some Christmas shopping, but the tightening of restrictions soon made things more difficult.

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Sarah, who is also a childminder, said: “The cases were higher, the schools were off, and Matthew attended a nursery, so I made the decision, along with the social workers, to keep him with me fully until the lockdown restrictions eased, and I think that helped him a lot.

“Keeping him away from school wasn’t a choice I took lightly. It was about making him feel secure, building up his self-esteem and making sure he wasn’t affected by all these changes.

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“When he first came to me, he was only stringing three words together and now he is writing his name, knows all the alphabet and is starting to read. Now, everyone mostly understands what he is saying, as his speech has massively improved.

“I’ve had loads of issues to work through with Matthew. He couldn’t regulate his emotions, so he had massive tantrums. It helped having reward charts in place, which helped him understand the boundaries.

“I reduced the number of children I mind since looking after Matthew and now look after just five children, helped by one assistant. Having a separate childminding playroom is like having a second school for Matthew and it has brought him on massively. At first he played only solitarily, but now he’s like a social butterfly.”

Recalling a heart-warming pivotal moment when all the hard work and challenges were rewarded, Sarah said: “I remember during the last lockdown, Matthew running to me and literally just jumping into my arms and hugging me, and I thought, 'this is what you read about when you learn about fostering'. I didn’t think it would be a reality, but it actually was. It really made me well up. I realised he had made that attachment I’d always dreamt about.”

Prior to becoming a foster carer, Sarah was a childcare manager for the holiday company TUI, helping to write their childcare policies and procedure manuals. She also created activity manuals, wrote staff training guidance and managed staff training courses.

After 15 years, she left to set up her own childminding business from premises attached to her home. Two years later, in 2020, Sarah went to a fostering recruitment open day.

She said: “You get really good training and a really good support network. It was all virtual, but I have kept in contact with the people I did the training with. We talk and share opinions and advice, so that’s been a real lifeline for me during the COVID pandemic.”

There are currently 1,000 children in care in Hertfordshire and the county council needs to recruit 60 foster carers every year.

Jenny Coles, Hertfordshire County Council’s director of children’s services, said: “Our foster carers are all ordinary people, but they do an extraordinary thing. I’d like to say a big thank you to our foster carers for everything they’re doing for their foster children in these challenging times.

“Now, more than ever, we need people to adopt or foster a child. The coronavirus pandemic may have changed life as we know it for the time being, but one thing that hasn’t changed is the need for foster carers.”

If you are interested in fostering a child, click here for more information.

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