A manager once told me that in his view fostering can be a very ‘lonely’ experience – especially when you don’t feel well supported. For that reason he had always brought foster carers from his agency together at least fortnightly, so that they had opportunities to meet, and hear from each other. For him, this sharing, learning and creating a sense of community was vital. Not only to look after the carers, but also to make sure they could continue to do the important work they do.
Talking with foster carers over the years I have to agree. And it became more evident in the recent past when I’ve heard many times how foster carers felt isolated and cut off. Virtual panels and virtual training might sometimes save time and be more convenient, but it was no substitute for the kind of interaction that builds bonds and strong relationships.
So I was delighted when Maureen and the team at OwnLife asked me to be part of I am worth it, which aims to explore the wider impact of promoting good health and wellbeing. During the pandemic we introduced carer support groups which were structured, but gave everyone the chance to express how they were feeling, with ideas and strategies they might use themselves, or with their children.
Now that we can finally meet face-to-face again we will be able to do these things together. Drawing on Dr Rangan Chatterjee’s ideas we’ll follow his principles for health and happiness by making some shifts in what we eat, how we sleep, doing more exercise – and finding ways to boost our mood.
OwnLife foster carers have already highlighted some of their own ‘happy habits’, with Lyn saying it’s the time right at the end of the day when everyone else is settled down, ‘…and I feel like I have some space for myself to make my own special drink and relax, ‘ or, Ellen, ‘….just put on my headphones, blast out the music I love – with no one telling me to turn it down!’
Maureen’s also keen to understand if encouraging carers to look after each other and themselves will help them feel better about what they do. And, could feeling more positive even have an impact on their relationships with children, and the quality of the care they provide?
Exciting possibilities at a time when we badly need more foster carers. And should prioritise looking after the ones we have…….