Vaughan and Sian Jenkins from west Wales are both full-time carers. They work for a local authority scheme doing task-focused work with children with challenging behaviour, who are often at risk of going into custody or secure units.
Declan was a lovely lad. He had a lot of problems – and still has – but there was something about him that you took to…The thing about fostering is you don’t know what is round the corner, what problems children are going to bring to you, so if you can latch onto something likeable in the child’s personality, it makes it easier to care for them. With Declan, you went not just that extra mile for him but 50 times round the block! He had endearing characteristics and infuriating habits. I drove him for a contact visit once and he sang "Roses are red, violets are blue" non-stop for 120 miles. By the time I got there I was starting to foam at the mouth a little!
Not long after he came to us, Declan went to a neurologist as he had a tremor and problems with motor skills. The neurologist was very dismissive, saying Declan would never be able to do anything. But we bought Declan a bike and stabilisers. As I went outside to fit the stabilisers, Declan came past riding the bike! He'd learnt to ride in 20 minutes. Declan achieved all sorts of things while he was with us. He got a Royal Yachting Association Qualification and was competent to take a small dinghy out on his own. When he came to us he could not write his name; 12 months later he was reading the Goosebumps book series.
With a child like Declan, you have a list of the things that you have to change. You start by working on something very small and move towards bigger things. Declan really wanted to please, and if a child wants to be well regarded, you are on to a winner! What you try to do is establish the behaviour you want and cut across negative behaviour. You then reward children for the positive behaviour. These are children who have never succeeded, never been praised. All of a sudden they are making discoveries about themselves, finding out what they can do. Declan could see himself as someone who could steer a dinghy and ride a bike. He was not just someone with a learning disability but someone who could do things. It gives the child a sense of self-worth.
It was incredibly hard work caring for Declan. It was probably one of the most difficult pieces of work we’ve ever done, but also one of the best. There were negatives, but there were more positives. Declan made a lot of progress while he was with us. The rewards of fostering aren't what you achieve but what the young people achieve for themselves and knowing you’ve been part of that.