Andi lives in a small market town in the West Country and has been a foster carer for over 20 years.
I think things happen for a reason, I don’t believe in coincidences. And so I was in the local library one day, and this bookmark fell out of a book. It was advertising a new scheme called Teencare, for fostering teenagers. I had thought about fostering before, simply because I always loved babies and children. But I’d dismissed it because my son was still young and I didn’t want him to feel pushed out. I didn’t know that anyone needed you to foster teenagers. So that leaflet got me thinking, it started something. That was 23 years ago and it changed my life!
I did the training and within six months I had my first young person come and live here. From the start, I often had multiple placements, probably because it’s a big house and I had two spare bedrooms. At that stage I was fostering for the local authority and they always needed me to take a second, and then a third placement. But they always had their own rooms because I just built on.
Once there were identical twins who couldn’t live with each other, and couldn’t live without each other. And then a young girl came to stay for one night, in an emergency, and I put her in with the other girls in the big bedroom. After that first night she cried, and didn’t want to leave. So I thought, well, the only way that she could stay would be to have that room divided. So I got a builder to come and he divided the room into two, so that made two rooms. Later, I had a loft extension done. All young people need their own space. That’s so important.
Fostering is certainly something that you learn as you go along. You could do all the training in the world, but nobody can really prepare you for that first young person walking through your door. I’m not saying that training and preparation aren’t very important, because they are. But I am very, very aware that no matter what you’re told about what can happen, until that young person walks in you can’t really get your head around what it’s going to be like. And I think the reason I coped was because there was something clear in my mind. Anyone who came here, I wouldn’t give up on. Because I was aware that with every breakdown in placement they must surely be hurt more. And most have been hurt enough already. Even right from the beginning, it was such a strong feeling that I couldn’t give up on them. And then I discovered that I have this capacity not to give up. I soon found out what I might have to cope with, and later I actually expected it. And so I was ready to deal with the bad times when they came. But it was something that I found that I could do, and do well. And something that I came to enjoy.
Over the years I guess I gained a reputation for being able to take the teenagers whom no one else could manage. I’ve had young people here who could be very, very difficult to live with at times. The support has always been there for me, and I have needed it. But I think I’ve hung on in there because I adapted my life around them. So rather than chuck them out for behaviour that most people couldn’t tolerate, I’ve built my home around them. Not made silly rules that I know will be broken, but tried to accept them for who they are. For some, I couldn’t completely change their lives. Too much had already happened. But they did need a home and a safe place to live at that time, and for many I have been able to provide it.