Jackie and Alan have been foster carers for over 10 years.
From the start we always had long-term placements. That’s what we wanted. And always children with disabilities. I say a child with disabilities, not a disabled child, because you learn to adjust and adapt. And then, in time, and without realising it, you don’t see that disability any more.
Two brothers came to live with us when they were just a toddler and a four-year-old. Their mum was very young when she had them, and there had been all kinds of problems. They had been living with different relatives and they were very unsettled. When we put them down to sleep the first night, it was quite clear that they had never slept in a bed. The older boy took a towel from the bathroom – bearing in mind he was only four himself – and he took his baby brother out of the cot, and snuggled down on the towel. And he was going to sleep there in the corner of the bedroom snuggled up on the towel with the baby. I said to Alan, we can’t force him into a bed, not now, not in a strange home that they don’t even know. So what we did was, we took a quilt and persuaded him to swap the towel for the quilt, kind of rolled them up in the quilt and let them sleep like that, cuddled together.
Over time the boys settled in. The youngest has been with us since he was 14 months and he’s grown up here. He gets extra help at school, but we think he’ll do OK. But his brother finds things more difficult. He’s spent more time living with a lot of disruption and he still struggles to communicate and socialise. It’s got better, but he can still only really cope with one friend at a time. So when it came time to go to senior school we knew he wouldn’t manage. He has very serious learning difficulties and finds it very hard to remember things. His social worker was amazing though, and fought to get a statement for him, and he did. It was such a relief. And so he got into a special school where he really likes going.
Even so, we realise that he will always need support. He’ll always need us and the family, even as an adult. I see it like a jigsaw puzzle. A child’s life can be like that puzzle, with pieces on the side waiting to be put into place. And you as the carer try to put the pieces in, week by week, month by month – until it’s complete. But sometimes, there might still be the odd piece missing that you can’t put in. You just can’t. Because they lost that before they got to you.