Claire and I both come from close families and grew up with considerable experience of children with additional needs. Claire’s mum was a special needs teacher and was in charge of the first high school base for children with autism in the county. I also grew up with a younger sister, J, who has learning difficulties.
She is unable to read or write, which makes every day life difficult. She needs support with paying her bills, shopping and going through her post. Her support workers prompt her to tidy her flat, do washing up and laundry as she tends not to focus on those sorts of things.
These experiences led us to both naturally start working with children and young people with more specialised needs. Alongside studying and training to become a solicitor, Claire was for more than two years a carer for young people and adults with various needs. The people she supported were sometimes frail, needing that bit of extra support with meals and cleaning, or more physically disabled, meaning more intense care was required.
Prior to fostering, I cared for children with special needs as a teaching assistant in a special needs school. Many had autism or Aspergers as well as conditions like Downs’ Syndrome and Global Developmental Delay, just like D. It was during this job that I was exposed to the world of fostering for the first time. I saw the impact that fantastic foster carers had on two brothers who were placed in care. Claire and I had often discussed a desire to foster, to make a difference to a child’s life and this experience inspired Claire and I to finally apply to foster.
The assessment process was at times hard-going, but having the opportunity to reflect on our whole lives, our relationships with our family and friends and most importantly as a couple really got us thinking about how life would change with a foster child. We ended up enjoying the time with our assessing social worker and were sorry to see her leave for the last time!
At our approval meeting with our fostering social worker, she advised that they already had a child in mind for us to care for who needed to be moved from another placement. D arrived within eight weeks of our approval. We had always said we would foster any child and given our experiences, we weren’t phased about a child with additional needs and were fully aware of the shortage of carers willing to take on a child with disabilities.
The first two years were happy, sad, emotional, busy and most of all eye opening. D took around a year to truly settle in and calm some of his more extreme moods. In this time we also completed lots of our core training, which we managed to fit in around our jobs.
After the Court process was over, it was clear that long term fostering was going to be the best plan for D. D is one of five looked after siblings and assessments took place to see if he could be placed with his older brother. However, both boys were doing so well in their placements that it was felt that to move them would be detrimental. We make sure that ‘family time’ happens regularly by getting the brothers and sisters together around once or twice a month to enable their relationships to continue developing.
We are really fortunate to have a great working relationship with D’s social worker Jo, from the disabilities team. She has managed to build a connection to D through her visits at home and at school and through specialist techniques like play therapy. Jo has supported us throughout our fostering journey and we are very grateful to her!
Fostering a child with special needs is incredibly rewarding. Whilst their milestones may not be anything like ‘typical’ children of the same age, they seem to mean more to both the child and carer. Seeing D grow and develop over the past two and a half years has been amazing and we are so excited to see what his future looks like. He is very excited to be the ring bearer at our wedding in December and sit at the top table with us. He is a huge part of our family and we wouldn’t be without him!
Darren Simon, Claire Robinson and D