Q&A with Long-Term Buckinghamshire Council Foster Carer Debbie Armstrong

With Foster Care Fortnight well underway in these very strange times, we caught up with one of our current respite and emergency foster carers to ask some key questions that may be of interest to anyone looking for a first-hand account of Fostering with Bucks.

What was the biggest surprise for you when you first started to foster?

I think the thing that surprised me most was how good the matching process was from the start. The first children that were placed with us adapted to our household really well from day one. The rest of my family were well able to support us because of this, and the placement was able to run so well as a result. The amount of support that we received via training, social workers and the support team was also more than I expected.

Do you think there's a problem with stigma in the way children in care are portrayed in the media?

Unfortunately, there is a lot of stigma around children that are being fostered but, if you’re really serious about fostering, just contact your local authority to get the truth about the children. They are obliged to be as transparent as possible. At Bucks, they also offer one-to-one time with current foster carers, who have the first-hand information and experience to steer people in the right direction and tell people who are just starting out what it’s really like to foster.

Can you share an anecdote about a child in care’s biggest transformation from the time you took them in to the time they went on to a longer placement?

I’ll go back again to my first placement of a sibling group… When they first arrived with us, they were extremely sad, and suffering from symptoms of neglect including head lice; but within a few weeks we could see a huge difference. As a foster carer, you can watch how a child grows and flourishes when they’re with you. If I look at old photos of when the children have just arrived with me, and then at photos taken closer to the when they leave us - you can clearly see the transformation. A foster carer has the potential to make an enormous difference. Last year, I got re-contacted by that first-ever placement: the sister of the sibling group. She sought me out on Facebook and we now meet every couple of weeks for coffee and a chat. It’s lovely.

What three words would you use to describe your fostering family?

Caring (you need to have lots of that to be able to be there for these children), understanding and empathetic (you need to show the children that their thoughts and feelings matter).

As a foster carer, what are your three go-to essentials?

A nice hot bath with essential oils, making sure to take time for myself, and having an unwind routine in the evenings after the children are in bed.

Who is the best dancer, the biggest animal-lover, the funniest, and the most creative in your home?

We’re all animal lovers in our fostering family and we’ve encouraged that with our foster children too. My own daughter, Megan, grew up with animals and that remains a big part of her life. My husband, Chris, is the funniest - he manages to make the children laugh every time. Megan is the best dancer but Chris is a close second with some great Dad-dancing! Finding songs that the children like, and being mindful of what the children are going through, is extremely important. Megan and I are the most creative, particularly with doing activities that we can do together with the children. We helped one of our foster children to make a Goodbye Book for one of their siblings, who was going through the adoption process.

What have been your best lockdown survival secrets?

Being able to see the family in care (that I’m currently working with as a foster carer) via Facetime has helped to keep everyone’s spirits up. On the whole, the foster carer community is still really active and it’s great to be a part of that. There have been lots of fantastic lockdown activities: Easter egg hunts, baking challenges and garden camping adventures, for instance. Ensuring the children have contact with their birth families and home-schooling has been quite difficult for foster carers to keep up nationally. We’ve had support from the Bucks fostering team on this. But just getting outside in the nice weather has been really important for everyone too.

What qualities has lockdown revealed to everyone within the foster carer community?

As foster carers, with the best interests of our children at heart, we’ve always been there for each other and worked closely together to move towards that aim. But the lockdown has really shown me how incredibly supportive we can be of each other, and the inspiration and encouragement you can receive from fellow carers. Simple acts like just checking in with each other to make sure that we’re all okay have been key. We have really seen how our experience network can continue to be used no matter what the current situation. When you need support, or someone to talk to and give advice, you know where to go. It’s the same with the fostering support team and our social workers. There are some great schemes in place to support new carers coming in, including the buddy scheme… we’re always encouraging new carers to make use of that.

If you’d like to chat with one of our foster carers on a one-to-one basis to hear what it’s really like to Foster with Bucks then please get in touch with us today by emailing us at FosterwithBucks@buckinghamshire.gov.uk

We also host monthly virtual information events and welcome anyone interested in learning more about the application process in a relaxed and comfortable online environment. Email us to book your place at FosterwithBucks@buckinghamshire.gov.uk

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