Kirklees dad bucks trend and calls for more foster carers for older children
A local dad, who has described his first year as a foster carer as “great fun”, is backing our calls for more people, men included, to take up the role and consider fostering older children.
Why did Phil’s become a fosterer?
Last year Phil Weston swapped his job of 15 years in a debt recovery unit for full time fostering, having been told for years by friends and family that he was a natural with children; a decision he says he wishes he’d made sooner. But he was held back by fears he would be turned down on the basis that most main caregivers are women. However, these fears were quickly allayed following an initial phone call to our fostering team.
Providing support and guidance to older children
Since being approved, the 49-year old has taken the role in his stride, providing much needed support and guidance to several older children. We have now released an online video in which Phil opens up about the positive effect fostering has had on him, his wife, Becky, and 11-year old son, Isaac, as well as the children he’s cared for.
“When I first enquired about becoming a foster carer I genuinely thought I wouldn’t qualify because I’m a man. I guess I had my own misconceptions but far from being an issue, I was actually encouraged to apply by the fostering team at Kirklees.
With my wife working full time as an advanced nurse practitioner and me facing redundancy at work it made more sense for me to be the main caregiver. I was definitely in the minority when I went on all the training courses but nobody made me feel uncomfortable or out of place. In fact the response I’ve had as a male foster carer has been really positive. I’ve had the odd curious glance from strangers when I’ve been with a child who doesn’t look like me but I can’t say it’s been an issue.
So far I’ve looked after two boys; one aged 13 and another aged 11. I suppose you could argue that being a male foster carer makes me more relatable to older boys but ultimately it’s having a stable and loving environment that will make the biggest difference to a child.”
How many older children are currently in the Kirklees care system?
Locally and nationally there is a chronic shortage of foster carers, particularly for children over the age of seven, who currently make up around 75% of the 469 children who are currently in the Kirklees care system. The result is that some are moved around various foster homes and schools, often out of their local area and away from everything they know.
“On paper the children I’ve looked after could be perceived as challenging. Yet, in reality it hasn’t been anywhere near as hard as I thought it would be. Fostering is something that has felt very natural to me and at times we’ve had a really good laugh with these children.”
Having been dubbed by his peers as the “Pied Piper” of children, Phil attributes much of his success as a foster carer to being young at heart, saying: “It’s fair to say fostering has brought out my inner child but it’s also finding the balance between being that friend they need and someone who sets out clear boundaries.
“As a foster carer you find your own style of parenting which may or may not work for a child. I’m relatively new to it all but for me, what’s worked so far is getting on the same level as a child. I’ve seen gradual but definite progress in the children I’ve looked after. Where manners and basic hygiene might have been lacking, handwashing, pleases and thankyous have soon become a given. I’ve seen instances where a child has struggled to make friends at school because of trust issues and home routines have been non-existent. But with time and encouragement, friendships have been established and homework readily done without having to ask.
“And all this as a result of a child having someone in their life who believes in them and a home where there’s love, laughter, but equally, routine and boundaries. I truly believe it’s also about taking small steps and setting achievable goals, with the aim of encouraging a child to do well. At home, Becky and I work on the basis that reward, rather than punishment, helps to motivate a child. From this we’ve seen them making the effort to become the best people they possibly can be.”
Encouraging others to consider fostering
Phil is now encouraging others to consider fostering and to not to put off taking the plunge as he did, adding:
“I’d always planned on retiring from my job at 55 and then becoming a foster carer but circumstances brought me here a bit sooner. It’s been such a natural fit for me and exceeded all my expectations, that now I often ask myself why I never did it sooner.
Foster caring is about so much more than looking after children. There’s so much scope to develop, whether it’s doing training courses to top up your skills, training other foster carers or sitting in on approval panels; no matter how long you’ve been doing it, fostering is a continual learning curve.
If I could say one thing to anyone thinking of fostering it’s to please look into it. You might think there are barriers but you might find, like me, that making that initial call will set you on a path that will transform your life, as well as those of the many vulnerable children who need your help.”
Andy Quinlan, acting fostering service manager from Kirklees Council, added:
“Fostering is all about the level of care, love and attention that an individual can provide to a child, rather than being about age, gender or sexual orientation. But because fostering is traditionally perceived as a female profession many men are deterred from taking on the role as the main caregiver. Yet male foster carers like Phil can play a vital role in the lives of many children in care, particularly for a child who has never had a positive male role model in their life.
It’s a difficult truth that older children tend to have more issues than younger ones as they’ve missed out on those essential building blocks for longer. They may have suffered more years of neglect than a younger child and might have missed out on the love and attention that all children need to make them well rounded and whole. Often they come into care feeling very alone and they might find it hard to make friends, especially if they’ve been moved around various foster homes. But it’s never too late to start laying those foundations and the rewards in helping to turn a child’s life around are huge.”
How can you become a fosterer?
You can talk to experienced foster carers at one of our drop-in information event at the John Smith’s Stadium (Stadium Way, Huddersfield, HD1 6PG) on Thursday 11 July 2019 between 5:30 and 7:30pm.
Alternatively you can talk to Kirklees Council’s fostering team on 0800 389 0086 or visit our website.