Eve and Matt have been fostering teenagers for nearly six years and wouldn’t have it any other way. Eve, 45, was born in Birmingham, and Matt, 41, a self-employed builder, is from Portland in Dorset. They live near Wellington with Eve’s 25 year-old daughter Sophie, two dogs, Clifford and Gus, and their talkative parrot Bella.
We caught up with the couple over a cuppa to find out more…
Hello Eve and Matt, thanks for having us for tea! Let’s start off by telling us a bit about your backgrounds…
Eve: Both our backgrounds are completely different, and we feel we have been through a lot in our own personal circumstances.
I was brought up with quite a lot of domestic violence around me. I was in women’s refuges, and went to five secondary schools. I can really relate to the children, and what it’s like to have nothing, so I can deal with it and a lot of things that crop up. There’s always something new that comes to the table when it comes to fostering young people but nothing fazes us.
Matt: We can relate to most circumstances the children have found themselves in. A lot of children who have come into care, we find, haven’t got father figures. I’ve not seen my dad for 23 years, so I can talk to them about it, which helps them open up about their own situations.
Eve: We know it’s not easy when family or parental relationships break down. And building relationships up with young people affected by that can take time too. It isn’t going to happen overnight. I was a troubled 13 year-old, the youngest of four, and really rebelled, so I know what it’s like.
Matt: Whereas I had a ‘normal’ upbringing, with two parents together, but my world was turned upside down at the age of 10 when my dad went off with another woman.
(Bella the parrot then chips in with a “hello” from the corner)
Eve: The kids are fascinated by Bella! She can be a real icebreaker by chipping in with something while we are talking, and she always greets them with a hello. And our dogs, Clifford and Gus, are also a huge part of our fostering family. The kids love the animals. It means they’ve got someone they can go and get comfort from.
You will have been fostering for six years in February. Why do you choose to foster teenagers instead of younger children?
Eve: We much prefer teenagers. I think we can relate to them a bit more, they’re more of an adult, and they’re at that age where, we have found, they want to settle down and get on with things. We’ve found the younger ones can be far more hectic!
We were approved on the Tuesday and had a referral on the Wednesday, so we’ve been fostering non-stop all that time – we’ve probably had about a week off!
Matt: I think it’s because we’re not fussy and nothing fazes us.
Eve: It’s true – you’ve got to have an open mind, especially for the older ones. I know a lot of people are like, ‘I couldn’t take teenagers’ –
Matt: But we do prefer it!
What have been the length of the fostering placements you’ve had?
Matt: We have had two 13 year-old girls stay with us, one for three years and the other for three and-a-half years. Our first placement was for six months, and we’re still in touch with her. She’s now moved into supported living, and she always comes over for lunch, so we’re still a big part of her life.
Eve: I’ll always send her away with a bag of food, like any parent. Unfortunately she hasn’t got family or friends she can turn to, and so the years she spent with us were important years in her life. The older children and teenagers we foster remember being here, and take away with them real life skills, such as cooking and how to do their laundry.
Matt: Sometimes, at the time, you think you are not getting anywhere, but they do take things away with them.
What led you to become foster carers?
Matt: We talked about it when we first got together. We haven’t got any children together, and so we put all our efforts into fostering.
Eve: I was a nanny for years when my daughter Sophie was younger, and I really enjoy looking after children. I’ve also worked in care and as an estate agent.
I foster full time, and Matt is now self-employed, which means he’s always on hand if there’s any difficulty. Having Sophie at home is great too, as it means there are probably always two or three adults around most of the time. And sometimes we have needed it, and we can all support each other. Sophie is really good with the kids too; she’s like a big sister to them.
Matt: I’ve been a builder since I was 17, and I decided to go self-employed last year, which has made it easier as it means I can be based here rather than Bristol. I can now attend the Personal Education Plan (PEP) and review meetings for the kids, which is great; I really enjoy it.
Imagine I’m on my way to becoming a foster carer, what are your top tips to help me prepare?
Matt: Expect the unexpected!
Eve: And don’t change, be yourself! Make sure you have enough people around you to support you, because your support network is really important. And enjoy it!
Matt: I would also say, don’t come into it thinking you are going to change your children overnight. Don’t expect too much of them.
Eve: And don’t judge them. But do expect to attend lots of meetings, especially at the beginning of a placement.
Matt: Expect a complete change to your life, and the dynamic of your life in terms of how you operate and plan, because with foster children it’s completely different.
Eve: But I do think that depends on individual circumstances – we haven’t got any younger children, so we are able to put 110 per cent into it. Whereas I know there are foster carers with children of similar ages and I take my hat off to them.
Matt: Fostering is a life commitment; a 24 hour, seven days a week, commitment.
Eve: Expect to be getting calls in the middle of the night!
Matt: But we would say, take things in your stride, don’t panic. We were thrown in at the deep end and that put us in the right step straight away. Nothing has fazed us after that.
Eve: Always focus on the positives, not the negatives. We have really learned this over the last year, and it’s a small statement, but it actually means a lot. Focus on the positives and praise the young people for the smallest thing – tell them they have done really well.
Matt: It could be the smallest thing, but the more you do it – even if they look at you like you’re being patronising – and if you keep it up, hopefully it will help them start developing more of a positive outlook rather than always focusing on the negatives.
Eve: I always tell them to have a safe, calm, positive and successful day, because then that helps start the day on a good footing.
Matt: And be consistent with your boundaries. We’ve learned that as you go along, you can start introducing new things. And every child is different. What might work for one teenager won’t necessarily work for another and vice versa.
What makes fostering so worthwhile for you?
Eve: We get to see young people progress and achieve in school, and change for the better. Building trust with them is really rewarding, and we’re also really encouraging of contact with their families where it’s possible, because it is really important.
Matt: I also think it’s really good for them to see how everyone under our roof gets along. It helps them realise that it is possible.
Eve: It’s nice to see that we have made a difference. Getting positive feedback from social workers, when they thank us for doing a fantastic job, and from the child’s family tells us they’re grateful for the work we’re doing with the children, really means a lot.
Matt: Those sorts of things really matter, and you think, ‘yes, we’re doing something right’.
Eve: But it doesn’t always turn out right whatever reason. It may be that it’s not the right placement for the child at that time in their life. It can be difficult, but that’s the way it is.
Matt: You can’t get despondent about it and you can’t let it get to you. It’s about moving on and starting a new chapter.
Any final words for people who are thinking about whether or not they should foster?
Matt: We do absolutely love it. Fostering is our life and it’s all we ever talk about!
Eve: We know there are people out there, and we were exactly the same. I would say to them, just do it. Make an enquiry, or get along to one of the information evenings, or just pick up the phone and speak to the team.
We only wish we had done this sooner!
Click here to enquire about Fostering with Somerset, or phone the team on 0800 587 9900.