Pam and Bryan have been married for over 60 years. 14 years ago, having fostered young children for decades, they took the plunge to become Stepping Stones carers.
Stepping Stones is a scheme for 16 to 21 year-olds living in care, aimed specifically at helping them make the step into independent adulthood. Stepping Stones carers give these young people support and impart crucial life skills and experience to help them make this transition.
Pam and Bryan invited us into their home to give us an insight into why they care for these young adults…
Q. What led you to become Foster Carers?
Bryan: In those days people used to get married to have children. That had been the plan for us too. But when Pam had to have a hysterectomy, we couldn’t have our own, and we ended up adopting two children. Soon after that, we decided we wanted to become Foster Carers.
Pam: We started off as Parent and Child Foster Carers, helping young mums with their babies, then took a break to pursue other causes – I worked with people with learning disabilities for many years. We then came back to fostering to do Stepping Stones for the older children.
Q. How much preparation did you get to help you make the transition from younger to older children and young people?
Pam: Lots of courses, and, actually, I still go on a lot of courses, most recently on attachment. It is helpful to have a refresher and it’s quite nice to meet the other foster carers.
Q. Tell us about your first Stepping Stones placement…
Pam: We had two girls, Freya* and Jemma*. I was so surprised at how quickly they adapted; I admired how they, and the other girls who have been placed with us, settled themselves in.
Bryan: What really struck me about Jemma, and actually what you can often see with the young people who come to you, is young people who are so grown up in some ways. It could be in how they dress, or the things they’ve had to deal with. But then you’ll come across other situations where you see they really are just children, and who may be not as developed as their peers in other ways.
Q. What is the most rewarding thing about being a Stepping Stones carer?
Pam: It’s the big things; giving them life skills – cooking and washing for themselves, learning how to manage their money. The girl we have currently in placement is now doing her own budgeting and cooking. We had a meeting with social services the other day, and they are really pleased with her progress.
Bryan: That’s exactly what it’s all about.
Pam: But as well as the life skills, it can also be about helping them rebuild key relationships. To give you an example, we helped one boy get back in touch with, and meet up with, his mother, which was really nice.
Q. What is one of your proudest moments?
Bryan: Aaron* was a real success story. I helped him get an apprenticeship in construction. When he first arrived he would just lie in bed all day. He arrived as a 14 year old child and left as an 18 year old having really made that transition into the real world. When he started gaining experience in construction it meant he was working alongside adults, and his attitude changed. He really became a young adult, in the true sense of the word.
Q. What advice would you give to someone considering becoming a Stepping Stones carer?
Pam: A sense of humour goes a long way! You need to be able to accept a young person’s language or habits; you have to be relaxed, and appreciate just how hard it must be to find oneself moved in with strangers, sometimes without much notice. And I would also say you need to be prepared to really share your home with young people.
Bryan: It’s fantastic to see them change. Some of the young people who arrive can look like frightened lambs when they first walk in through the door. But then you see them develop, see them grow and leave, and then come back to see us with their boyfriends or girlfriends, three years after they’ve left. To us, that makes it very worthwhile.
Pam: Just give it a go. You have always got the social work team behind you, and someone you can call. There’s always the Emergency Duty Team on hand if you need urgent support. And it may sound like an obvious thing to say, but it is really, really rewarding, and when they come back to see you as well, afterwards.
*Names have been changed to protect the young people’s identities