A Brightlingsea couple have spoken of their life-changing decision to foster a troubled five-year old boy.
Steve and Janice Newe began caring for the boy in 2015 and he's still with them. Speaking as Essex County Council appeals for more foster carers and revamps its training programme for people working with trauma-affected children in care, Steve said: "You initially want to rush in with love and cuddles, thinking that will make them feel better, but that didn’t work. The trauma informed therapy and support from the team helped us see the world through his eyes."
The couple decided to foster when Steve took early retirement and the last of their four children had gone to university and the boy was their first placement. “He was a very troubled little boy when he arrived," said Steve. "At the age of five he was utterly confused, scared and the consequence of that was him having emotional outbursts, and he could be threatening to us. It was heart breaking to see and challenging to cope with. We question whether we’d have been able to continue without the support and training provided by Essex County Council."
He added: "What really brought it home was when he said to us that if his own mother got rid of him then he wouldn’t expect anyone else to keep him in their home, no matter how much they loved him. It was actions and not just words that he needed."
Writing on his blog, Steve said: "In his short life our foster child had lost his home, his parents and his sibling, whilst also engaging with several different professionals. We learnt that he was probably terrified of losing yet another person, so he was pushing us away before he thought we were going to push him away. It wasn’t just love and cuddles that he needed. It was in fact, time, stability and to feel safe.
"What really brought that home was when he said to us, at the age of five, that if his own mother got rid of him then he wouldn’t expect anyone else to keep him in their home, no matter how much they loved him. It was actions and not just words that he needed."
The council's training aims to secure the best outcomes for children in care by integrating a new trauma informed therapeutic training programme across the whole service. The training – available to anyone who may come into contact with a child in care – should give them a ‘trauma lens’ to better understand their experiences and how to support them. It's been developed after overwhelming evidence showing that the outcomes for children who have suffered trauma are much better if they live with families and are parented in a trauma informed way.
Whilst fostering can be transformational for children who have experienced a traumatic upbringing it can be just as life changing for the foster carers themselves. The couple's daughter – who taught their foster son how to hold a pencil, draw, read and write – was doing a doctorate in biomedical research at university but has since taken up a career as a teacher.
"He is now such a confident little reader who is reading to his class and can follow construction plans to build sophisticated Lego models. He has gone from being a sad and anxious child with the lowest self-esteem to a generally happy, inquisitive and cheeky young lad," said Steve.
Under the council's programme, foster carers will have access to a team of professionals, including mental health coordinators and principal clinical and counselling psychologists. Foster carers also get a dedicated social worker and access to support networks including peer to peer, 24-hour support line, respite, and bespoke training.
Essex County Council’s consultant clinical psychologist, Barbara Canepa said: "Our aim is to recruit people who want to work therapeutically with children. Our goal is to help give children in care the best possible environment in which to feel safe and secure, and to go on to thrive."
Foster carers can be single, married, from a same-sex family or retired. It can be undertaken on a part-time basis alongside a full-time job or offered as a full-time role, both always with the full support of Essex County Council.
Louise McKinlay, the council's cabinet member for children and families at Essex County Council, said: "All children deserve to feel safe, secure and be nurtured. Our foster carers help build better, brighter futures for hundreds of children across Essex every year. We need more foster carers, like Steve and Janice, to foster on a full and part-time basis."