Rachel, 21, steps up to coronavirus fostering challenge

Faced with the uncertainties of lockdown during a pandemic, there are not too many 21-year-olds who would think about taking on two young foster children.

But Rachel is different from most young people and has spent the past two months being an emergency foster carer to a two-year-old boy and his year-old sister.

And the experience – with all its challenges in unprecedented times – has been hugely positive for Rachel and her family.

She is Somerset County Council’s youngest foster carer – and is following in family footsteps as her parents started fostering aged 22 and were thought to be the youngest in the country at the time.

Rachel, from the Mendip area, had just graduated with a degree in social work when coronavirus emerged. She had planned to foster children at some point in her life as she was brought up by parents who fostered throughout her childhood.

But the pandemic brought her plans forward when she heard that emergency, short-term foster carers were needed.

“I grew up in a fostering family, so I have been aware all my life,” Rachel said. “Our house was always busy, full of life and I knew I wanted to foster. It came as a bit of a shock going from being a student to a foster carer for two young children.

“But it’s been so rewarding, watching them grow and develop in a safe environment. There has been some tricky behaviour at times, but they are the sweetest children.”

Rachel still lives in the family home with her parents and younger brother so has plenty of support – and helping hands – and it means she can also have some moments to herself to keep in touch with friends.

The process of being approved as a short-term foster carer was streamlined during the health crisis to make sure children could still get the placements they needed.

“It was very intense, but our social worker was so enthusiastic and kind,” said Rachel. “There was a lot that needed to be done in a short time. But I was so impressed by the support and professionalism of everyone involved.”

Most of the process happened virtually but there was a face-to-face home visit as part of her assessment. She was put in touch with a “buddy” – an experienced foster carer who lives nearby and is part of a support group.

Lockdown restrictions meant that many child-friendly activities – trips to playgrounds and parks – had to be put on hold. But Rachel built a mini assault course in the garden for the two-year-old to enjoy and the siblings love going out for walks.

Ever-resourceful, Rachel ordered in paints and craft materials to make sure there were things to do when the weather turned – and that’s been a huge success.

She is determined to carry on with fostering and is going through the process of being approved as a permanent foster carer.

“I would definitely encourage others to come forward. Growing up in a family that fostered has been such a positive part of my life and has really made me who I am today. It influenced my degree and career choice and has really broadened my knowledge.”

Councillor Frances Nicholson, Lead member for Children’s Services, said: “I must thank Rachel and all our other foster carers who do so much for some of our most vulnerable children. We are always keen to recruit foster carers, and it’s particularly important during these difficult times. Coronavirus has presented so many challenges, especially for the young.

“Children need a safe and secure home – now more than ever. We welcome people of all ages and backgrounds as foster carers as long as they meet the criteria.”

Foster carers need a spare room in their home and must be at least 21 years old, with no upper age limit and, most of all, they need to want to make a difference for children.   They receive a weekly fee and an allowance for the children’s needs.

Fostering in Somerset would love to hear from anyone interested in fostering as a short-term foster carer or on a more long-term basis. To find out more visit http://www.fosteringinsomerset.org.uk or call 0800 587 9900 and speak to our friendly team, follow us on Facebook @fosteringinsomerset or Twitter @fostersomerset