Contact can be an emotional time for children and their relatives but how do foster carers deal with this and how can contact centres help them?
We spoke to one of the foster carers who has been coming to our Jigsaw Contact Centre for nearly three years. She explains how she finds it and tells us what advice she has for other foster carers around contact.
How Jenny got into Foster Caring
You can hear the love in Jenny’s voice. She’s 58 and loves her job as a foster carer. Jenny met her husband in their mid-thirties over their shared love of motorbiking. They couldn’t have children but didn’t mind because at the time they were both focusing on their careers and work. But then something changed
One day Jenny was coming home from work as a hairdresser. She saw an advert asking for foster carers. “It was a really one of those off the cuff moments,” she told us. “I didn’t think I would hear from them.”
That was 14 years ago and since then they have looked after six different children, all needing stability and love. Sometimes these children have contact with their family or parents. Over the years, Jenny has been to three contact centres but we were delighted to hear none of them compared to Jigsaw at St Michael’s.
What is Jigsaw Like?
“Honestly [the Jigsaw team] have been brilliant, they make you all feel so welcome. At Christmas, they gave the children gifts. It’s the personal touches that make the difference, everyone is so friendly.
“You can tell it’s more than a job to them, you can feel the warmth and so can the kids. At other centres, you go in and they’re like 'Yeah, sign-in' and that’s it. At St Michael's it seems like a small family.”
How does contact affect the children?
Contact is not always as easy for foster carers. It’s an emotional time for the children and also their birth families who may feel anger and resentment towards foster carers.
“Often after contact, the children go back to their more chaotic states. We have had issues with the families not behaving appropriately. This can affect the children. There’s not much you can do about this just be aware. We try and take them out for a meal afterwards and I spend time trying to show them lots of patience,” Jenny told us.
“When the latest children first came to us they didn’t have the language they needed to express their emotions so they showed it through acting up. They are getting better now. They can talk about their emotions.”
“St Michael’s are brilliant at relaying things back to me quickly, so I know what happened in the room and can prepare myself.”
Advice for Foster Carers
Does Jenny have any advice for foster carers around contact sessions for children?
Understand the child’s family situation
“Make sure you know the full details about a child before you accept a placement. Do your risk assessments. You don’t want to say ‘Yeah I will take a placement' then realise they need to go to a weekly contact in North London. Ask lots of questions.”
“One of the first children we fostered had contact with their family in their old family home. It caused us quite a lot of problems.”
Think about your safety and the children’s
“Protect yourself by using a good contact centre. Make sure you going somewhere you feel safe. I have always felt safe at St Michael’s, they would always get us out of the building and keep us separate from the children’s relatives.”
“We have only really had one big problem and the staff at Jigsaw dealt with it so quickly, I have no complaints.”
“Enjoy it. Try not to take everything personally. These families have been through a lot, they are hurting and there is a lot of guilt too, and some people don’t have the emotional resources to handle things better. You just need to be there for the children,” Jenny said.
The children that Jenny and her partner foster have so many opportunities. They take them on holidays and let them get involved in lots of different after school activities.
“We want to make sure these kids just enjoy life as much as possible. I love fostering and the difference we make. I will be doing it till my dying day or until I am too knackered,” laughs Jenny. She doesn’t sound like someone who will tire easily.
Here is information about our Jigsaw Contact Centre