Lancaster foster carers say they've 'never looked back' as campaign is launched to find more mum and baby support
As part of a special campaign by Lancashire County Council to encourage more people to become foster parents, GAYLE ROUNCIVELL spoke to a Lancaster couple who have been fostering for 10 years - four of those as specialist parent and child carers.
For many new mums, suddenly adapting to caring for a newborn can be a shock to the system.
But for some mums who already have personal struggles of their own, a bit of extra help can be vital in helping them back on their feet at a crucial time in both their life and that of their baby.
That's why Lancashire County Council s fostering service offers a parent and child care element - helping a parent and child to stay together, living in the foster carer's home.
The unique situation gives vulnerable new parents the opportunity to learn important life skills while gaining support from positive role models.
The reality is that the parents often do not have the support of family and friends around them.
The children and their parents might need to live with a foster carer for a short time for various reasons including domestic abuse, drug and alcohol addiction, learning difficulties, challenges with their mental health and neglect.
Sadly, the need for such specialist care is ever-growing, as is the council's need for willing foster carers.
Monday June 28 sees the start of a week-long campaign by Lancashire County Council in a bid to highlight the growing need for more foster carers - particularly parent and child care.
Lancaster couple Coral and Richard Varley have been foster parents for the last 10 years, and specialist parent and child carers for the last four years.
During those four years, they have looked after four families, with the parents ranging in age from 19 to 40, while the babies have ranged from a few days to three months old.
"We were asked if we would consider it and we thought we would give it a try and we are enjoying it," said Coral, 61.
"We were very apprehensive at the beginning to have another adult in the home but it's not as intrusive as we thought it would be.
"It takes a while for them to trust you but they know we are always there if they need us. We understand how scared they must be feeling.
"It's not all plain sailing and you will have days where you get frustrated. It's a learning curve for all of you and sometimes you have to work at it, but we have never looked back."
The foster carers will help the mum with getting used to having a baby, settling into a routine and looking after their child.
They can also help with issues such as finance, budgeting and cooking.
"They see a different type of parenting from what they have maybe experienced in the past," Coral said.
"We just try to be positive role models. They watch and learn from us and we encourage them to do it with us, and they then can model themselves on what we are doing and become more confident.
"Sometimes they can be very young or new mums, or mums who have previous children in care, and it all helps them to get ready for going home with their baby.
"The idea is to give mums a chance, instead of just removing the child from them. Everybody makes mistakes and everybody can change and it's giving them that chance to have a go at trying to keep their children.
"I think every mum deserves a chance to prove she's changed.
"Each parent that comes through the door is different, you have got to be non-judgemental and deal with the situation that comes in and give them as much support as you can.
"They have to want to do it of course - sometimes they are not sure, but most of them are very grateful to be given that chance.
"I am sure it's scary for them and we are always a bit apprehensive too but we make a point of not judging them.
"We also have two children looked after living permanently with us, and two of our own grown-up children, so it's a busy home and they get thrown in at the deep end and they don't feel like they are being watched.
"After a few days they realise we are there to help them and they can come and ask. We let them get on with their parenting when they can but we will step in if needed."
One of the biggest perks of the job is seeing how much the mothers grow in themselves during their stay with the family.
"You see them grow in confidence and see the bond grow between the mum and baby," Coral said.
"It's building their self-esteem. We see a young mum come with no confidence and no clue to then be able to deal with her baby on her own.
"It's lovely to see their confidence grow."
Coral and Richard are always keen to continue their relationship with the mum and baby after they have left their home.
"A lot of them don't have much support when they leave, and we can still help out and they know they can trust us, they can just pick up the phone and ask us for help," Coral said.
"We try to build a good bond so that we are not saying goodbye forever and we get to see the children growing up.
"They become part of the family and we get extended grandchildren. Our last mum has asked us to be godparents which is lovely."
"Seeing them move on to their own place is good to see, added Richard, 58. "It's nice to see them grow and become a good parent."
*There is an increasing need for parent and child placements in Lancashire, and we need more foster carers to come forward to do this
*This is a growing type of foster care, and the demand is expected to increase further as the new Family Safeguarding approach is embedded
*This type of fostering helps the parent and child to stay together, living in the foster carer's home
*The parent may have had negative life experiences without positive parenting role models
*Strong relationships are able to be developed, at a crucial time in the life of the parent, and the child
*The parent and baby could be with the family for a period of time ranging from a few months, to a year with the aim of supporting the parent to return to their extended family or to living independently
*The parent could join the foster carer before the baby is born, just after the birth, as a new parent, or as a parent of an older child
*The parent will be supported and offered guidance to develop their parenting skills, in a natural, warm and caring family environment
*The foster carer will make sure that the baby is cared for and safe, whilst giving the parent support and guidance to provide the majority of the caring themselves
*The foster carer will support the parent with the practicalities of parenting, including establishing a routine, learning how to respond to the baby, budget their finances, and cook a meal
*Parent and child placements aren't just for 'mother and baby'. They can also involve supporting a mother and siblings, a father and child, or mother, father and child
*The foster carer has the opportunity to become a positive role model for the parent
*The foster carer needs to offer a safe, stable and loving home, and have the time, and patience. The foster carer needs to be non-judgemental, and want to work together.
More information is available online here.