Shirley Antill is a foster carer and childminder who lives with her husband Kevin in Warton, North Warwickshire. She currently fosters two infants – a 10 month old boy and a 2 year boy of mixed heritage.
Shirley started fostering in January 2010 when her daughter moved out of home, and has looked after 11 youngsters in this time from periods ranging from a couple of weeks to one placement of two years.
Prior to this, the idea of fostering had always been at the back of her mind as her brother-in-law, also a carer, recommended it to her.
Most of the youngsters she has cared for have been under four and a number of her placements have involved a high degree of contact with the birth parents, in some cases on a daily basis, which isn’t typical for all fostering arrangements.
Whilst Shirley isn’t on the parent and child scheme which places parents (particularly young mothers who are unable to meet their child’s basic needs) with the child in a foster family, some of her experiences are similar as she often has a high degree of contact with birth families.
Shirley said: “Fostering is a very rewarding experience. Children coming into care have lots of upheaval in their lives and it feels good to offer them some stability. Seeing them happy and settled and watching them blossom is wonderful and having recognition for doing this job means so much.
“My role is like a temporary caretaker who giving families a chance to get their lives back on track. At the end of each placement seeing a child go back to their family or move to a more stable situation makes me so happy to feel that I have contributed to that.
“Sometimes placements can be challenging and sometimes you have doubts that you are doing the right thing. For example we looked after a small boy shortly before he was adopted and were involved with the child’s mother. Adoption was a new outcome for us as all the other children we’ve cared for returned to their own families. It was heartbreaking to see his mum say goodbye to him and I worried about whether this was the right thing.
“I have learned that these situations are very complex and we are just a part of it. It’s hard not to get emotionally involved but I just have to have faith in the system and trust that what happens at the end of the process is the right choice and that the professionals who make these tough decisions always do the best for the child.
“My husband and I have found fostering very fulfilling with very special rewards but I would advise anyone thinking about it to consider it carefully and do lots of research. I think the ideal carer needs lots of patience, a sense of humour, the ability to switch off and a calm and steady nature. It is a big responsibility and the end of the day we are all human so knowing support from Warwickshire County Council’s Fostering Service is never far away is very reassuring.
“Carers may feel they are thrown in at the deep end sometimes, especially with their first placements, but they are not doing it alone. The council offer lots of help and opportunities for carers to ask for advice and link up to share experiences, this is invaluable.”