One family reveals how life has been transformed by fostering a child with complex SEN.
Every 20 minutes a child comes into care needing a foster family. The work that 55,000 foster families across the UK do on a daily basis ensures these children are given a loving, stable home and a better chance in life. However, thousands more foster families are needed every year to meet the growing needs of fostered children. One of the biggest challenges of recruitment is finding suitable carers for children with additional needs, but many families are realising that fostering a child with a disability can change their lives as well those of the children they foster.
Many children in care will require additional support, whether it is with social, emotional or mental health difficulties, with learning difficulties, communication and interaction needs, or with sensory and/or physical disabilities and needs. Although some fostered children may require specific skills to support complex needs, what is also needed is a dedicated, loving family. With the right match, children with special needs can thrive and the experience can be rewarding for both the child and those caring for them.
The Kilduff family (pictured) from Lancashire – mum and dad, Diana and Neil, and their two daughters, Jade (15) and Lucy (11) – had been fostering children for two and a half years but had never taken in a child with additional needs before meeting Paul*. After being stillborn and without oxygen for 24 minutes, Paul’s future was very uncertain when the Kilduffs were asked to foster him two years ago, but after discussing the prospect they realised just how much they could offer.
“We all felt the strong need to help nourish, love and protect him before we’d even met him”, says Diana. “When we visited Paul at the hospital there was an instant connection. He was truly beautiful and despite all the negative potential outcomes given to us by medical professionals, there was never any doubt in taking on the placement.”
After advice from nurses and training from a resuscitation course, the family took Paul back to his new foster home. Paul has brain damage, cerebral palsy and is registered blind but he is thriving with the Kilduffs, largely thanks to the entire family’s involvement in his care, supported by a team of other professionals.
The girls have been instrumental in Paul’s development, spending hours of their spare time helping with various therapies, stimulating him through sensory play and joining him in the pool at hydrotherapy. When Paul was registered blind, Lucy researched resources and activities that could help him and presented them to the family. Jade constantly sacrifices time with friends to help care for Paul and he can now say her name.
“I love it when he does something new for the first time. It’s the best feeling ever”, says Jade. “I help my mum a lot with his therapies and love singing to him. We have lots of little games and silly songs we do when we’re together.”
It isn’t always plain sailing and there have been some testing times for the family over the past two years. “We worry about him when he goes under sedation for hospital procedures or if he stops breathing in the night”, says Diana. “He means the world to us. There’s nothing worse than when your child or foster child’s health is at risk.
“We can have several appointments a week at various health centres and hospitals, as well as contact from our social worker and health visitor. I’ve missed collecting the girls from school or shows and concerts they’re involved in, but they never complain. ‘Paul needs you more than me today’, they say. “But there have been so many amazing times these last two years. Not knowing if or when he will be able to achieve something makes it so much more special when he does. We have been known to cry, laugh and full out party when he reaches a milestone. I have never known a more rewarding feeling.”
All three children have been rewarded formally too. Paul was given a special recognition award from the local council for outstanding personal and developmental growth and the girls received The Fostering Network’s Outstanding Contribution by Sons and Daughters award. Paul’s presence has even influenced Jade’s career direction. “I’ve always wanted to be a teacher but I’ve now decided I would like to teach at a school for children with special needs”, she says.
The next step
Paul has transformed the lives of this family to such an extent that they have now started the adoption process. Diana believes that any challenges of fostering a child with SEN are far outweighed by the positives and would urge others to consider it. “Paul has brought so much joy into our lives”, she says. “If you have discussed practicalities and think you have the right skills and experience then go for it. Make sure you reach out to local support groups; through this I have made friends who have children with similar conditions and learnt so much.
“My number one piece of advice is to never give up hope. Strive to get to that best possible outcome and don’t be disheartened by negative things you are told”. Daughter Lucy agrees and she knows that Paul can achieve more than is sometimes expected. “We all say he is our miracle or we call him Superbaby”, she says.
Positivity is at the heart of the Kilduffs’ philosophy with their foster son. “We focus on the ‘can dos’, not the ‘can’t dos’. He may be unable to stand, walk, talk or see very much but the list of what he can do is endless”, says Diana. “We never forget that he can smile, clap, laugh and even say a few words. Above all he can command a room with his cuteness and have us in stitches with his cheeky character.
“My favourite one is that he can give a real big kiss and cuddle and show that he loves us. There really isn’t anything that could touch your heart more than that.”
Not all children that come into care require such a high level of constant care, but all of them do need a loving, stable family like the Kilduffs who can support them to achieve their best. People from all backgrounds can foster, whether young, old, male, female, single or married. If you have the skills, resilience and love to look after a child, maybe you should consider fostering.
Rochelle Bisson is Media and Communications Officer at The Fostering Network:
Names have been changed.