Foster Carers Zoe and Ian Tofield live in Glastonbury. Ian, 52, is an IT business analyst and Zoe, 53, works part-time in Birmingham. They are approved for four fostering placements for children aged 8-plus, and foster a 15 year-old.
About Zoe and Ian…
Zoe: “My childhood could be described as ‘hands-off’. I lived with my dad who was never around, whereas Ian had a very good upbringing.
“I’ve always wanted to foster but the timing was never right. My kids are all grown up now, but 3 grown up children, 2 step children and 7 grandchildren later I’m fostering! And Ian didn’t take much persuading.”
Ian: “I was a scout leader for many years, showing kids a different way of life. For me, the pull to foster was the idea of helping out kids who were in a bit of a hole.”
Step 1: Initial enquiry
Zoe: “I phoned up Somerset County Council to speak to the Fostering Recruitment Service and also visited www.fosteradoptsomerset.org.uk”
Ian: “After that, things seemed to move fairly quickly.”
Step 2: Tell us you’re interested – and the Initial Home Visit
Zoe: “I had a really rubbish upbringing, so for me, applying to foster was about showing children there is another way of doing things. I wanted to show them they don’t have to follow the only path they can see in front of them, they can make their own way. You have to make your own luck and grab opportunities, and it’s trying to get them to see that.”
Ian: “As for the Initial Home Visit, which is where a social worker comes to your home to give you and your home an initial assessment, it was fine. When it came to flagging up any changes needed, they were obvious, like making sure to have safety locks on windows and thermometers in the fridge: inexpensive things.”
Step 3: Training
Zoe: “We attended Skills to Foster training in 2015. I found some of it was interesting, especially when they talked about how certain building blocks in the development of a child looked after could be missing, due to neglect, for example, and I could relate. Now when you have a kid come into placement, you’re like, ‘Now I get it.”
Step 4: Assessment
Zoe: We were so lucky when we got to this stage, as we ended up being assessed by Helen, one of the social workers at the Skills To Foster training. She was absolutely brilliant.
“It’s at this stage that you have to complete the ‘dreaded’ Form F [the assessment document completed by all prospective Foster Carers which details their life experiences, background and relationships.]. It’s birth to the present day and everything. I found writing the Form F quite cathartic, because I could look at it from an adult’s point of view, rather than as an angry teenager. For me, I think it helped unjumble quite a lot of what had gone on.”
Ian: “I found the process quite intrusive, because it requires social workers to speak to previous partners. I also had to talk about my mum, who had died when she was only 56. You’ve got to put it down, warts and all. In some respects it’s quite nice because you get that honesty. It’s hard work and it takes 6 months. People need to be aware of that, and all the paperwork that needs to be filled in.”
Step 5: The Panel
Zoe: “I have never been so terrified! I was bracing myself for lots of awkward questions about my past life, but it was fine. What threw me the most were the questions about health and safety.”
Ian: “For me, after the Form F step, Panel was easy.”
Step 6: Placement
Zoe: “We were always clear we wanted to care for teenagers. You have more chance of reasoning with a teenager than you do with a toddler or a baby. We’ve had our current placement for the last three months, as well as a refugee lad who came to us for respite care, and two local lads.”
Ian: “Before our first placement, there were a couple of times we were lined up for placements and they didn’t end up happening. In the end we were like, ‘It will happen when it will happen’. Then the 15 year-old is in the house, saying, ‘what the bloody hell am I doing here’, and I’m inside, going, ‘what the bloody hell am I doing here’. Then you snap into action – it’s about putting her at ease, and trying desperately to make her feel at home. It was the one time I’d cooked a curry, and it was hot for me, and I thought, ‘oh no, we’ve got a newbie here!’”
Zoe: “But she must’ve been starving because she ate a bowlful. Every time we do a curry now she’s all, ‘this isn’t very hot is it?’!”
Ian: “We’re all still laughing about it. The point is, we were all nervous, but the important thing at that early stage was to include the child.”
Zoe: “I think those nerves lasted 24 hours, then after that we met more of Glastonbury than we have the whole time we’ve lived here!”
Ian: It’s also appreciating that the children you look after may not have experienced those same things that you can take for granted. Like going out for a meal or camping – our current placement had never done either of those things.”
Zoe: Recently we were all talking about the importance of expanding your comfort zone, and she said, ‘My comfort zone’s pretty full now’”
Step 7: Support
Zoe: “Our social worker is brilliant. I think social services do an amazing job for the resources they’ve got. You can see all the work that goes in. As for the training, I’ve done loads of different courses. I especially liked the life story work; it’s like a road map.”
Click here to start your Fostering journey with Somerset, or phone 0800 587 9900 to make an enquiry today.