Fostering A Child With A Disability
I wonder if you are a ‘glass half-empty’ type of person or the ‘glass half-full’ sort? Fostering a child with disabilities or additional needs can be a challenge. If you are the ‘half-empty’ kind of person then you will certainly see these challenges as a problem. But we have learnt that they really don’t have to be!!
Since becoming foster carers we have seen all sorts of dilemmas arise – ranging from issues with wheelchairs, changing facilities in public places, to our child being given money from complete strangers in shops!!
One example of a challenge we have personally faced is bike rides! Our birth children love to go out on bike rides. It is certainly something I did growing up, and was keen to see my kids finally come off stabilisers and ride on two wheels. Things are a bit different if you are in a wheelchair.
It is not nearly as much fun following your two big sisters on their bikes while you are being pushed along in your wheelchair. We had a choice – do we take our girls out on their own, leaving Alice to miss out or do we find a solution? Of course we wanted her to enjoy the same things as our birth children – as far as possible. We knew we didn’t have room for a special needs trike as they are about the size of a small car!! After lots of research and chatting with other families, we found that we could adapt the wheelchair and get a hand-bike. So we applied for a grant from a Disability Charity – and now all three girls have the opportunity to ride together!
When you have a child with disabilities or additional needs then there are a variety of charities and organisations available that offer help and support. However, these do need to be navigated and carefully considered. For example, we have links with the following groups for our child – the local group for Parents of Disabled Children, Shine Charity (for her main diagnosis), Cerebra, Back-Up, Breakaway Foundation, Whizz Kidz etc. And then there’s your own Fostering Agency and all that they have to offer… It can all feel a bit overwhelming. We decided to join a number of organisations and use them as and when we needed them – after all most of them are there to support you – and not the other way round!
It is important to remember that having a disabled child also has so many up sides! We have had the privilege to join a community of very special children and their families, sharing stories and encouraging each other. Having access to a local support network has helped us in many ways – giving us advice and an ear to listen to when we have needed it. During the summer we were involved in a number of activities that the group ran – sailing, climbing and abseiling, a trip to local science museum – giving the whole family a chance to experience new things!
You may be wondering about how to juggle mainstream and disability activities. Well that is obviously your choice – and will very much depend on your family situation! Balance is crucial here – we found that too many ‘disability’ activities and our birth children run the risk of feeling left out. Too many mainstream activities and our foster daughter was not able to participate, and she felt left on the sidelines. In reality we try to do a mixture of both, and we don’t always get this right. We are still learning. Fortunately our kids are very forgiving!
There are also local support groups for siblings of disabled children. In our area its called ‘Young Carers’. They get the opportunity to go to a fortnightly club, holiday club, day trips and residential breaks. This has given our birth children an opportunity to do something separately with other children in similar situations to them.
Fostering a child with a disability and additional needs has taught us to look at the glass in a different way. Maybe the glass is not half empty, or half filled, like a problem to be solved. Instead, we have learnt to see the glass as waiting to be filled! By being solution centered and not problem focused, we have learnt it is possible to achieve so much more for our foster child, and therefore our whole family.
The Anonymous Foster Carer
If you feel you could consider becoming a foster carer for a disabled child, please complete our Fostering Eligibility Quiz.