5 minutes with Jo Ann Cummins
PUBLISHED: 12:55 03 May 2016 | UPDATED: 13:08 03 May 2016
The Offley mum and first-time foster carer reveals the rewards and challenges of taking in a child in need of a loving home
Why did you become a foster carer?
It’s something I’ve been interested in since my own four children were young, but having looked into it we decided to wait until they were old enough to understand what the process involves – there are lots of rules and regulations to consider. My youngest had just gone to university and we were assigned our first foster child – a newborn baby girl – a few months before she left last year. I’ve never looked back.
What was the application process like?
It takes around 14 weeks – ours was a bit longer – and there are various stages. Everyone needs to be police checked. If you have pets, they’ll need to be assessed (homes with big dogs might be able to foster only older children, for instance), and you have home visits and health and safety checks too. It ends with a panel – basically an interview carried out by a selection of professionals including teachers, other foster carers and social services workers – who decide if you’re ready to be a foster carer.
What were your emotions when you were assigned a child?
Well, I certainly wasn’t expecting a baby! They are quite rare in the fostering system. It was a bit of a shock but now she’s here she’s taken over our lives and is just a part of the family. We’ve done everything, including the night feeds! And we love taking her out to do things like swimming. It’s what I loved about bringing up my own children – spending time with them, doing activities and taking them to gymnastics classes etc. And now I get to do it all again. Our other children just adore her and love visiting us but it’s taught them they’re not ready for babies of their own yet!
What surprised you most about fostering?
There’s a lot that goes with it. It’s not just looking after a child. There’s hospital appointments, meetings and every day I take her to a contact centre so she can spend time with her parents. With younger children, there are lots of reviews to make sure the child doesn’t get lost in the care system. But there’s nothing that has put me off. I’ve found it really enjoyable.
What advice would you give prospective foster carers?
Above all not to take things personally. The checks and assessments can seem quite intrusive but it’s not about you – you’re going to be caring for someone’s children, so things have to be right. There’s good support too. Every week I go to Foster Bugs group where I can chat to other carers and ask questions and I’ve also been given training like first aid. Of course it’s not easy but it gets better once you get into a routine. Once a child starts to trust you and is settled, it’s incredibly rewarding. If you love spending time with children and being involved in their lives, then it’s honestly a very fulfilling job.
What does the future hold for you and your foster child?
I remind everyone she’s not with us forever. She’ll stay with us until she either goes back to her parents or proceeds to adoption. We’ve made her a memory box full of pictures – the children have already taken more than 400! – marking special moments and things like the first time she clapped her hands, so when she’s older she’ll know she was loved and cared for.
Foster Care Fortnight takes place from May 16-29
Herts County Council needs 70 new foster carers this year to meet the needs of children and young people coming into care. For more information on becoming a foster carer, visit hertsdirect.org