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Giving our foster children a real family experience: why we do long term fostering

Fostering means becoming a bigger family. It’s about accepting a child or children as part of your family when they have to be away from their own. Whether that’s for a night, a month, a year or several years – it is a dedication to make a real difference to a child’s life.

There are many different types of fostering that foster carers can choose to specialise in, from short-term to something more long-term.

Long-term foster care means bringing together the right foster child with the right foster family for as long as they need. It means committing to providing a loving and secure home for children who can’t live at home.

There are so many benefits to long term fostering. It gives children in foster care consistency and a greater sense of stability and belonging by living in a stable, secure and loving family home.

Long term foster carers Nici and her husband Dan have been fostering with their local authority in Gwynedd for over 14 years.

With 4 boys of their own, 4 foster children and a dog, Nici shares what committing to her foster children for the long term means to her and her family and how they make memories that will hopefully last a lifetime.

“For us, it’s not about the number of children we have fostered. It’s about the difference we have made to the children we have fostered,” says Nici, who currently has 7 children living at home between the ages of 6 and 16 – 6 boys and a girl.  

“People think that our house must be crazy, especially with so many boys! But it really isn’t. On the whole, it’s actually quite a calm household. We are lucky to have such wonderful group of children and such a fantastic support network around us.”

Watch a video of how a community of foster carers support each other in Gwynedd.

The right time to foster

Nici’s background is in childcare and worked in Sure Start nurseries where she mainly cared for disadvantaged children. This experience struck a chord with her so much that she wanted to foster ever since.  

“My mum saw an advert for fostering and asked me if I had ever thought about it. It was something that they were also considering themselves.

I was 24 at the time, and had two young boys under 3 so I wasn’t sure if it was the right time to start fostering. But as I saw my parents going for it, and we had space in our house, we made some initial enquiries about the possibility of maybe doing some respite care, helping my parents.”

When Nici and Dan first looked into fostering, they made some initial enquiries with an independent fostering agency who usually have older children needing to be fostered than those with local authority. As the couple had young children of their own, they felt fostering children younger than their own would be better suited for them at the time.

“We contacted our Local Authority fostering team in Gwynedd who welcomed our interest in fostering and made it work for us. We became approved foster carers in 2008 and have been fostering ever since!” 

Fostering and your own children

Foster Wales, the National network of not-for-profit local authority fostering services in Wales, welcomes foster carers from all walks of life. There is no upper age limit and you can foster even if you have young children of your own. Having foster siblings can be hugely rewarding, too. It gives children insight, helps them form friendships and builds their ability to care for others. Of course, you don’t need to have children of your own to become a foster carer.

Nici and Dan went on to have two more children of their own and have continued to foster with their four sons, providing stability and a loving family environment to children who need it most. They are currently fostering 4 children on a full time, long term basis, including siblings.

Nici’s parents also continue to foster but now mainly do support foster care for Nici and Dan. They are also supported by other foster carers in the area as well as their local authority team in Gwynedd.

“Although we went into fostering with the intention of doing some short break foster care to begin with, our first foster child ended up staying with us for 8 years! Since then, we’ve followed our hearts and mainly done long term fostering, which really suits us as a family.

With long term fostering we feel that we can provide the children with a stable family and give them a family experience. Family holidays, choosing their bedrooms, re-decorating…and getting a puppy – all the silly things we agree to as parents at some point.

It means that the children become part of our family, and us their family.”

Forming lasting relationships

One of the benefits of being a long-term foster carer is the chance to be a part of and see the progress and development of a child or young person whilst they have been in your care, whether that’s behavioural, social, emotional or educational.

“Seeing them grow and thrive. Reaching milestones. Watching them make friends, settling at school and within the community around them.” – Nici

Often after moving on from long term foster care the relationships between young people and the foster family will continue into adulthood and throughout their life during which they will share many special milestones and moments together.

Nici and Dan remain in contact with and continue to support some of their foster children, and have even become foster grandparents! “I felt too yong to be a Nana but I gave in when I was asked,” laughed Nici. “Everyone needs a Nana in their life, don’t they!

It’s such a privilege to still be part of their lives.”  

Offering new experiences

Fostering means providing a child with all the things that they need. Food, warmth, shelter, love, care, support and education. It’s also about coming together as a family to offer new experiences and opportunities, however small, as Nici shares.

Some of the first experiences that you share with a foster child can be the most unexpected. The everyday things that many of us take for granted, like sitting around the table to eat a meal together, but could be a first for a child who comes into care.

One of Nici and Dan’s first foster children, who is still a central part of their lives today, shares some of her special memories of coming to live with the family.

The excitement in the house when I arrived – the boys showing me my new bedroom.

The boys playing Guitar Hero with Dan.

Being asked what was my favourite food and given it for tea.

How warm and welcoming it was.

Learning to swim in the lake, and the fun we had!

Going to the shop to buy dolly shoes.

Holidays and fostering

Everyone needs a break and some time away from time to time. Foster children should always be included in family trips and holidays, if appropriate, so that they don’t feel left out or feel different to the rest of the family. It is also a great way for them to enjoy new experiences and adventures. Nici talks about the type of holidays and activities that they enjoy as a family.

“We live in a great area for outdoor activities and we go sailing, canoeing and paddleboarding all the time. The children just love getting wet, and the hot chocolate to warm them up when they get out of the water also goes down well!

It’s those simpler moments in life that often create the most cherished memories for foster children.”

Along with Nici’s parents and their foster children, the family have enjoyed many holidays together over the years, even holidays abroad. But Nici and Dan have found that shorter holidays closer to home are much better suited to the children that they foster at the moment. 

“We found that a week away is just too much for them, but we still wanted to give them holiday experiences”, says Nici. “So we decided to buy a static caravan – and we absolutely love it!

It’s our little home from home where the children can enjoy some fresh air and outdoor space. It’s a safe place where everyone is calmer. A place to switch off, play board games, learn new card games and play outside.

We also meet up with other local foster families who have caravans in the same park, which is really nice.   

A caravan holiday gives us so much flexibility, which you need with fostering.  We can just up and go when we want and for as little or as long as we want. Sometimes we will go just for one night at short notice. It also works well as our foster children can still go to contact with their birth families from the caravan.

It’s just perfect for us, in so many ways.”

Make a difference to a child in your community

There are more than 7,000 children in the care system in Wales, but only 3,800 foster families. By becoming a foster carer with your local authority you can help a child or young person in your community in so many ways. You can make them feel safe, secure and valued. You can bring happiness and new experiences into their lives, no matter what type of fostering you do.   

“Children need roots. They need love and they need to feel that they belong. By fostering, that can be achieved,” Nici added.

Could you foster with your local authority?

If you live in Gwynedd, contact Foster Wales Gwynedd and a member of our dedicated team will be in touch for a friendly, no obligation conversation to help you decide if fostering is right for you.

If you live anywhere else in Wales, visit Foster Wales for more information and to find your local authority fostering team.

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