Annmarie & Bill: Being New Foster Carers
18 October 2023
18 October 2023
Annmarie and Bill adopted their three girls aged 2, 3 and 4 in 2007. First living in Wales and Plymouth, they finally moved to their Devonshire home 5 years ago. Their daughters are now aged 16, 17 and 18.
Encouraged by their daughters, Annemarie and Bill started exploring fostering and after a 9-month joining and training process with Blue Sky, James and Charlie joined the family.
Childrens names have been changed to protect privacy.
18 October 2023
Bill and Annmarie’s house can be found through a maze of winding Devonshire lanes. It has that slightly chaotic air of a truly lived-in home: dogs jump up to greet you as you go through the door, a pile of washing waits in the kitchen, and there is a school experiment in one corner of the living room. It is large, warm, and accommodating.
Both Annmarie and Bill settled onto their sofa to talk about life with three adopted teenage daughters - and why they have recently decided to foster two sibling boys, aged 9 and 10.
Annmarie: It was one year – one of the girls and I have this tradition where we go and get the Christmas tree. It's just me and her, and it's our special time. Because the youngest is like a limpet with me it can make it harder to get time with the other two girls. So, getting the Christmas tree together is always our thing. There was one Christmas when she said to me in the car - I'm like [whispers in mock horror] ‘I’m driving, do not make me cry!’
She turned around to me and she said, ‘Would you adopt again?’
I said, ‘I wouldn't adopt. I'm not saying I would never, but you just didn't get all the help that you needed when we were adopting.’ ‘But,’ I said, ‘I’d probably foster’ and she replied, ‘Well, you should foster because we've done all right’. She said, ‘So, you can help somebody else now. Why don't you look into it?’ Well, we did. We went around quite a few different agencies and Blue Sky just blew us away with the amount of help, not just for us but for the girls.
Annmarie: [laughing] We’re not that type of people!
Bill: Yeah, you know it’s quite funny. They were talking about respite and stuff like that.
They say, ‘Oh, you’ve got your respite...’ I said, ‘No! They'll go on holiday with us.’ I'm not accepting them into my family and then telling them we're going on holiday, and then we get back and say, ‘Well, we had a lovely time.’ If we take them in, they're part of this family and they go with us.
But, you know, we like kids. We enjoy it! Yes, they can be tiring. Sometimes they can really be [he mock roars]. But yeah, I mean, our girls are lovely. You look at the women they've turned into and I'm so proud. They’re going to need help for all their days - and they'll get it from us. But you know, they've come such a long way.
Annmarie took a picture of him having his first taste of Coke. It was brilliant.
Annemarie: They're always going, ‘I've never done this before.’ I always say, ‘Oh! It’s another first. And then we'll do something else, and they go ‘I've never done this before’, and I go, ‘There you go, well, it’s another first!’
Bill: I remember the first time James had a Coke. And he was like that, looking at it [gives a focused hungry stare]. And he was just looking at it, saying, ‘You can see the bubbles going up…’ And it was just a moment! Annmarie took a picture of him having his first taste of Coke. It was brilliant. They’re just lovely. Absolutely lovely lads. Completely different from each other.
Annmarie: And completely different from our girls when they came to us.
Bill: They are a dream!
Bill: Do it!
Annmarie: Even with adoption, we've always said that people should look into it.
That overwhelming feeling you get when a child achieves something, even if it's so small that other people go ‘Ohh my kid does that all the time’. But for you to see your child do that it's like, ‘Oh my Lord, that is just absolutely amazing!’ And you celebrate it. We've always celebrated the smalls.
Bill: People can think, ‘I've raised kids. I've got a baby.’ But it’s completely different.
Bill: You need to take as much advice as you can. As much training as you can. You can sit through some of the training and go, ‘My god, this is so stupid and airy-fairy’…But if you get a week of the kid being really happy and everything's going right, well then that’s another week you’ve gained.
You've got to accept the fact that it's hard work.
The main thing is don't turn down anything, including training.
Everybody thinks love is the most important thing. It isn't. These children, what they're looking for is someone who's going to look after them, do the basics, give them food, not hurt them. The love will come later. They are not interested in you coming and grabbing them to give affection. A lot of them don’t let it. They never had it; they don’t get it. We've learned, I mean, 14 years of it, - we've had a case study now for 14 years - but you know, we still don't know everything.
Every child is different.
Annemarie: Yes, it’s difficult sometimes. I find it so hard that the girls and I can get a duvet in and sit under the duvet and watch a film together. I find it difficult that I can't do that with the boys because obviously it's not allowed.
There are certain things like I can't sit on the edge of their bed when it's bedtime. It’s just these things because you've got to protect yourself from any possible allegations.
And I’m sometimes sitting there going, ‘Oh, this is just so alien! I don't know whether I can do it!’ And then I'm like, you know, we can do this. We've done it for so many weeks already. We can crack on. It will become natural. But there are some things where I'm just like, ‘Oh if they if they were adopted or biologically mine, I'd be doing this with them and I'd be doing that with them… And sometimes I wonder whether they see me with the girls doing certain things and then I can't do it with them because it's not allowed. It's not in our safer care plan. So yeah, I do find some things quite difficult and challenging, but then I think, I've got to do this for them, and I've got to do it to protect myself.
Annmarie: It's just seeing them smiling. To be told after they were here for two days that it was the first time any social worker that's been involved with them has seen them so relaxed and happy. That was just the biggest, biggest reward ever. Two days - not two months, two years. Just after a few days to be told that it’s the happiest that they've ever been. And then yesterday, we saw one of Charlie's friends’ mum from his old school and she looked at me and she went, ‘I've never seen him so happy’ and I was just… [she smiles, presses her hand to her chest and expresses a joyful response]
So, it’s just those little things.
Bill: If you can, do it. You know there are so many children. You know we had this when we were adopting; when they told us how many children just sitting there waiting for a family and you think…
Annmarie: My biggest fear was what if we couldn't cope? What if the girls couldn't cope and we had to say at the end, ‘Look, it's not working out.’ You know, you need to find them new homes, because obviously we've got to put the girls first and then we’ve got to put our mental health first as well. Would we get penalised? Would we get, ‘That's it. You can't foster with us anymore.’ But Blue Sky were like: ‘No, because you are the priority. You are the ones that hold everybody together. You are so important.’
And that's what made us think, you know if it’s 6 years down the line and they're still here and it all kicks off, we are supported. Because that was my biggest thing, was feeling a failure. If I couldn't provide a stable home for them, I couldn't provide for their needs. I couldn't keep up with my girls' needs. I couldn't keep up with my husband’s needs, my own mental health, and Blue Sky were like, if you ever feel like that you’ve just got to tell us.
We don't have to cope with it [alone] - you've got people there with a fountain of knowledge that all can come together to help.
Annmarie: What they emphasised to us was, even though the kids are the priority, you're more of a priority because if we don't have you, these kids have got nothing.
And they included the girls. Our social worker said if they've got a problem that they can't tell you and they’ve got no one to speak to, give them my number and get them to call me and I can FaceTime them. Or I can come down to Plymouth and meet them. And I thought, you know what? This is just the right place to be because it's very family-oriented.
We've not yet met anybody who's been awkward or not sure or… you know, it's like our social worker, she’ll go, ‘I'm away on leave for a week.’ And I'm like, yeah, it's fine. I know the office is down the road. I know out of hours is on my phone. If anything happens I can just ring somebody. I said to her the other week, we can cope if you go on your holidays, you know, it’s nice. Our Supervising Social Worker who we work with was saying, will you be OK? These are the contact details of so and so, and so and so. And we're like, yeah, it’s fine. Go on holiday. Enjoy yourself! You know, we've got this far. We’ve got a run of everything.
Bill: Yeah, it's also just years of doing it all ourselves [with the girls]. That's the thing that we’ve got to get out of the habit of. Thinking, yeah we'll cope with it like we always do. We don't have to now; you've got people there with a fountain of knowledge that all can come together to help.