Council Chairman, Philip Brady, plants a tree in Con Smith Park last Friday afternoon to mark Fostering Awareness Week. The tree represents the deep roots that fostering has in Ireland. Watching (from left) are Jackie Smyth, National Lead for Foster Care with Tusla; Sharon Casey, Tusla; Cllr John Paul Feeley; Niamh Brady; Cllr Madeleine Argue; Tina Smith, Tusla; Marian Connolly, Tusla; Cllr Winston Bennett; Denise Sheridan, Tusla; Cllr Patricia Walsh; Roisin Clarke, CEO of the Irish Foster Care Association; Deputy Brendan Smith; Lisa Anderson, Tusla; Cllr Trevor Smith and Cllr Peter McVitty. PHOTO: SEAN MCMAHON

Fostering: ‘It’s a family thing’

A Cootehill woman is highlighting the personal rewards of fostering at a time when more foster carers are needed.

Sinéad spoke to The Anglo-Celt during Fostering Awareness Week. She has been fostering for the last 12 months and has taken care of infants just three days old right up to toddlers aged three years.

As her own four children got a little older, Sinead decided she would like to foster children, applied and was accepted. She has fostered three children over the last year and currently has one child in her care.

“It’s nice for my own children to see that we as a family can provide a home from home for other children who need that,” she added.

“I take the children until they are ready to go back to their own parents.”

She added: “I have always wanted to be a foster carer as I’ve had family involved in fostering and have seen how crucial it is to allow a child to grow, mature, avail of opportunities and thrive in a supportive safe environment. It’s seeing how other children have benefited from fostering that made me want to offer that to other children.”

Sinéad highlighted how, sometimes, children in foster care have medical needs or “just need love and care”.

“You do bond with the children in your care particularly when they are so young and rely on you as a foster carer to give them love and affection, and look after all their daily needs,” she continued.

“The children form a bond with you and it’s inevitable that you bond with them. However, as a foster carer, you are always aware that it’s a temporary placement for an unknown duration and you always have that in the background so that you are always mentally prepared for when a child leaves.”

In recent days, Fostering Awareness Week was celebrated and a tree planting ceremony was held to mark the occasion in Con Smith Park in Cavan Town on Friday.

Speaking at the ceremony, Róisín Clarke, CEO of the Irish Foster Care Association, says a foster carer can be like a ‘circuit breaker’ in the life of a child who is experiencing adversity. She pointed to how people like Sinéad provide them with the opportunity to have a safe and nurturing environment that “strengthens their roots to grow and develop and provides them with a sense of place, inclusion and connection with community”.

Cathaoirleach Cllr Philip Brady also attended the ceremony: “Foster carers should be recognised and cherished for the positive and immeasurable impact that they have on the lives of the young persons under their care. I would urge our communities to embrace foster carers and the children that they have taken under their wings.”

The latest statistics available on fostering in Ireland indicate there there are 5,613 children in care - 90% of which (5,034) are in some type of foster care arrangement.

Sinead said the greatest reward is when a child returns to their families once their home environment has stabilised.

“When a child leaves, you are so happy for them and they are happy to return to their families,” she said.

“It makes it easier because you know they are going to a place they want to be and you have provided a safe, supportive and caring environment for them to thrive.”

Being a foster family is a positive experience for the entire household, says Sinead.

“It teaches our children so much about the needs of others. It allows them to see how a family unit can work together to focus on the needs of a foster child and also provides myself and my children with knowledge and insight into the lives of others.”