“HAVE you lost your head?”
Maybe not the usual start to a story about Fostering, but this was the response a woman from the Southern Trust area had from her mother when she revealed she was going to become a foster carer for HSCNI.
Pauline Hanratty was approached by a social worker friend in October 2011 and asked if she would consider looking after a young person known to her on a kinship (family & friends) basis.
Her initial response was to say no, and Pauline offered a multitude of reasons why it wouldn’t work for her.
But after further careful consideration she realised she would be able to care for a young teenager; after all she had done a great job of rearing her own children.
A short time later and after a positive experience of Fostering, Pauline decided that she wanted to give a second child a caring home and following a second assessment process, she was approved as a general Foster Carer in January 2013.
One week later a second young person moved into her home.
Over the years, Pauline has cared for more than 20 young people – some staying for several years and others only a night or two.
What they all have in common is that each one of them was treated with dignity and respect and left with fond memories.
There are many different forms of Foster care and Pauline has always tried to be as accommodating as possible.
For example, short breaks Foster care is often only required for a short period of time and is usually to support the Foster carers where the young person resides.
Pauline has facilitated many periods of short breaks over the years and on occasions has availed of this support herself. However, in recent times she has called upon her adult daughter, Nadine to deputise.
Some young people have stayed in Pauline’s care for several years and key to this success is how she has been able to integrate them into the family.
Pauline recognises that many young people in need of Foster care will arrive at her home having had some negative experiences in their lives.
She understands that these experiences may result in them displaying challenging behaviours and that often the best way to manage these is through building trust, offering reassurance and having a calm and positive outlook on life.
Pauline said: “I can do ‘calm and positive’ in my own style that I have developed over the years.
“There’s enormous satisfaction when your efforts work out.”
Up to this point, Pauline has chosen only to care for teenage girls.
She said: “Wee ones wouldn’t be a fit for our lifestyle”. I prefer to care for older children as they are more independent and therefore in turn, I can allow them a little more freedom.
“The young people can make their own way to school and can come and go to the shops and meet friends – they don’t require lifts to most places as they live in Dungannon town”.
“This has really enhanced their self-confidence and independence skills and helps provide them with a sound foundation for life as an independent adult.”
Newcastle Co Down is a familiar location for Pauline and the young people in her care.
The family-owned caravan has been well used since lockdown rules relaxed and provides opportunities for different experiences for each of the young people.
Covid-19 and lockdown is a chapter that will live long in Pauline’s memory.
With a long-standing history of asthma, Pauline locked down harder than most. Risks of infection were minimized by remaining at home when possible and on many occasions it was the support of the young people in her care that helped Pauline.
She said: “As much as we helped the girls, we were grateful for having them as they got us through lockdown. I can reflect now on how the young people in our care contributed to making a challenging period as easy and fun-filled as possible.”
Fostering has brought many highs but also a number of lows to their door, none more so than when a young person’s placement hasn’t worked out as they would have hoped.
Pauline’s social worker, Paul Corvan admits this scenario can have a lasting effect on carers.
He said: “As social worker for the Foster carers it was my role to step in and support Pauline through periods like this”.
In addition to each child in Foster care being allocated a social worker, Foster carers have their own dedicated social worker.
“Pauline often jokes that their house can be a bit like a train station some days as numerous social workers call in, but she always takes everything in their stride.”
Seeing the World through Fostering
Pauline has Fostered children from a diverse range of backgrounds and welcomes every young person into her home regardless of their race or culture.
In recent years she has cared for a number of young people who don’t identify as Irish/Northern Irish – instead they identify as Portuguese, Latvian, Brazilian, Bulgarian, Lithuanian, Romanian, SE Asian and Polish.
Three of these young people could not speak English at first so the technically minded Pauline quickly employed the services of Google Translate.
Pauline added: “Each day brings its own new learning experiences, and I am now much more educated in various cultures and traditions from around the world.
“I enjoy cooking and I enjoy learning about foods from the young person’s country so I can cook a dish that is familiar to them”.
“Food, language and celebrating cultural holidays are all ways in which I have made young people feel valued and accepted”.
“This has been a great way for all in the household to learn about the world around them with everyone picking up phrases from various languages.”
The cultural exchange within the household works both ways.
One shining example of this was how Tyrone’s recent All Ireland Final success was celebrated by everyone in the house.
The young people who were born in far off lands are now enthusiastic members of that Red and White Army of supporters who roared Tyrone on to their fourth Sam Maguire.
Pauline said: “Living in Dungannon, it would have been impossible for them not to be aware of the sporting history that was unfolding”.
“I’m a fervent Tyrone fans dating back many years so the young people could only be sucked into the hype and anticipation in the build up to the Big Day.”
Interestingly, this was not the first foray of the non-Irish contingent into the world of GAA as one of the young people from South East Asia was already the recipient of an Ulster Feile medal for camogie a couple of years ago and represented her Dungannon club in the All Ireland Feile series.
Pauline recognises the important role that sport can have in the healthy physical and emotional development of young people and consequently is always happy to facilitate this participation in any way she can.
Perhaps some of the greatest rewards Pauline has had is seeing the progression of young people in her care go on to achieve well academically.
Pauline said: “Study time is traditionally a little after arrival from school and all phones must be set aside – a major house rule!
“One young person who had ‘left school’ and did not speak any English upon arriving aged 13, was able to return home aged 17 with nine GCSE’s and two years later is still in full time education. She is totally fluent in English; complete with a perfect Dungannon twang!
“Another who had extremely poor school attendance throughout her first three years at secondary school returned home after three years with eight GCSE’s.”
Some young people in Foster care return home when the concerns that existed previously have been addressed.
This is a key goal for Pauline as she understands that a young person should only be in Foster care for as long as is absolutely necessary.
Unfortunately, she has also had experience of some young people not being able to go back home before their 18th birthday.
When asked about what wisdom she would offer to prospective Foster carers Pauline advised: “Try to treat Foster children like your own and take the rough with the smooth”.
“There are many more rewards than down sides. I don’t ever think I will retire from Fostering.”
If you have any questions, would like to find out more or are interested in becoming a foster carer please contact HSC NI Adoption and Foster Care or call on 0800 0720 137. You can also visit www.adoptionandfostercare.hscni.net