Maureen Varnham and her husband Glenn live in Gillingham in Kent, and have been fostering for over 25 years, seven of those with Heath Farm.
They offer long-term care for children with complex emotional problems, many of whom have come to them as toddlers and left as young adults.
On starting out, Maureen was a full-time mum of two, with a boy aged 10 and girl aged 12. She saw fostering as something that could benefit the whole family, because she knew they all had big hearts. In fact, when she asked her husband and children whether they’d be interested in giving a home to other children, they were only too pleased to get involved.
Maureen puts much of their fostering success down to the fact that fostering was a family decision. She says, “if a decision is to be made, we do it together. We always include the children, and this has kept us strong.”
Being robust is a quality that Maureen says every foster carer needs. Before she started fostering, she thought hearty meals and lots of love and hugs would fix the children’s problems. But the reality, she says, is a lot more complex.
“Fostering is a real challenge. You can put your heart and soul into it, and still not get the outcome you dream of. But I don’t take things personally. If something happens, I say to myself, ‘this is not their fault’, and then then ‘what can I now do to help?’”
“It’s the challenge that keeps me going. It’s not what I expected, but finding solutions to the problems is interesting. And sometimes the harder it is, the more interesting it gets!” She adds, “it’s parenting, but it’s also a career.”
Maureen’s patience and dedication has paid off. “We’ve seen children come to us who seem frozen – with no knowledge of any normal home life. They’re crouched over, head down, too afraid to sit up or look at us. It can take quite a few weeks to get a smile from them! But it’s so encouraging when they’re finally laughing and getting pleasure from looking at books with you. It’s like they’ve thawed out!”
Training has been central to Maureen’s work as a foster carer. She says “I’ve been doing this for 25 years, but I still give 100% and attend all the training and support groups I can. They refresh me, they’re fun, and I always learn something new. In fact, if you’ve a particular problem – the training co-ordinator at Heath Farm goes out of her way to find a course or trainer to help!”
Heath Farm’s support has also been extremely helpful to Maureen. She says “There is always someone available to talk to me. They couldn’t do more to help to be honest. They’re fantastic.”
She goes on to say, “Fostering has helped us to be more compassionate and considerate. Many people turn to us for advice about their own parenting, because they know how much knowledge we have, and because they can trust us. We feel truly privileged to be able to help them and to share what we know. It’s given us all a broader outlook on life, because we’ve seen how hard life has been for these children, and how lucky we are.”
Maureen advises new foster carers to believe in themselves. “Acknowledge that you are capable of helping all children, regardless of their difficulties. You are not alone. You’ll get support for any problem that arises. So don’t think you can’t do it!”
“Heath Farm is first class in all aspects of childcare. Full support is given. So go ahead and join us! You’ll not regret it.”