In Southampton, Gillian White helped bring up generations of children, as a foster parent. Doing this for 36 years now, Gillian talks about her work and encourages other people to do the same for children in need.
In her 36 years in service with Southampton City Council, Gillian has fostered over 200 children. Some of them have been with her for a longer time, some for respite. Some went into being adopted, some went back to their families.
Gillian and her husband also adopted 2 of the children they fostered, while having 2 of their own. Her biological daughter, Nikki, has followed into her mother’s footsteps. She has been a foster carer for 15 years as well.
Started as a foster carer in 1979
Her first foster child became her first adopted daughter. Sophie, now a young adult, has Down Syndrome and lives at home with her mother. Russel, who came into Gill’s care when he was 1 and stayed until he was 3, also got adopted.
Gillian remembers how it all started 36 years ago:
“I wanted to have more children and, because of my own health, I couldn’t. My husband had medical problems. We decided that we would go and look at fostering.”
She recalls that, in 1979, fostering was not so well paid or supported. She had to work so she could do it, but her other job was also child care related: she was a child minder. Nowadays she says the programme is a lot better supported, not only better paid, but with a lot of help for the families to stay in.
When Gill’s husband passed away years ago, she says she could stay due to the support she received from Southampton City Council.
Working with children’s families
The challenges which a foster carer faces are not necessarily coming from the children. At times it can be more difficult to work with their parents, Gill mentions. But work with their families is necessary, as she highlights:
“If the department can work with the families and they are willing to learn, the children will return home. It needs to be safe for them to be able to do that, obviously.”
“The best outcome for the children is to return home, to the family, if at all possible. If you can get parents on board, who are willing to change and work with you and the children, that is the best outcome.”
There are a few things to always keep in mind when working with the children’s families, as Gillian says:
- Keep being open, professional and honest at all times
- Do your best to get along with the parents, as this is in the interest of the child.
- Don’t forget you look after their children, so the family they came from matters.
A life goal to care
At any time, Gillian White can accommodate up to 3 children. She says:
“I love having the little ones, I feel that I work best (with them) and I really really enjoy it”.
Watch Gill explain why she has been doing this for so many years:
Currently, there are 3 foster children in Gill’s house. Two of them are young children, 2 and 3 years old, and English is not their first language. The carer mentioned these children’s parents wanted them to eat food from their culture, which she accommodated, researching on the Internet for recipes.
The two young children are going to nursery in the morning, so, for the first time in 35 years, Gill has more time to herself now. To look after herself she goes to the gym. Also, being a foster carer does not mean she never gets holidays. Gill explains:
“With fostering we do get a chance to go away and the children will go to a respite carer. Usually I try for the children to go to someone whom they know.”
Neglected girl did house therapy
Julia*, 11 years old, has been with Gill since she was 5. The girl first came to Gill’s house on respite care, but she decided to take her on long time, and support her into adulthood. This decision was backed by the carer’s extended family.
Before being placed into care, Julia had been through difficult times. According to Gill, she had to feed herself at only 3, neglected by her birth mother. She then went through therapy and her foster carer continued with home therapy, by talking through the dolls to help Julia express her feelings.
Now, with encouragement from her foster mother, Julia is doing extremely well in school. Gill says:
“We push her all the time educationally, she is going to big school next year, but she will be in the top because we’ve worked with her at home. She does fantastically well. She’s got good friends, a good social network, better than mine!”
(*The girls real name is not disclosed, due to Data Protection and confidentiality)
They were confined to a flat
Amongst the many children Gill has supported, she mentions 2 who have been kept confined to a flat before they were placed into care. Gill says:
“Outside of the flat they did not really understand just going to the park, going to soft play areas, just doing the fun things day in, day out was very difficult for them. It’s quite sad to see how they were when they came in”
When children get adopted
Despite being one of the more difficult things a foster carer has to deal with, moving children on can also be very rewarding. In the last year Gillian moved 2 girls on to adoptive families, one was 18 months old and the other one 20 months old. She had the second girl since she was only one day old. The carer talks about the experience of giving a child to a family for adoption:
“These parents can’t have children and you are giving them this gift. It is fantastic to see their faces when they first come to meet. Especially when it’s a first child, you see how their whole world lights up!”
However, parting is not easy, and Gillian speaks about this from her 36 years of experience:
“It’s always difficult to part. If you love that child, which you always do, it is difficult to move them on. But actually it’s a piece of the work I do which I know I can’t keep. It’s about accepting.”
She also supports other foster carers into the process, to make it easier for them to part with the children.
Foster carers needed
Currently, there is a growing need for foster parents in Southampton. According to Gillian, there is also great support from the local authorities for prospective foster carers. They would not need to own the house or flat they live in. If it is not big enough for accommodating the child or children they would want to take in, the Council could even move them to a bigger accommodation.
Anybody can be foster carers, providing they meet the standards needed for a dedicated work with children. They get training and advice, they can be single or same sex couples. Gillian has also mentioned that there is a need for foster parents from different ethnic backgrounds to accommodate children who come from families of different ethnicities.
Watch Gillian talk about what people interested in fostering need to do:
For enquires on becoming a foster carer with in Southampton and the surrounding areas, the telephone number available is 0800 519 18 18.