Kofi Mensah-Tandoh: Life as a back-up foster carer during CV-19
My name is Kofi Mensah-Tandoh and I am a back-up foster carer for my mother, Mary, who is a foster carer for the Tri-Borough Fostering Service in the UK (Hammersmith & Fulham, Kensington and Chelsea and Westminster). This means I’m nominated as the secondary foster carer for a young person. I try to support children and adolescents in the care system by creating a stable home environment to facilitate their growth and development.
CV-19 and the foster care sector
CV-19 has affected the care sector in a number of ways. Most specifically, those working in Social Care have had to adapt the way person-centred care is delivered. Social care relies on strong relationships being formed with several parties, often via face-to-face meetings. However, these now have to be conducted remotely. Similarly, CV-19 has also led to the closure of many facilities and as a result, access to support services created specifically for children and young people in care has become even more limited.
Finally, the increased safety awareness also means that most foster carers have been unable to take on new placements as a precautionary measure in order to protect themselves, their immediate family, and the young person.
My own experiences during CV-19
As a result of the pandemic, my own services as a back-up foster carer has also been affected. We have been unable to enrol our new placement (an unaccompanied asylum seeking minor from Eretria) into a college or for him to gain access to various necessary services. We have also been unable to accompany young people on their routine face-to-face appointments for example, to the doctors, dentists and opticians. In some cases, appointments to register new patients have been postponed.
As many parents have found, going outside and doing normal outdoor and sporting activities has become extremely limited! As we are unable to go outside unless essential, we have avoided playing football in the park and are having to spend a lot more time indoors.
However, despite these challenges, there have also been some positives. Instead of outdoor activities, we are engaging the young people in indoor activities such as board games, online learning resources and taking part in discussions on a wide range of topics. Not only has this helped to prevent boredom, it has also improved the young people’s confidence.
One aspect of the young people placed with us is to gradually prepare them for independent living. This period has also provided a great opportunity for them to develop life skills in areas such as cooking, cleaning, budgeting and structuring their day. At present, cooking seems to be the most popular activity so at least we’re all eating well!
Tips for foster carers (and others!)
Any activity which gives those in care a chance to forget their worries, ease the pressure of other demands, fill some empty time, be creative, and most importantly have fun is commended.
To keep lockdown feeling productive for all, foster carers could look to set up some creative challenges with the young people and introduce new themes every week. The creative challenge could be to produce artwork in various forms; such as painting, drawing, filming, photographing, writing and composing for example. This artwork can then be used to create a personal gallery.
Also, many attractions including museums and galleries may be physically closed, however they’re still open and available to explore online.
Most importantly for those fostering, and those being fostered, is to have regular communication with your support network (which includes friends, family, fellow carers and social workers). Ask for help if you need it.
Why I became a young back-up foster carer
I felt inspired to become a back-up foster carer for a combination of reasons. Firstly, a former neighbour used to be a foster carer. This meant that, growing up, I was used to hanging out with those in the care system. Their tales gave me exposure to some of the challenges they had to navigate. But it was clear to me, whether we were sharing stories or simply playing outside together, at the end of the day we were kids just having fun.
Another huge influence on my motivations were my grandmother and my mother. For as long as I can remember, my grandmother has adopted so many children informally back in Ghana. I’ve seen the difference it’s made to so many lives, including her own children. My mother has also fostered numerous teenagers over the years whose lives have been turned around and have since gone on to achieve great things.
I am sharing my experiences because I want to help change people’s perceptions about young people in care. Many people are put off from fostering as they often assume the worst; however, in many cases those in care are there through no fault of their own and have a lot of potential. For example, I know of a young person who’s near completing her first year at Cambridge. She had offers from Imperial and King’s College, amongst other universities and I have no doubt she’ll go on to do great things.
Looking ahead, my aspirations for the future are to continue changing the narrative around fostering and encourage more young people to consider how they can support their peers in care. I also hope that the significant shortage of foster carers across the country reduces. Hopefully, there’ll come a day when that will no longer be the case.
Article published: May 2020
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