A first hand account of what it is like to be a foster carer during a global pandemic
Would you like to make a real difference by becoming a foster carer? Colin and Tanya Dickson did and they are encouraging you to take that leap of faith
While all of us have had to make changes to our everyday lives because of Covid-19, some of us have had an extra challenge; looking after our children. But imagine caring for a child in Foster Care during these unprecedented times.
For HSC Northern Ireland Foster Carers, this is a reality. Meet Colin and Tanya Dickson, the HSC Foster Carers from Crossgar, making a real difference to a young child in their care. They call themselves, along with their 15 year-old daughter, “Team Dickson”, as they all play their part in caring for the child in their care.
Colin and Tanya always wanted to be foster carers but waited until her daughter, Hannah, was at the right age to understand how fostering worked. They have now been fostering for five years.
Tanya said: “Fostering was going to be a big change for our daughter so we wanted to ensure she could accept a new child in the house, and help us out. We started with short breaks, for a weekend at a time, to get the family used to having someone else around. Surprisingly, we adjusted very quickly.”
Tanya went on to explain their current situation. “We have had Mary*, our current child for over two years and we are preparing her for her forever family as she is going to be adopted.
"While Covid-19 has put a hold on this for now, we still have to prepare both Mary and ourselves, as it will be hard to say goodbye. But as our daughter keeps saying 'it’s part of foster care' and it’s what’s right for Mary.”
Being a foster carer can be understandably challenging. Tanya remarks: “Although there are challenges, the rewards by far outweigh any of these. People often say to us that we have changed a little girl’s life forever, but we say she has changed ours more. The support from HSC NI Foster Care has been amazing and we couldn’t do it without our social worker.
“One of the challenges is trying to teach her about adoption. How do you teach a three-year-old that she will be leaving us and going to a forever family?
"We had to be creative and came up with the idea about the Christmas elf. Like many houses, we had "Bauble the elf" at Christmas, who was then “adopted” by Mary and now lives with us all year round and is part of our family. We even made an adoption certificate to show her it was real!”
Many of us will have experienced difficulties in adapting to life in lockdown. Tanya has had to think of ways to keep the kids entertained, but also for her own support network. She explains: “We have had to come up with new ways to keep in touch with family. We had a virtual Easter egg hunt and a virtual birthday with our family, and we have posted letters to our friends. It’s important to keep in touch with others during this time.
“We have created a “coronavirus scrapbook” for Mary, to help her understand what is happening. We include activities, recipes and pictures. It means when she is older she can understand what she lived through in 2020. We’ve drawn rainbows and clapped for NHS as her new parents are key workers and we want her to understand and appreciate this.”
Not only are the Dickson family coping well under the new difficulties with coronavirus, they have also decided to provide an additional place for a child in an emergency.
To anyone considering foster care, Tanya has a clear message: “Take that leap of faith. You won’t know until you try it. Every child that comes through that door changes you. There are so many children out there who just want to see what having a family is like.”
If you are interested in becoming a foster carer, like Tanya, or just want to find out more about what is involved, visit the HSC Northern Ireland Adoption and Foster Care website or call 0800 0720 137 to find out more. Search HSC Adoption & Foster Care on Facebook & Twitter.
Could you give a child a brighter future?
*Mary’s name has been changed to protect her identity.