Virginia is a foster carer and has provided short breaks for children and young people with learning difficulties in Conwy since 2009. Generally, the young people that she looks after are on the autistic spectrum but some have medical conditions such as diabetes and other physical impairments.
“Seeing children develop their skills and confidence in my care gives me so much enjoyment. When one of them comes to stay for an evening or weekend, I focus on developing their independent living skills and they make decisions about what we do and where we go.”
Virginia provides short breaks for Charlotte, and Charlotte’s mum Lisa, knows only too well the value a short break can offer. As Lisa explains,
“The Service has been a Godsend to us. Initially letting go of Charlotte was really hard and it wasn’t something we wanted to do. But the service was there, we gave it a shot and I cannot praise the service enough. It’s been wonderful for us as a family. It’s been good for Charlotte because she gets to learn how to live in a different house, with different rules and a different way of life rather than being stuck with Mum and Dad.”
When a young person visits Virginia, it’s like a holiday for them because it’s a totally different environment. She and her husband, have got time to help the young person to develop independent living skills and encourage them do more things for themselves.
“They look forward to coming to stay. We do things I used to do with my own children and it doesn’t have to cost a lot of money” says Virginia. “We experience activities at home and in the community and I try to make everything educational. When we throw stones in the river, we count how many we’ve thrown in and how far we’ve thrown the stones, they’re constantly learning whilst we all have fun.”
Lisa says, “Charlotte has lots of things to do throughout the weekend. I see Charlotte come home and she is happy. I see her go to stay with Virginia and she is happy and that means the world to us”. The short break also gives parents and other family members the chance to recharge their batteries. So when the young person returns home, the whole family have had the chance to have a break and are relaxed.
Virginia believes that short breaks are very important for families of children and young people with disabilities. “Without them, there’s a danger that family relationships will break down, because Parents are looking after the child 24/7 and it can be very tiring”. As Lisa comments, “We get out time out which is so important, especially when you have a child with needs, they’re demanding and it can be frustrating for all of us. We all need a little time out.”
Virginia says, “People think you need to have experience to foster a child with a learning disability, you don’t. As a foster carer, you receive all the support and training you need. So as long as you are able to love children, have the right attitude and want to make a difference, you’ll reap the benefits by considering a career in foster care”.
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