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Tony's story: "I wanted to replicate the experience I had" - Foster Portsmouth

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Tony’s story: “I wanted to replicate the experience I had…” 

Tony Allen (28), who with his wife Patsy (28) has been fostering for six years with Foster Portsmouth, is a part-time senior support worker with a local children’s services charity. Along with his past experience as a teaching assistant and climbing instructor, the skills Tony has gained through his career have been hugely beneficial caring for the children and young people the couple have welcomed into their home.


Fostering had always been in the back of our minds…

Patsy, a Mechanical Designer until she recently resigned in order to become a full-time foster carer, shared with us:

Head shot of foster carers Tony & Patsy smiling at the camera side by side in the sunshine

“We were in our early 20s when we first started thinking about fostering. It had always been in the back of our minds. Tony grew up in care for a lot of his life and we first met when Tony was in care. We both know his carers and the difference they made to his life, so we always thought it was something we might consider too.”

Tony added,

“It made me want to give back and help other young people who are in foster care. I wanted to replicate the experience I had.”

 

Vital experience can be gained from your career

Tony had worked as a climbing instructor since he was 16 and then as a teaching assistant before entering the care sector. Patsy had some experience with children from time spent with her nieces and nephews. After gaining a little additional experience and moving into a new flat with a spare bedroom, they started providing some respite care to support other foster carers. Tony explained:

“That’s how we got into it.”

Patsy added:

“We had our first child aged 22. Now, as foster carers ourselves, we see the impact we’re having on these children’s lives. It’s always magical to see them grow up, but for these particular children – knowing what they might have gone through and the adversities they have overcome – it is our privilege to play some small part in making a difference to their lives.”

Like Tony, those who have worked in professions such as education or the care sector  – as well as others including the armed forces, health and emergency services – will have developed vital experience with children, young people or adults in need through their careers which continually prove to be invaluable when caring for a foster child or sibling group, or a young person through our Supported Lodgings programme.

Many of our children or young people have had life experiences which require the care of someone who has relevant skills and expertise, or they may have learning and physical disabilities or complex health needs which need additional support.

Creating new experiences…

Patsy shared with us:

“We love creating new experiences for the children to enjoy, to see them grow in confidence and come out of their shell.”

“This is good for them but for us too as we enjoy seeing them benefiting from the new experiences.”

The couple, who now have a little girl of their own too, have had a number of short-term fostering arrangements including a teenage girl who has since been able to return home, a boy aged ten and a girl aged eight, as well as sibling boys aged five and seven, and many respite arrangements. They currently have three boys with them, one for 18 months, and just recently two young sibling boys have joined them.

The highs far outweigh any lows

Patsy explains:

“Think about when you’ve worked with [or cared for] children and young people before, and the positive and challenging times you’ve experienced. This will not only help when you speak about why you want to foster, but it will also remind you that fostering is like anything in life; you have highs and lows. But the highs far outweigh the lows.”

“When children come to you, your own life is put on pause for a couple of weeks, but then a couple of weeks later you’re back in there, going out and seeing everyone.”

Tony added:

“The most challenging part of being a foster carer is juggling.”

Patsy agreed:

“There’s more that you do when you’re a foster carer than what you would do as a normal parent; extra meetings that you go to. So sometimes it’s hard to fit everything in. However, I think we’ve been able to overcome the challenges by actually growing in ourselves, becoming more organized. I have a diary now that I live by and sometimes it’s about reaching out a lot more to our social worker, and that is what is good about Mockingbird.”

Mockingbird… the biggest, greatest support

Nearly 50 children and young people in foster care in Portsmouth and the surrounding area benefit from the Mockingbird Programme. The award-winning and sustainable foster care model comprises of a ‘constellation’ of up to ten ‘satellite’ fostering households, offering the relationships and support similar to that of an extended family.

At the heart of each ‘constellation’ is a ‘hub home’ where a specifically recruited and trained hub home foster carer offers vital peer support and guidance to all the carers within the constellation, in addition to respite care in the form of sleepovers and social activities, all of which strengthen relationships and permanence.

The Mockingbird Programme has been shown to empower families to support each other and overcome problems before they develop. It has also shown significant benefits to the lives of children and young people in care by normalising foster care, minimising placement disruption and building positive links with other families.

Portsmouth City Council introduced the programme, which in the UK is delivered by leading fostering charity The Fostering Network, with its first constellation launch in January 2021. Since then, the model has gone from strength to strength and Foster Portsmouth is progressively rolling the scheme out across the city and the surrounding areas.

Patsy revealed:

“Last year we became part of one of the Mockingbird consultations and I think that has been just the biggest, greatest support for us. Sometimes you just need someone that you can go to… and they completely get it. They’ve got us through [any] tough times and we’ve had some fantastic days out with all of children.”

The couple’s constellation hub carer is Ali. Patsy added:

“She’s [always] there with an idea or response. She can come on around and have a cup of tea or take the young person out and give us a bit of a break. It’s also other people that [the young people] can go to talk to. It has worked really well because we also get some of the other children from the constellation visit and our child gets to go somewhere else. They are real friends and get along; it’s just really supportive.”

Patsy and Tony have also been able to offer sleepovers themselves within the ‘hub’ to the siblings of one of the children they were caring for.


“We get great support from Portsmouth City Council”

Foster carers Tony and Patsy laughing into the camera

Foster Portsmouth need more foster carers in and around Portsmouth from diverse backgrounds who can offer their heart and home to vulnerable children and young people from our city, and so that those with any additional needs can be appropriately matched, they can thrive in a caring environment, and we can build successful placements minimising disruption and improving outcomes.

Foster carers receive excellent, local training and 24/7 support, including through our mentoring scheme and the pioneering Mockingbird Programme support network and competitive fees and allowances.

“We’ve had some really nice supervisors and social workers, and we’ve just been given so many opportunities to get out, meet people for training, and also for events such as the foster carers’ lunch which are really good.”

Patsy confirmed:

“We’ve had great support from Portsmouth City Council. We get our fostering allowance with helps pay for bills, clothing and clubs for the children. If you’re going on holiday, you can also get help to pay for the child’s part, and help to pay for extra activities if it’s of benefit to the child; the latest summer camp or something like that.”

“They also offer activities throughout the year, especially around the holidays. They’ve got clubs for bowling and things like that, and help with discounts [at venues]. I don’t feel like we’re really out of pocket.”

Those foster carers who care for children or young people with additional needs also receive enhanced training, and additional fees and allowances, as well as respite care or Family Link support from other foster carers.

“I love being a positive part of someone’s journey…”

Whether you might consider a short or long term arrangement for a child or siblings until they’re ready to live independently or be reunited with family, support for unaccompanied children seeking asylum or children with a disabilitySupported Lodgings to develop their independent living skills, parent and child placements, or respite care, you’ll find the right fit of fostering for you and your family.

Tony shared:

“What we enjoy the most about being foster carers I think is just the support and seeing [young] people change from how they come to you and how they leave. What I love about it is just helping them; to see we’re actually making a difference and that they’ve benefited.”

Patsy added:

“I love being a positive part of someone’s journey. They might stay over six months or a couple of years, but being able to help them at that time is [great] and hopefully they remember it fondly.”

“Seeing the difference in the children from when they come in and when they leave us is really amazing; watching them grow. When they’ve come and said ‘thank you’ for something and we [know] we’re doing something right. I think children are generally amazing anyway, but to see some of the challenges these children overcome, it’s massive to be part of that.”

Anyone aged 21+ with a spare bedroom could foster with Foster Portsmouth regardless of their age, gender, faith, ethnicitysexualitymarital or work status, or whether they rent or own their own home.

Patsy reported:

“I think there are even carers out there that are younger than us. As long as you’ve got the time and you’ve got a [spare] bedroom, that is all you need. Age is not a setback and it’s never been detrimental to us. If anything, we have more energy to do activities together with our foster children, especially teenagers. If they want to go paddle-boarding or mountain biking, we’re doing it too! We’re very proactive and love being outdoors, which is great for the children and for us too.”

“If you’re thinking about it, just dive straight in!”

If you have the commitment and enthusiasm to care for vulnerable children as well as invaluable skills and experience – possibly gained from careers in education, care, emergency services, armed forces and health sector careers – we would love to hear from you.

We can arrange an informal chat with an experienced member of our team to answer any queries you may have. We can also organise a 1-2-1 with one of our existing carers so you can discover first-hand the difference you could make.

Patsy ended:

“If it wasn’t rewarding, we wouldn’t still be here doing it. We’d say if you’re thinking about it, just dive straight in!”

Square image of foster carers Tony & Patsy Allen smiling in front of a river


Could you be their champion too?

To enquire about fostering with Foster Portsmouth, or to arrange a 1:1 with one of our experienced team or existing foster carers, please fill in our contact form below, call 023 9283 4071 or email fostering@portsmouthcc.gov.uk.

 

    Start your fostering journey