“I Fostered 92 Children, Here’s What It Taught Me About Raising Children”

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In My Story, readers share their unique life-changing experiences. Today we hear from host family Jo Newby, 53, who are based in East Yorkshire.

I have always been surrounded by children. When I was young, I was the go-to babysitter there, then I left school and went to work as a nursery nurse, then I became a nanny. After that, I got married and had a child (who is 32 now).

I realized that I wanted a big family and to continue having children, but my first marriage did not last and I was left alone for several years.

When my first child turned 10, I got married for the second time. We had talked about having children, but we thought we would rather give the displaced children a home. We didn’t need the children to be biologically ours, we just knew we wanted a happy, busy home.

We looked into foster care and found that the approval process can take up to a year – it’s a pretty thorough check, and rightly so, as it involves a lot of responsibility for s take care of someone else’s baby or child.

When you adopt a child, a very complex amount of information is compiled about you and your family background, checks are done, and then you go to what’s called a “panel” (which is basically a group of professionals who go through sift through all this information and log out).

A few days after the panel, I received a call telling me that our first child was coming – it was 19 years ago. He was a very young baby, only a few months old. It was early evening and she arrived on the doorstep in a car seat.

It was pretty overwhelming because, even though we knew what we signed up for – we had done all this training and had the bed and the pram and everything – the fact that someone brought this baby to our house and the was then left in our care, it was quite overwhelming.

It was like: ok, we are now responsible for this little human being.

We had her for a few months and then she was able to go home because her parents managed to change their way of life. But the parent didn’t support these changes, so she came back and stayed with us until she was adopted at age two. She is almost 19 now and still a part of our lives. She calls me “the fun aunt she didn’t realize she needed, but she got.”

Sometimes, years later, people will come back asking for advice or children will wonder about what they were like when they were little. No matter who the children end up with – whether adoptive parents, biological parents or extended family – we always emphasize to them that we would like this relationship to continue in any way. they feel able to do so.

Some of our older ones show up on the doorstep and knock on the door saying, “Hi, we were just passing through and thought we were coming to say hello.” It’s really good that they feel comfortable enough to do it.

Jo Newby with some of her adopted children.

We adopted one of our foster children, Kasper, so we made a long-term commitment to him. But most of the time, we tend to make short-term, emergency investments. Many people think that acute care lasts a few weeks or months, but it can last years.

We never set an end date. We have two little ones at the moment and we didn’t think: “They will be with us for a year, or three months”. We took them and they are here as long as they need to be here.

When the children leave, some of them will come back just for a day, or a weekend, to take a break from their place of residence. We will be there as long as they need us. In the same way that you make a commitment to your biological children to support them throughout their childhood, I have made this commitment to all of my adopted children.

One of the lessons I’ve learned from foster care is that when you’re raising your own children, you have these very high expectations – and I don’t have any expectations now, from anybody, because somebody doesn’t can do only what he can do.

If you come from a traumatic start and, as a foster family, I have expectations of you that I might have had of my biological children, that will be unrealistic. So I take everyone at face value. For some people, success looks really different. Good behavior, if you want to call it that, can be very different. Getting someone to sit at a table can be a huge win.

I also learned that as a host family you need to be consistent and reliable. Kids absolutely thrive on routine and I’ve seen that in real life. Children may come from a chaotic environment, but when they realize that the environment is predictable and that you are predictable, calm, reliable and keep your promises, it is very important for them because they can build trust .

“You don’t go into foster care lightly. It’s not something you do by flying by the seat of your pants. It’s not just about pushing the pram and making the tea.

You do not enter a host family lightly. It’s not something you do by flying by the seat of your pants. It’s not just about pushing the pram and making the tea. You must constantly practice, learn and adapt your practice to meet the needs of children. So if someone comes in with a specific medical condition, I’ll do some research, see if there are any training courses locally, see if the hospital or doctors offer courses on that medical condition.

I welcome children from 0 to 18 years old, so to meet everyone’s needs, my place is at home – and I get a lot out of it. A big part of placement is preparing these children, regardless of age, for the real world, so that means teaching them life skills and encouraging them to participate in running the home.

We’ll cook dinner, set the table and do the dishes together, then we’ll load the dishwasher together. It helps them settle in, it helps bond, it teaches them responsibility and, to me, it makes them part of the family. Because I love my role as caregiver, housewife and mom so much, I don’t feel like I would give my all to this role if I had a job outside the home. .

Jo Newby pictured with a statue of herself after being crowned the UK's Nice Heroine.
Jo Newby pictured with a statue of herself after being crowned the UK’s Nice Heroine.

And because Christopher (my husband) works, we’re lucky not to be dependent on that foster money, which isn’t income anyway to be honest: foster money is an allowance you are paid to feed you, clothe you and meet the child’s expenses. It’s not a host family salary, which I think a lot of people feel like it is.

If you are considering becoming a host family, I would say: do your homework very carefully. Talk to existing host families, look at different agencies, the local authority.

Even if you raised your own children, raising a child who comes from trauma or chaos is very different. It takes so much more than having a big heart and a spare room, you are all kinds of things to these children: you are a counselor, a police officer, you are so many different things to them. The whole world is a more complex place and our children are more complex too.

“It takes so much more than just having a big heart and a spare room, you’re all kinds of things to these kids: you’re a counselor, a police officer, you’re so many different things.”

Three weeks ago, KIND Snacks unveiled a statue of me on the pavements of London’s iconic Southbank after my husband named me ‘the nicest resident in the country’. I was humbled, I was in disbelief, I was a little embarrassed. I’m still waiting for someone to tell me they made a mistake.

I never necessarily felt like I was doing anything more. I have always felt that a small part of what I do meets my needs. So it’s a bit fraudulent that Christopher offered me for this. I’m just the average Joe getting up every day, just doing what I do.

I haven’t really thought about the broader impact of changing the cycle for some of these young people who have entered the care system and have a positive experience and are then able to move on in their own lives and to give their own children a positive upbringing.

You don’t think about it in that larger frame until someone says look at the impact you’ve had.

All I hope is that other foster families see this as an acknowledgment of the role itself – of our role. Not just about me as a person, but about foster care in general. This is a shout out to every host family because we are truly underappreciated.

People don’t realize the enormity of the responsibility, the enormity of the commitment and the enormity of the impact you have on the children you care for. You do something wrong and it will leave a mark, but if you do it right it will leave a really positive impression.

Jo’s story came to light following KIND Snacks’ nationwide search for the UK’s gentle hero earlier this year. His statue was unveiled in hopes of inspiring more acts of kindness, whether big or small.

She was interviewed by Natasha Hinde and her answers have been edited for length and clarity. To participate in HuffPost UK’s My Story series, email uklife@huffpost.com.

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