Sandra and her partner are short break foster carers.
We have one 'short break bed', which is used fully for 42 weeks of the year, and this is occupied by children with all sorts of disabilities.
Over the last ten years we have offered respite to a large number of children with a wide range of disabilities. Some have moved on at 18 years of age, some have moved to different carers and some still come to see us, we watched them grow up and they have become like extended family members and we look forward to each new milestone in their lives, along with their family.
When a child is diagnosed with a disability, the parents suffer from a level of shock and despair and find that day to day living is difficult. If we are able to help out by giving them a brief break from this then we feel that we have done our job well and hopefully have given them a breathing space which we hope enables them to carry on coping. This time out also offers their siblings some space for themselves and to do the things that their peers do.
Most of the children we care for live with their family and come for a 3 - 4 night break and occasionally for longer if the family want a holiday. Sometimes, it is just for a single day if carers have a wedding or an urgent appointment that it wouldn't be appropriate to take their child to. These are generally booked 6 months in advance after an assessment by the child's social worker.
We are lucky to live in a large bungalow with wide doorways and ramps to accommodate wheelchairs, but this is not always necessary as a lot of the young people are very able bodied.
A regular day would be difficult to describe as no two days are the same. All I can say is that on a school day we are up around 6am as quite a few of our children and young people are incontinent and are in pads at night. The day starts with baths and showers, assisting them to dress and with their personal care and then breakfast before the school bus picks them up around 8am (special needs children usually are provided with transport).
The rest of the day is spent in a quiet household when we catch up on the cleaning, cooking and shopping, and sometimes just time for ourselves, this is when there are no reviews, school meetings, support meetings or training courses.
Our work starts again at 4pm when the children return to us and we then continue our care of them, playing, colouring, watching TV, outside in the garden or going for a walk.
We entertain the children and young people until bedtime which extends from about 7.30pm until around 10pm. Most of our children sleep through the night so we are lucky in that aspect but we are always aware of children calling out if they are worried, frightened or feeling unwell and we have two baby monitors in situ so no sound goes unnoticed.
At weekends and school holidays we like to go somewhere if at all possible to the park or to a zoo or even a shopping centre.
This is an extremely interesting and fulfilling part of fostering and can recommend it especially if you are unflappable and have a sense of humour, which is a vital part of the job.