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Trudi and Michelle’s story

Meet Michelle and Trudi, two wonderful LGBTQ+ foster carers currently fostering in Blackpool....

Meet Michelle and Trudi, two wonderful LGBTQ+ foster carers currently fostering in Blackpool. Over the past six years, they have fostered nine children together, mostly babies and toddlers under the age of two.

Describing foster caring as "life-affirming" they talk openly and honestly about memory making, loss, and hope as they lovingly continue their fostering journey.

Our journey into foster care

Michelle and Trudi began fostering with Blackpool Council in December 2014. As qualified nurses and mum to four of their own children, they had a busy life, but a lot of love still left to give.

Although Michelle's mum had grown up in foster care, it was a chance meeting with another foster carer that really sparked their interest.

Trudi recalls it as if it were yesterday when they met a foster parent at Judo. "One week she was picking up boys and the next, girls," she remembers.

The three of them got talking, and in realising the personal rewards and fulfilment that fostering could bring to their lives, Michelle and Trudi explored the idea.

As compassionate nurses who genuinely care for the lives of others, they knew they would have plenty to offer. There was a lot to consider, though. All four of their birth children lived at home, and the youngest was just five years old. The eldest, however, was about to leave home for an apprenticeship opportunity. "It felt like the perfect timing because we were at the right stage in our lives as a family and were about to have a spare room," mentions Michelle.

Together, they sat down with their children and discussed the idea of fostering to make sure that it was something the whole family would be on board with.

Choosing to foster with Blackpool

"We always say that we chose Blackpool," adds Michelle.

"We could have chosen to foster through Lancashire County Council. However, we had already been forewarned of the appointments we would need to attend. Everything's much more spread out in Lancashire. We wanted to make it easier on our family and on the foster children as they wouldn’t have to endure long journeys," adds Trudi.

The fostering assessment process

As rigorous as it was, the fostering assessment process took just four months.

Trudi mentions, "It was quite a surprise to have been approved so quickly, but we were excited to start our fostering journey."

In November, they were approved as short-term foster carers in Blackpool, and just five days before Christmas, they welcomed their first foster child into their home. "It was a lovely Christmas, one that we'll never forget," Michelle recollects.

Making memories

With their youngest child being just five years old, Michelle and Trudi could only foster young children and babies.

Speaking about the needs of very young children coming into foster care, Michelle says:

"You have to remember that they still experience loss. They miss the sound, smell and touch of their birth parents. It can be very difficult for them. Therefore one of the first things we do is to nurture them and make memories."

They take care to document each child's time with them. For example, they create plaster-cast prints of their hands and feet to give to their birth or adoptive parents. "We keep their hospital baby bracelet, capture their first words and steps," adds Michelle.

They take hundreds of photos and videos and make a conscious effort with all the little things in life that may otherwise get missed.

"Children learn from birth. As they grow up, it is important that they know their story," adds Trudi.

Michelle agrees, saying, "They need to know that they mattered when they were born. It's important that their life story feels complete."

Here to help and not judge

Fostering is seldom straightforward, though. Being short-term foster carers for babies and toddlers also involves balancing the needs and wishes of birth parents and adoptive parents too.

"We never judge a situation. We open our hearts to the child's parents as much as we do to the child. After all, we're all there for the same reason," Michelle affirms.

Keen to maintain the bond between the parents and the child, they print large A4 pictures of the parent and place them in their bedroom so they can see them.

"We want parents to feel that we are caring for their child in a way that they would want us to. This could mean sleeping with a blanket they've given them, reading them a favourite nursery rhyme or story," adds Michelle.

Before Covid, Michelle, who retired from her nursing role two years ago, would facilitate four or five in-person 1.5-hour parent meet-ups each week.

During Covid, and in line with government guidance, she had to change parental contact to five virtual sessions each week and one in-person meeting every two weeks.

"It has been really tough for the child and the parent, with not being able to see and hold one another. That's why the memory-making and close engagement with parents is so important. It helps maintain the bond, even in the most challenging of times," recalls Michelle.

Making the right match

"We’ve been fortunate. The success of a foster placement relies on the strength of the match,” asserts Trudi.

Nodding, Michelle says, “Our supervising social worker knows our family very well. Having the right match is crucial, especially when your own children are still living at home. As foster carers, we can change and adapt, but we cannot expect our children to do so.

Therefore, when we welcome a child into our home, they must be the right fit for our family.”

Adding to this, Trudi mentions that when a child leaves their care, “we take stock as a family, because it is a loss, and together we decide if we want to continue fostering. We also regularly check in with our children to make sure they are happy.”

Making time as a couple

Fostering is a 24/7 role. Much like parenthood, there’s no clocking on and off, as Michelle is quick to say:

“It is important that you find time for one another. That’s not been quite so easy during Covid, but we would ask one of our DBS-checked linked family members to babysit for us in normal times. This gives us the chance to have some downtime and recharge.”

After all, a typical week in fostering babies translates into several parent meetings, social worker meetings, court dates, health visits, and so much more. It is a full-on job that requires a lot of multi-tasking, but the ‘nurse’ in Michelle and Trudi, thrives on being busy.

“Although I often feel frazzled, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Fostering enriches our family life. Our own children have also developed invaluable tools they will take into adulthood,” comments Michelle.

Fostering support at Blackpool Council

Trudi and Michelle were quickly introduced to other local foster carers, which Michelle says, “continues to be a great support network”. Once a month, the group meets (currently online) with a social worker who joins in on discussions.

The training they receive from Blackpool Council is also very good. To flex around family life, most mandatory courses are online. There’s also the option to specialise in certain areas of support.

Reflecting on the initial five-day introductory training from six years ago, Trudi recalls:

“The training course was honest and informative. I remember listening to a care leaver’s very truthful account of their experience of being in foster care. There was no mistaking the importance of the journey we were about to take.”

Advice to others thinking of fostering

“Our advice to anyone thinking of fostering is that while it is full-on, the positives far outweigh the challenges,” concludes Trudi.

Michelle continues, “I wish people could see our lives. Well-meaning friends will often tap me on the shoulder and tell me that they don’t know how we do what we do. My response to that is that, yes, it is hard to say goodbye to one of our foster children. It hurts because you build such a strong bond with them. But then, that’s when I know we’ve done a great job!”