The Guardian Experience and lifestyle articles-I’m a blind foster parent

 

Experience: I’m a blind foster parent

When I first lost my sight, I thought the council wouldn’t want a carer who was disabled and single, and I was heartbroken

Linda Garforth, who is a blind foster carer
Linda Garforth: ‘I have to to remind the teenager not to leave things on the floor, because when I look down I can’t see anything.’ Photograph: Richard Saker/The Guardian
Linda Garforth
Fri 25 Jun 2021 10.00 BST

 

For a long time I have had problems with my sight: macular degeneration meant that I had no central vision in one eye. Then, one morning in 2013, my other eye – the good one – haemorrhaged. I was told it was permanently damaged and nothing would make it better. I became officially registered as severely sight impaired or blind.

It was a big shock. Little things became so much harder, such as making a cup of tea, as I would get boiling water everywhere. People I know would stop to have a conversation in the street and I wouldn’t know who they were.

I was able to get by, but my biggest fear was that, because I was blind, the local council would stop me being a foster carer. I began fostering children 30 years ago when I was newly divorced and a single mother of three, after spotting an advertisement in the Oldham Chronicle. At the time, I was looking after friends’ children when they were at work, but I liked the idea of helping children who really needed it. I didn’t think the council would want me because I was single, but they didn’t seem to mind.

Councils and foster agencies rarely let people with disabilities become foster parents. When I got back home from the eye hospital, I thought they would say I could no longer do it and would take away the children I was looking after. The only foster carer I know who has a disability has MS, but they have a partner to help. I thought they wouldn’t want someone who was both disabled and single, and I was absolutely heartbroken at the thought. I couldn’t stop thinking about what would happen to the children. But someone from the council came to see me and, after asking a lot of questions and carrying out new risk assessments, they said they wanted me to continue.

I’ve lost count of how many children I have fostered since then. Right now, I have a three-week-old baby and a 15-year-old girl. The teenager tries to show me things on her phone, which I can’t see at all, and I have to remind her not to leave things like shoes in the middle of the floor, because when I look down I can’t see anything. Luckily, I haven’t had a bad fall at home yet, but I have tripped when out of the house. I fell over badly in the street a few weeks ago because I didn’t see the kerb. It’s easier with the baby, as long as the clothes don’t have fiddly buttons. I get my twin daughters to come to look at things like rashes to see if I need to go to the doctor.

For safety reasons, I’ve stopped taking children between two and five because they are more likely to run off in the park, and I can’t do things like cutting babies’ fingernails. Fortunately, both of my daughters are now foster carers as well, and all my children live within a 10-minute walk, so I have a lot of support. My adopted son, who is 24 and has Asperger’s, still lives with me.

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The biggest problem is that I can no longer drive, so if the children have contact days with their families, they have to live close by so I can easily get there. Even without foster caring, that was the most difficult thing for me because it meant losing my independence. I know my eyes won’t get better, but I also know I will get better at dealing with it.

The hardest part of fostering hasn’t changed since I lost my sight: it’s still saying goodbye. I don’t think you can be a good foster carer if you don’t get attached. It breaks your heart when they go, but I always think, if I had kept that first one, where would all the other 150 children have gone?

I’m 63 now and don’t know when I’ll stop doing this. I don’t think there is any better job in the world. I love to see a childless couple come into my house and meet their child for the first time. Or when a parent turns things around and gets their child back. When all of a sudden a parent sees the light, it’s an unbelievable feeling for the child, but also for me.

 As told to Nicola Slawson

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Read more here: Experience: I’m a blind foster parent | Life and style | The Guardian

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