27 May 2021

"You can completely change somebody's life..."

Natasha Robinson works as an educational psychologist with Aberdeenshire Council but says the difference you can make to young people’s lives through any professional role is hugely magnified when you become a foster carer. Natasha and her husband Buzz have been foster caring with Aberdeenshire Council for the past 10 years.

She said: “There is nothing like being a foster carer. The enormity of the difference you can make when you have people living with you day-in-day-out is just so great. There are many professions where you can make a difference but when you foster you can completely change somebody’s life. You give them a better chance by giving them a stable home.”

In Natasha and Buzz’s experience it’s important to learn as you go but there is plenty of training, knowledge and support on offer to help along the way.

Buzz said: “You make lots of mistakes. But the great thing about foster care is that you will always have the support of other nurturing professionals to help you with every age and stage, and financial support too. It also helps if you have your own interests and passions as you can share this with the young people you look after. They inspire you to learn new things too.”

During the last lockdown, Natasha and Buzz decided to support another foster family as well as looking after their own two birth children who are six and eight and their foster children who are 14 and 15. On Fridays, a seven-year-old boy joined them to take part in outdoor learning activities and the little group found solace in using the den they’d built during the first lockdown and a firepit in the local woods as a base to enjoy games, orienteering and outdoor snacks. In the afternoon they’d reflect on their experiences in learning journals and create art back at the house.

“There was a lot of sliding around on ice or sliding down hills as well as cooking by the fire and the children really enjoyed this as part of their lockdown routine. Having another little boy join us was great as it was someone new to play with and he really enjoyed building up physical stamina as well as confidence and emotional resilience,” Natasha commented.

The return to school has made Natasha realise how much she enjoyed outdoor learning too. She is now training with North East Scotland Forest Schools to become a group leader.

She explained: “It was great to turn something really negative (lockdown) into a positive experience for the children and it also gave me an opportunity to learn and grow in different ways and in areas I hadn’t considered before.”

Natasha’s foster care daughter Tia (14) also attended the hub at Mackie Academy during lockdown and says she wishes school could be like that all the time. She joined a nurture group of young people, many of whom were care experienced, and who gained a lot from the additional support. As well as school work, there was a big focus on wellbeing activities such as tea and biscuits, walks outside and afternoons when they watched films or played games.

Natasha added: “I remember one of the key things parents said children and young people were struggling with during lockdown was lack of routine with school missing. Our Fridays gave us something to look forward to. You need a plan, especially with children who are looked after, so you have some stability when everything else around you is changing.”

Tia and her brother Joseph joined Natasha and Buzz’s family almost six years ago, when their own children were just six and 18 months old. They are now with the family permanently, at least until the age of 21. Natasha and her husband have been fostering for 10 years, after deciding this was the best way they could continue to support young people when they moved on from working in residential care roles.

“Our boys don’t remember a time without Tia and Joseph and we all feel really lucky to have each other. We benefitted from hearing good stories about foster carers from young people we worked with in a children’s home and we also have a strong belief that everyone alive is loved and it’s our collective responsibility to look after children and young people who don’t have a family of their own. There are lots of people who could foster who don’t and I suppose I want them to know it’s a really rewarding thing to do,” Buzz said.

Natasha and her extended family plan to share some of their outdoor learning lockdown experiences and artwork through the time capsule project. Cllr Gillian Owen, Chair of Aberdeenshire Council’s Education and Children’s Services Committee, is particularly keen that care experienced children and young people have a voice.

Cllr Owen added: “We know that lockdowns impacted some of our most vulnerable children and young people most and I hope that is captured in some way through time capsule entries. It is inspiring to learn about Natasha’s journey and I think it’s a fantastic example of how foster carers make a huge impact on young people’s lives. Thank you to all our wonderful foster families after such an incredibly trying 14 months.”

Find out more about fostering in Aberdeenshire at: http://bit.ly/AbshireFoster For more information or if you would like an information pack, please contact fostering.befriending@aberdeenshire.gov.uk or 01467 532700.