International Men's Day, Graham's Story
17 November 2023
17 November 2023
Hi Graham, can you please tell us a little bit about yourself?
My name is Graham Leverton and I’m 61 years old. I live in Newport, South Wales with my wife, Wendy. We have six adult children, four daughters, and two sons, and will soon get our tenth grandchild. We have been fostering for 13 years but I am the primary carer. Before fostering I operated my own small construction company for 30 years.
What made you become a foster carer?
After 30 years in construction, I was ready for a change for all sorts of reasons. My wife saw an advert for foster carers in the local press and suggested we apply together. I was surprised to have a strong sense of being called towards fostering teens and that was where my fostering story began. It was Wendy’s idea!
Can you tell us about some of the unique skills you need to become a foster carer?
I tend to be quite methodical in a male sort of way. Over the years I have seen this more like a skill than an attribute and now realise that it probably grew out of my training and years in construction. It has been useful in my fostering role. I see attributes and skills methodically too. They don’t just appear we have to practice them.
I think having a vision and hope for the future of children in care are probably the most important basic attributes a foster carer can have. Vision and hope, along with other personal attributes like patience, empathy, and compassion, help motivate us from the idea of fostering towards realising the skillset we already have to offer, and those that we can be trained in.
Having the ability to listen carefully to hurting youngsters is a fundamental skill requirement for a foster carer. Good listening skills extend to working with others in the team around the child, and they are essential for ongoing learning too.
I think communicating well is also an essential skill for a foster carer. Speaking to a child or teenager, including those with additional needs, requires good use of speech and body language. A foster carer can be speaking to an anxious, speech delayed, 11-year-old over breakfast, and at 9:30am attend a meeting and be speaking with half a dozen professionals.
What does a typical day look like for you as a foster carer?
Despite working as a foster carer based at home my days are still masculine looking.
My 16-year-old boy has been with us for 4 years. He has diagnoses of ADHD and ASD so the most important thing for him is how I listen and communicate with him. We have grown an excellent relationship despite getting off to a very rocky start. A typical day at the beginning of placement is best not recorded here. However, a typical day regarding him now is much like having my own 16-year-old son to guide, equip, and have fun with.
On most weekdays I try to do foster-related reading or/and training as my boy is at his special school. I do that in the mornings after a few house-husbandly chores. It lasts for maybe an hour. Most of my training is completed online. During that period, I will also make a few notes/recordings relating to my fostering work.
It would not be unusual for me to have a weekday Teams-type meeting or a professional meeting away from home. I regularly engage with psychiatrists, behavioural therapists, social workers, and teaching staff. I am also involved in a Calon Cymru support group as well as being the lead voice for several Christian foster carers in Newport. These things would all be part of a typical day.
When my boy is not at school my day is different but not dramatically so because he has progressed so much. I am now able to leave him at home on his own for short periods. He has finally started to make friends and has joined his first mainstream-type clubs. The investment he is making in those means he needs me less just as any developing 16-year-old might.
We all tend to chat most at mealtimes, often with others joining us. I use this to help him feel an integrated part of our family and friends and for social training. Hence, I am partly focused on my fostering role at those times too. I am aware that I am role-modelling to him most of the time so I’m rarely off duty as a man who fosters.
Evenings are calm times, but some nights require me to drop off at chess club, teens club in our church, or maybe some sports activity. Me and my boy always talk on these journeys. He takes himself off to bed around 9.30 most nights but occasionally stays up to watch something with us.
What are some challenges you may face as a new foster carer?
For me, it was the extent of the suffering and anger that the first teen we fostered expressed. I was shocked! I’m not sure if anything could have prepared me for that. It soon knocked any misplaced sentimentality out of me.
Within that period was the major challenge to adapt my own well-practiced male parenting style to suit a 13-year-old girl who had been sexually abused. It was difficult to face the risk of allegation whilst caring for her as a man. In the beginning, the risk of allegations was never far from my mind and I found that debilitating at times.
What has been your favourite memory as a foster carer?
I saw that same girl, our first placement (aged 23), in McDonald’s 7 years later. She called out to me across the restaurant, and we gave each other a big hug and had a warm chat. When I reflect on that it is a remarkable memory and brings a smile to my face. I have numerous such fond memories.
What has your time been like with Calon Cymru Fostering?
I transferred to Calon Cymru Fostering from a large agency about 6 years ago. During that time the agency has enabled me to develop my fostering skills and given me a great opportunity to make a difference in my boy’s life.
In the last few years, as I have gotten to know more of the Calon Cymru team, I have come to appreciate the quality of the agency and its consistent approach to me and my role. I have noted that the mostly female team has grown to respect my strong male style of fostering and has facilitated me in that.
I have also been pleasantly surprised that Calon Cymru has been willing to make unfamiliar financial sacrifices for the sake of me, my family, and my boy. I don’t think I can praise a business much more highly than that.
Do you have any advice for any new foster carers?
Choose your fostering provider very carefully. When you start you will not know as much as you think you know but as time passes and you stick at it, you will learn things and do things you never imagined you could do. So, stick at it, learn well, and always keep a record of the difference you are making, especially if you are a bloke.
17 November 2023
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