5 minutes with…Michelle

The Support Worker at Wellcroft House, on life at Progress, beverages, and why you should give working with young people a try.

I always wanted to do something meaningful in life. I’ve had different jobs and owned a café too, but it wasn’t fulfilling. When I saw a job come up with Progress I thought, yeah, this works for me. A career and an opportunity to help others? It’s a win-win.

I began life as a night supporter worker. I used to work every other weekend at Oak Cottage and now eleven years later, I’m a support worker at Wellcroft House. My role is to make sure that young people always have the best quality of life. It’s not an easy job, but if you have compassion for others, you really can change lives.

I’ve learnt a lot in my eleven years at Progress. Probably the biggest thing I’ve learnt, is that that you can’t give anything less than 100% each shift. Another human being is dependent upon you, so having a strong work ethic is a biggie.

It’s the young people that inspire me to come to work. When you see them smile because you have taken them out to the park, or they get excited when you read them a story, I feel what I’m doing is having an impact.

Progression is the aim. I have known many of the young people for over ten years and have built a close bond with them. When they move on, you’re sad because you have followed them on their journey. But it means that they’re progressing in life and that’s what we want.

We have had some great times. I remember a non-verbal young person who liked different beverages. I devised a little game so she could become more self-reliant. I brought out a tea bag and a bottle of juice and placed them in front of her. I waited a few moments. I didn’t think anything would happen until she reached and touched the tea bag – she made the choice! I think about those moments a lot.

You should give it a try. If you’re passionate, have the energy and are a resilient person, then what are you waiting for? There are so many children and young people that need your help.

Michelle is currently fundraising for front line NHS staff at Wolverhampton New Cross Hospital. Visit www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/michelle-rafferty for further information and how to donate.

Why I foster: Jane

In a new series of interviews we have asked Progress foster carers why they foster care and how fostering changes lives.

Jane has been caring for Fariha. This is her story.

I have worked with and cared for young people with complex disabilities for over twenty years. I may be biased; but welcoming a young person into your home is hugely rewarding, especially when you see the positive impact you are having on their life. It is an absolute pleasure for my husband Mark and I to provide foster care.

We took a break from fostering a few years ago, to recharge our batteries and then went back to Progress with a renewed optimism to help a child. Progress informed us about Fariha, and we really wanted to care for her.

Fariha has severe disabilities and was residing in a home. She is a wheelchair user, has significant learning, speech and language delay as well as some visual and hearing problems. Fariha had an few unsettled years; having moved from place to place.

Imagine if you went through that?

We were so pleased when Fariha was placed with us.

Mark (who worked in the police force for over thirty years), was initially worried about fostering a child with complex needs, due to his lack of knowledge and experience. However, he felt more confident once he took part in the training and support Progress gave us.

In preparation for Fariha’s placement, our home was assessed by occupational health professionals and some adaptations were made.

One such example was the fitting of several small ramps inside as well as handrails, so Fariha could move freely around the house.

We asked as many questions as we could about Fariha’s needs, personality and behaviours, so she would be comfortable in her new home. A transition plan was sent to us, to ensure we had a good understanding of her daily requirements and routines, and this really helped.

Fariha’s bedroom was decorated to her own individual needs and although she cannot verbalise her preferences, we ensured her bedroom had a calming atmosphere to encourage and promote sleep and relaxation.

Taking care of a child with disabilities can seem quite daunting, and you will face a lot of challenges. Giving unconditional love to a child is a given, but you must also have patience and understanding. When you can do this, you will see many wonderful things.

At one of our first meetings, we were told not to expect any hugs or sitting on laps from Fariha, and that she would be stationary. Mark and I would always encourage her to reach out to us. Within the first month, Fariha reached out to Mark, insinuating that she wanted to be picked up! I could not believe it! Fast forward to today (with a little bit of work) – Fariha will raise up on her knees to be picked up for a cuddle or to sit on your lap.

It has been wonderful, getting to understand the faces she pulls and the noises she makes when she is happy or sad. This may seem like a little thing, but knowing where she was, to where she is now, these moments are huge! Fariha has also settled well into her new school. Her initial phased start to the term has now turned now into a full-time schedule. We are so proud of how Fariha has coped with this.

We own a caravan and take trips across the country with Fariha. She loves the beach and the noises of the waves crashing and the feeling of the wind on her face and hair.

Mark and I have committed a lot of time caring for Fariha. You must think about the demands that caring for a child has on you as an individual, a couple and wider family. As a couple we try to get away when we can and spend time together.

That said, our lives have become much richer by looking after Fariha. When I see her smile, I realise what a special girl she really is.

Keen to know how you can change a child’s life? Click here for more information