What is your perception of foster parents and foster care? So many will have their knowledge of what it’s like to be a foster parent or to know children and young people that enter care influenced by common misconceptions and myths often portrayed on television, within the film industry or news. These media environments rely on sensationalism to grab your attention and don’t give a true balance on just how sensational it can be to be a foster parent.
Don’t get me wrong there are many challenges that every foster parent will face, and it is not for everyone. I myself have had to face some of the most difficult times in my life to ensure the child within my care was ensured that loving, safe, nurturing family environment that every child has the right to expect.
I never for one second thought that I would become a foster parent, so why did I?
My wife and I became friends with a couple at the school gate that were foster parents through our children being in the same class. We were invited to the 30th birthday party of one of our friends at which I sat next to a very charming and engaging young man. He regaled me with anecdotes of his travels and the places he had visited, nights of drinking and how he was aiming to be a bodybuilder. He had me in tears of laughter as we agreed his legs were better suited to a bird’s nest than a gym. As the night was drawing to a close he was collected by two workers to return to his supported accommodation.
As he left our friend said “Do you want to know a little bit more about him?” Apparently he had never left the town he was born in, that night was the first night he had ever had a pint of Guinness, and all his stories were to mask what had happened to him as a very young child.
The abuse and neglect he had endured really pulled on our heartstrings and again I was in tears but for completely the opposite reasons.
My wife and I turned to each other in the car and agreed to find out what fostering meant.
The following week after an initial phone call we were sitting listening to how the process would work for us and our family.
That one meeting with that incredible young man changed my life and ignited a passion to do what I could in support of our vulnerable children.
My wife and I were approved as short-term foster parents and have been carers for almost 15 years. We were initially approved to provide a home to children from birth up to the age of 5 because we wanted to maintain the position of our birth children being the eldest.
Fostering has provided both my wife and me with some incredible experiences including a wonderful son. We adopted him after him being in our care for 2 years. During that time he had gone through two major heart surgeries and with one more to come. He is an amazing young man and we are incredibly blessed. This raises the question we are always asked “How do you let the children move on; I could never do that.”
At the time of writing this we have just welcomed our 15th young child into our family. We have the view that every child remains in our family until they no longer wish to be. They may leave the home but not our family and never our hearts. We have children that have returned to birth parents, family members, special guardians and adopters that remain in touch with us. We have kept in contact with children that currently reside in Portugal and Pakistan. We feel as if we are virtual grandparents to most of the children that have spent time within our family.
Unfortunately, there is always a child waiting for a loving family home, so after a child moves on to their forever home it is not long before another child takes our attention.
Now when that question or statement is said to me I now reply with “What can you do? How can you support our vulnerable children?” not everyone has the time, energy, resilience, space to foster but there are ways people can help. I believe we all have a social responsibility for the care of vulnerable individuals within our society. Not only does every young person have the right to expect a safe and secure environment but also the opportunity to achieve their true potential. A young person’s trauma or disadvantage should not be allowed to define their future.
Anyone can highlight fostering to people they know or provide an opportunity for a child in care or a care leaver.
As I said earlier, fostering has changed my life. I don’t need adoration or compliments, it is enough to feel the baby in your care hold your little finger for the first time, or the consenting nod of approval from a teenager or the child that came into your care who just lay on the floor where they were placed crying without making a sound change into a confident cheeky fun loving individual that now cries when they laugh so hard, no words can replace those feelings.
Since fostering I have changed my career. I worked for a number of years as a fostering advisor for the Department for Education on their Fosterline service. This led me to become the Managing Director for FosterTalk and although I foster for Birmingham Children’s Trust I now work for Derby City Council as a Commissioning Manager to ensure children in care get the right support and interventions to ensure they have the opportunity of a loving, nurturing home.
Never in a million years would an ordinary individual like myself expect to attend a royal garden party. I was lucky enough to receive that pleasure as a foster carer and contributor to government policy with the DfE. It has enabled me to speak candidly with Children’s Ministers and represent views of foster carers and advocate for the remarkable opportunities foster parents provide for young people to achieve opportunities in line with their peers.
I have met so many wonderful people through being a foster parent, I admire any person that puts themselves forward to be assessed. Let me assure you now you don’t need to have or had children, you can be single or in a partnership regardless of that make up, same sex, mixed, married or not. The main thing you require is energy, time, compassion and a dedication to provide a safe nurturing environment.
I would urge anyone thinking of fostering just to make that initial call and hey it might not be for you but at least that will be confirmed and if you still want to continue we would welcome you with open arms to enter the assessment process.