About eighteen months ago, my wife and I decided to train as foster carers.
We’d been considering it for … well, it’s hard to say. Now I think about it, it’s probably getting on for nearly a decade. It doesn’t feel like it.
When we signed-up for the training and told people in our lives about it, we were greeted with a lot of positivity – many thanks to everyone who fell into that category. Others were surprised … and others were quite cynical, even negative. And not from the people I expected, if I’m honest.
Some of this may be because – and you, dear reader, may not be able to believe this – I occasionally present myself as a bit of a grumpy bugger. Yes, I know, it is a bit surprising.
But everyone asked the same question:
It’s a reasonable question. I never thought I liked kids all that much! I’m just-about tolerant of my own … less so of other people’s.
It all started when we met the foster-child of some friends of ours, when they visited for lunch one Sunday. She was only about five years old. She had suffered serious abuse right from a baby, and by the time she was taken into care had some serious mental health issues … but that didn’t stop me from falling in love with her. We spent the day sat on the floor, doing jigsaws, reading, colouring, and playing Lego.
That’s when I realised that I don’t hate children at all – I’m just not crazy about the spoilt ones. Those who don’t appreciate how fortunate they are. But this little girl was just delighted that people were paying her any attention. We spent hours together, but it didn’t feel like a waste of my time. In fact, it felt like a better use of my time than a day spent working on one of my idiot projects.
At the time we decided that we applauded fostering, but it wasn’t for us … nevertheless, the seed was sown. From that moment, every little fostering-related thing we saw jumped right out at us. Posters on the train. An information stand in the library. Items on the news.
A few years later we would reach a new point in our lives. Our own children were fairly independent, and we were being paid quite well in our careers. Our house was in a comfortable state, we were all set to enjoy more relaxing evenings and going out to more restaurants and having nice holidays and generally just getting fatter and spending time and money on us … and we both realised that we didn’t want that. It didn’t feel right. We had something else we needed to do.
So we attended a fostering information evening provided by our council (Staffordshire). Well, it doesn’t cost us anything to go and listen, does it? When we discover it’s not for us, we’ll leave early and find a restaurant.
The evening revealed absolutely nothing terrifying, and in that room of about forty people, we were not singled-out as complete frauds and ejected (which is what we’d half expected). After all: Foster-carers are kind, loving, happy, unicorns-and-rainbows sorts, aren’t they? We definitely are not.
So we signed up for the training – well, a few Saturday mornings isn’t much of a sacrifice, is it? When we realise it’s not for us, we can always walk away.
We did all the training, and drank the free tea and ate the free cake and met other potential carers … at every stage, knowing that when it turned out to be unsuitable for us or we’d realise it was a stupid idea, we’d just walk away. No biggie.
Until one day … we find ourselves being interviewed by half a dozen people at “Panel” (which is what they call the final vetting stage) knowing with 100% certainty that they’ll see through our charade and bring-up that whole satanic-orgy-and-Morris-dancing period of our lives that we’d forgotten about, and turn us down. And we’d be fine with that – at least we could say we tried.
And they approved us – unanimously! (Says me with more than a hint of smug pride.)
But while we enjoyed the training, and meeting other foster carers, and the free cake, and felt validated by Panel … it doesn’t really answer that question.
My reasoning goes something like this:
What if family friends were in difficulty and needed someone to look after their children? What if those children would otherwise become homeless, or live with people who were a danger to them? Would we help?
Yes, of course we would – we’d move heaven and earth! The inconvenience of cooking in slightly larger quantities and losing the spare room isn’t even worth mentioning.
What if that family weren’t our friends? What if it was a neighbour?
Yes, of course. It shouldn’t change anything, just because we might not know the kids all that well. Could we bear the thought of kids suffering? Of how vulnerable they’d be? No we couldn’t.
What if not a neighbour, but people who lived further down the street?
What if it were people we’d never met, but a mutual friend rang us and told us there was a child who needed somewhere to stay?
What if it wasn’t a mutual friend ringing, but Social Services?
My point (mostly to myself; if anyone is still reading then I applaud your stamina) is that the degree of connection to me doesn’t really matter. I may not see it amongst my immediate circle of friends, but that doesn’t mean it’s not happening at all.
When I look at it in these terms, the question stops being “why do I want to foster?” and becomes “how can I not want to foster?”.
The news often upsets me – human behaviour in general, actually. It especially upsets me that all the problems seem so big and international and political, and I don’t see how I can help. But the need for foster carers is very real, and this is something I can do! This is how I can contribute!
And here we are!
It seems premature for me to write about fostering already. I mean: what do I really know about it? We’ve been approved for less than a year, and a child placed with us for only the last three months. I can hardly claim to be a great oracle on the subject or impart any great wisdom. During training I met carers who have been doing this for decades!
All I can do – all I ever do on this blog – is write from my own experiences. So I’m happy to write that for the family of Oddbloke, fostering has been enormously positive experience. We didn’t appreciate just how positive it would be when we signed-up!
We thought about losing the spare room, cooking more food, buying more school uniform, and the extra demands it might place on our extended family. We did the maths of the probable inconvenience for us versus the help we could give someone else – and decided it was worth it.
But it’s been a positive and rewarding experience for our family too. My children have had to learn to be a little more patient and caring. They’ve had to share their home and parents with an outsider, and they’ve been mature enough to cope with that. I’m more proud of them than they could possibly understand.
They’ve seen how they are making a difference to someone else’s life. In three months, our foster-daughter has gone from someone that needed washing, de-lousing, feeding, clothing, hugging and encouraging … to a noisy, happy girl.
There is so much more I want to say, but I can leave it for another time. So I’ll finish with this:
We bought our foster-daughter a writing book not long after she moved-in. She loves reading, and wanted to practise her writing.
The first story she wrote in her book was about a little girl who moved into a new house and didn’t need to be brave any more because she wasn’t hungry or cold at night.
The house she drew at the bottom of the page has our house-number on the door.
This picture is why we’re doing what we’re doing.