Back when I was a wee nipper (13) my parents took my siblings and I to a pub/restaurant (with what had the most spectacular playground I’ve ever encountered, literally the best I can remember from my childhood). On the way there I was mega nervous; I knew something was up. ”Why?” you ask? Well you see the last time they took us to this pub/restaurant (with the mega playground, just three years prior) they dropped the huge bombshell that my little brother was on the way! I thought life changing event number two was surely on the cards and I felt for sure Baby el numero 4 was on the way… Well I was half right, it was life changing, but it wasn’t a new brother or sister. Instead they told us they that they were considering fostering.
Fostering was something my mum had always wanted to do and had mentioned previously, but then my brother was still a babe in arms and our terrace was already starting to feel crowded. Well now my brother was due to be starting nursery so my dad who stayed at home was gonna have a lot of free time and on top of that we’d also recently moved house so we had a little more room. It was all falling into place. My parents said as long as my sis and I were on board we were gonna give it a go! My dad was to be the chief foster carer, but it would have to be a family effort. We also agreed that we would only foster very young children, we didn’t think we would be able to cope with an extra teenager in the house (one was enough). I remember my only exception to the idea being that I din’t want to go near any stinky nappies (that didn’t last long) otherwise I was massively on-board with the idea.
Becoming a foster family seemed to take forever. There were countless meetings with social workers; One meeting was specifically for just me and my sister to ascertain our views on it all, they asked some very silly questions which I remember made 13 year old Philly feel a little condescended (I’m a big boy!). After all the countless assessments and meetings, the final step was to baby proof our house, which turns opening a toilet seat or a cutlery drawer into a really time consuming operation (I’ve never really mastered it). Finally after weeks we were deemed acceptable and told we were on the waiting list!
The waiting list didn’t involve that much waiting. A couple of days later I went to school and when I got back, there was a little baby in our front room! Now there was this little tiny new born baby girl in our house. She was adorable, but to be fair at that age they don’t do much, but cry, eat and poop!
We have fostered 17 children in total and I can tell you for a fact that 17 is a lot of sad goodbyes. Some children we’ve had have been with us for up to 4 years and some we still have! We adopted my little bro Matty (hes the little chap in the picture above, can’t believe hes 8 now). His adoption is a story for another day, but I love him to bits and there was no way we were ever not adopting him. I came up with his middle name Indiana! (He spoke to me on the phone today and told me that hes coming to stay with me in London this summer, hes gonna catch the train and stay for 10 days apparently).
Each child we have fostered has had a unique journey. Their back-story is usually very upsetting; This makes it difficult to sympathise with the parents. Their parents are allowed contact with the child, until the state declares them fit or not to have the them back. They have ‘contact’ periods with the child a couple of times a week. My dad has always been keen to meet the parents and get involved with contact sessions. Its admirable really; I think most people would avoid them like the plague! Over the last few years though I have gone along with my dad to a few contact meeting and my perspective has changed slightly. I used to be a firm believer in adoption as soon as possible, but some parents definitely deserve a prolonged chance to prove they can be responsible parents and actually care for the child properly.
That said though the reality is that the majority of children in our experience that we have had have gone onto be adopted. This is my favorite part of fostering, but its also the saddest. The adopting family essentially lives in your house for a week. Every family we’ve had stay with us have been great; We count some of them as great friends. During this process we are paving the way for the adopters, its tough, but you can’t get in the way too much, you have to let them dictate how they want to do things. Even though that you love this little child; you know how to entertain them, how to calm them, how to put them to bed and so on, but you now have to let the adoptive family find their own way and learn how they intend to deal with things. When a child ultimately leaves it can be very upsetting. When I finished university we had a little boy with us, I was unemployed for a while and I helped my dad a lot with him. I was gutted to see him go, but you have to remind yourself why we do it in the first place.
I do worry at times how foster carers are portrayed in the media. Usually when I tell my friends they have nothing for admiration for what my parents have done (and I usually blush and say you’re too kind… no don’t stop) , but you can’t help but notice horrible stories in the media. Foster carers are painted as money grabbers, stuffing kids into their house for money or as some sort of living nightmare for kids taken from the parents. The reality is the money you get is for the child’s upkeep and really doesn’t amount to that much. That said it is a source of income though and of course like any source of income you do become reliant on it, but I refuse to feel guilty about it though. Finally I don’t know about any other foster carers homes, but my home is a place full of love and I reject outright any idea otherwise.
Ultimately fostering has been a great experience. I haven’t lived at home for a number years now, but I love it when I’m back (still don’t like changing nappies though!). Personally I believe as a young teenager it taught me a lot of valuable lessons; It helps you to think outside of your typical teenage world and forces you to be responsible. After all you have to help look after a tiny (adorable) human being who depends on you now!
(Thanks to my good friend Claire who recommend I blog about fostering!)