Foster carer Christian wrote about his experience of fostering for Gay Times earlier this month as part of LGBT Fostering and Adoption Week. He lives in Leeds with his fiancé Christopher and has been fostering teenagers for two years.
Fostering has helped me learn about myself; I’ve got more tolerance, I’m less judgemental and have more understanding of the world. Fostering is life changing, for you and the children and young people you care for, and if you think you can do it, I would encourage you to explore your options. All you need is an extra bedroom, a stable home life and lots of love to give.
Here are some tips and things we learned you need along the way…
1. Organisational skills. It is not just looking after the child day-to-day. You have to attend meetings and deal with a big team of people that come with the care of each child – from social workers, advocates, family, health and education professionals and more. Linking up the 24/7 experience of being a ‘parent’ to the child with the plans for the child’s future couldn’t be more important.
2. Treat each other fairly. Develop a relationship with the child that enables them to feel a part of your family. They may have additional needs of their own but do not treat them any differently than you would if the child was your own.
3. Do not judge. You will never fully understand what the child has been through before they were placed with you and what they say, feel and how they behave may be heavily influenced by what happened to them before. Be there for the child and always make yourself available to talk.
4. Be patient and treat the child as an individual. This is a big one. Knowledge and experience can vary vastly with each child, depending on what they have been through. They might know lots more than other 13-year-olds, however sometimes it could take a looked after child longer to grasp basic things.
5. Give responsibility. We find that giving each child their own individual day to day tasks makes them feel that they are a part of the family – something simple like asking them to empty the dishwasher for example.
6. Check your expectations. Don’t create expectations of yourself or the child that are too high. We all make mistakes and that is fine; we can all learn and improve each day.
7. DON’T SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF! Sometimes children do things we do not understand; there is no point getting stressed about it.
8. Ask for help. Remember that as a foster carer there is so much support; don’t think that you are failing if you ask for help or the ‘going gets tough’.
9. Take a break. We’ve learnt we need time for ourselves. We had no kids before only two dogs and were adamant we wouldn’t use respite. But when we went on a seven day break to a family wedding and had time together it was great. We will definitely use our two weeks respite per year for us to spend quality time together.
10. Have a strong support network. Support networks are important and with fostering you have a team of people helping you. The kids have their local authority social workers and we have our supervising social worker from our agency, Capstone Foster Care. We get therapeutic help, immense training online and face-to-face, two weeks a year paid respite and there is always someone there at the end of phone 24 hours a day, counsellors, insurance, help with tax returns and legal advice with 24 hour solicitor if we need it.
CoramBAAF is an independent membership organisation for professionals, foster carers and adopters, and anyone else working with or looking after children in or from care. You can visit their website here. It supports Capstone Foster Care, Christian’s fostering agency.
Find out more about LGBT Fostering and Adoption Week here.