Our foster carer Peter fosters with his wife, Michelle. They foster two siblings long-term. Here he gives a very honest insight into their fostering journey.
What was your path to deciding to foster?
“I started fostering thanks to my wife Michelle, who had grown up with foster cousins, and was keen to participate. I, however, was not so keen to be honest, particularly when she first raised it with me. We had 6 kids of our own, 5 of whom were all grown up and living their own lives, leaving only 1 at home. Michelle kept the house, I worked, and I saw no reason to add additional complexity to what in my mind was a peaceful home.
I think it probably took a year for me to come round to the idea. Michelle wanted to work now the youngest had started school. We discussed the options she had, that would fit around the school runs etc, and they were quite limited in our area. She raised the possibility of fostering again, this time however, I didn’t feel quite so resistant to it. We had the space; a spare bedroom, an income of her own would be nice and we would also be helping a vulnerable child at the same time. I said I would think about it over the next month or two.
I remember making the decision to go ahead with fostering very well. I was listening to the radio on the drive home one evening when an advert for fostering stated that siblings were being separated when coming into the care system, as there were not enough foster carers for them all. I remember thinking that someone should do something about that, with the sudden realization that I was someone who could do something about that; a small part, but something. I got home and said to Michelle let’s do it. Several months later we were approved and ready to go!”
When you started fostering, what were your expectations of what it would be like, and how did it differ in reality?
“I spoke to a work colleague who had been fostering for nearly 15 years. He didn’t pull his punches at all. I heard some horror stories that I still think about today. Michelle’s uncle, who was a very experienced foster carer was also very honest when we asked him about his experiences. Despite that we were resolved to go ahead and get our first fosterling.
I like to think we are experienced parents with 6 kids and could cope with any situations. We had already decided we were going to treat any fosterling as one of our own and we did put some restrictions on the type of fosterling we would accept mainly to protect our own child but also to ensure they fitted within our experiences of parenting. They get the time spent, the hugs and kisses, the same as our own (if they are okay with that) and the same expectations, boundaries, and the same routines too.
We have had ups and down over the years. We knew we couldn’t help all the children, but we would try.
As far as the reality goes, my only observation is regarding the referral forms (that we receive from the local authorities before a child is placed) that we received were very helpful up to a point, but do not contain all the information I would have liked.
It’s not a perfect system, but it is the one we have.”
What do you feel is the most rewarding aspects of fostering, and perhaps also the most difficult or frustrating?
“We like kids to start with. I like the banter, energy, and enthusiasm they show for life which is infectious. We have fun together and seeing them learn, discover, and develop as they grow, is rewarding in itself. Being a mentor, a parent, and a stable influence where I can give advice if asked for is rewarding too.
I bear in mind many of these kids have experienced things in their short lives most adults would have trouble dealing with, so providing a stable and loving home will at least give them an insight into how it could be, and they are free to engage or not when they feel able to do so.
It is frustrating not being able to help them all. I found it hard to say goodbye to some of them and felt they were returning to an unhealthy environment, either due to end of placements or leaving the care system but we do still hear from most of them every now and then.”
What do your children and extended family feel about you fostering?
“We have been fortunate that our family and friends have been incredibly supportive of our fostering. In fact, our respite carers have all come from our family and friends and we are very grateful for their help and they have been there for us from the start.
Our youngest child has taken on the role of big brother to our long-term fosterlings. He enjoys the banter and company most of the time.”
Do you have any favourite memories that you would like to share?
“Overall, I think we have been very fortunate with our kids. Each one has been a unique challenge and at times a joy to be around. Equally, we have seen a darker side of reality that I personally did not expect to experience in my lifetime.
I think it’s made me a stronger, more understanding and tolerant person. I try not to judge anyone anymore, as you never quite know what anyone have been through and my problems are very small in consequence when I compare them to what some children have been through. It’s sobering and steels me not to shy away from pushing for what help I think they need. The hugs and kisses I get from my youngest make it all worthwhile.”
Peter, foster carer