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By Matthew Barker-Wood
As a gay man who grew up in the 80’s/90’s, the prospect of becoming a parent in later life seemed to be either a far distant dream or simply an impossibility. Since I can remember, I have always wanted to be a parent or foster carer but put these thoughts to the back of my mind for the fear of disappointment. In my mind, if I wanted to foster or adopt I would have to be in a heterosexual relationship or be single. For many years I wrestled with this dilemma as following my desire for a relationship and being true to my sexuality was equally important to me. I reluctantly settled with the idea that I had to choose being true to myself over having a family.
Six years ago I met Joe. From the very beginning, we had a conversation about where the relationship was going and we both expressed an interest in someday having our own family. Even in 2014 though, I was still unsure about the possibilities of being able to adopt or foster as a gay couple. It appeared to be that gay foster parents were either rare or were not promoted as suitable carers because it seemed to be unheard of that fostering was a possibility for a gay couple. Despite this, we promised each other from the start of the relationship that if it developed well, we would look into it at a later date. Fast forward to 2018 and we saw an advert for Nexus Fostering that said you could be ‘straight or gay, married or living together, with or without children, single or divorced or you could be a single parent’. When I first read those words, I was beyond excited! It felt like I’d been putting off even looking for fear of rejection. However, the advertisement made it clear that our sexuality wasn’t a barrier to applying to become foster carers.
After our initial enquiry, we were visited by a social worker from Nexus who talked to us at our home about what to expect from the process and what would be involved. We remember feeling very nervous and much of this was about our preconceptions on how we would be judged as a gay couple. However, the social worker put us at ease instantly and answered all of our questions. She made us realise that it was of course perfectly acceptable for two men to foster children. This gave us the assurance that we needed to continue with determination to become foster parents.
During our assessment process, we worked with an Independent Social Worker whose job it was to confirm that fostering was the right choice for us. She was fantastic and guided us gently every step of the way. Although this stage can feel quite intrusive as it delves into every aspect of your life, we knew why it was necessary and felt supported throughout. We didn’t ever feel like we were treated any differently because of our sexuality and actually it was quite therapeutic to talk about our lives so openly and honestly. After six months we were ready to go to Panel to be approved. Everyone involved on the day was lovely and made us feel relaxed and although we were nervous about it, the panel unanimously agreed that we would make excellent foster carers and we were approved. It was one of the best days of our lives.
We have been fostering now for 7 months and we look after a foster child in Nexus’ 360 therapeutically led fostering service which is overseen by a qualified psychologist. It’s great because it gives us the extra challenge that we wanted but with an intensive support package. We have regular contact with our supervising social worker and keep in touch with the Nexus team through regular training and contact events. The social worker who made our initial visit said at the time that being part of Nexus was like being part of one big family. We now know what she meant. As in all families, we are made up of all kinds of people. Some carers are married, others are single, some are gay, and others are straight. We have never been made to feel different and we have always felt not only included but valued. We have no hesitation in recommending fostering to other gay people and we urge other LGBT members of the community to apply to be foster carers. It doesn’t matter if you’re single or a gay couple, so many children are in need of care and if you have the space and capacity to care for a child, your sexuality will be irrelevant to your application.
According to a published study, in 2014, 1 in 3 (32%) of the UK population believed that you were unable to foster a child if you were gay (ourselves included). By sharing our story, we hope to bust that myth and encourage others to join us on this incredible journey.