The only time foster care normally come into the national news is usually when a sad case makes headlines or when legislation changes causing a debate for about five minutes. However, 16 – 29 May 2016 is Foster Care Fortnight and Looked After Children and Foster Carers are a hot topic, featuring on Breakfast TV, news programmes and in the Huffington Post.
The main headline coming out of these news stories is that there is still a shortage of foster carers with shortages peaking between 9,000 and 11,000 nationally. So why are there not more foster carers? A realistic job description could put many people off but the reality is so much more than a news headline. Firstly, although a lot of babies come into care, more so since the tragic case of Baby P, it’s carers for teenagers that are desperately needed. Teenage Looked After Children are some of the hardest to place and often hugely at risk from outside forces such as gangs, alcohol and drugs as well as being sexually exploited.
I don’t volunteer the information that I’m a foster carer but if it comes up, people often automatically assume I have a house hold of little children or babies and they are usually alarmed when I tell them I normally take teenage placements. Most look at me like I’m mad and some have even gone so far as to say ‘you’re crazy!’ or ‘why would you put yourself through that?’ and recently one woman said in a very worthy voice ‘Wow… your amazingly brave’. I’m not brave or worthy and I’m not mad… usually, although I can have my moments of wanting to pull my hair out.
My last few placements have all been teenagers apart from 9 year old J and it’s been some of the most rewarding, heartening, maddening and joy filled years as well as stressful. Fostering is not for everyone and not something to be approached lightly however, if you meet the initial criteria the most important tools you can have are patience, a willingness to learn and a sense of humour always helps There’s lots of information on the internet about what requirements are needed but here are a list of alternatives to consider:
- Get used to a revolving door of strangers coming and going in your home including social workers, medical professionals, reviewing authorities, solicitors, legal guardians and more. I have a draw full of herbal teas. 11 different types and yes, I counted, but you can guarantee that the one flavour they ask for is the one I haven’t got.
- Unannounced visits; social workers are required to visit you without warning to check that your foster child is not being chained to the wall in their absence. When you are having your worst day ever; getting over a nasty cold, the laundry is piling up, you haven’t vacuumed for days, the cat has been sick on the carpet and you’re still in your pyjamas… that’s when they’ll come!
- Expect to run a full restaurant service, complete with several faddy requirements. In our house, it got so bad that I had to write a list of what meals I was cooking on what days. J won’t eat eggs, any vegetable or fruit, anything with bones in, anything that looks ‘yucky’ and won’t touch pasta of any kind while M is currently a Vegan but will eat the occasional cheese burger and fries if it suits. Hubby is just as bad and there are meal times when all three of them look at me with horror. These are the days when I question my sanity!
- Go outside and spray paint the words TAXI on your car. Particularly if you have teenagers.
- Remove all the furniture from your house and replace it with gadgets, extra televisions as two will definitely not be enough to avoid nuclear fallout, a games console or two, mobile phones (only the latest models will be acceptable) and have a huge bag of extra cables and sockets for the inevitable lost lead. M’s record for keeping the same iPhone lead is 19 days.
- Invest in a filing cabinet, carpet shampoo and a secret hiding place for the remote control.
- Learn that the most important words in your house will be ‘Pocket Money’, ‘Chocolate’ and ‘Takeaway’. In that order. Everything else will just be heard as blah, blah blah….
There are some sad stories out there and it’s easy to lose sight of the happy, well-adjusted children coming out of normal everyday foster care homes. I have a few dramatic stories and one sad one but the good days far outweigh the frustrating days and every time I get a text message or Facebook post from a previous child in my care, it makes my day.
Hubby and I have gained so much from being foster carers and the children in our care have always left us with more than when they came. I can’t imagine a more satisfying or fulfilling role and I’m proud to be a foster carer.