This is a question I used to get asked a lot and one that still crops up from time to time. It starts off with yourself; something has sown the idea of opening your home to a child and you start to think about it seriously. With me, it was my previous experience of fostering Tina, who came to me under an informal arrangement with the local authority and her mother. My husband and I seemed to be on the same page and we thought fostering would be something we could do at a professional level but this time with support and training.
My husband asked me ‘why do you want to foster a child?’ and it was actually hard to put into words. Was it because I just wanted to help a child who needed a safe place? Was it because of my empty nest? The question made me start to explore my reasons and we talked about the possibility earnestly. He asked himself the same question and his reason was simple ‘I just want to make a difference to a child’s life who has been going through some tough times’.
Once you’ve answered your inner voice of why you want to foster and discussed it with your partner, if you are fostering as a couple, then you should talk to your family. The first question they are likely to ask is why do you want to foster? By the time you’ve got to the stage of contacting foster agencies or your local authority, you have begun to form a cohesive answer to this question.
By the time I was asked this question by Nexus, I felt my answer was trite and clichéd ‘that I wanted to help a child and it felt like the right time in my life to do this’. However, it was the truth and I didn’t know how else to express it. When I started the Skills to Foster course, required by everyone exploring becoming a foster carers to attend, I met with other people searching within themselves for the same answer. The 14 other people of the course made up of couples and single people all had different reasons for how they came to be there and each was personal to them and their circumstances. Some of the answers were ‘we felt we could give a child a safe home’, ‘I realised there were a shortage of foster carers and that I could help’ ‘it is rewarding to know you have made a difference to a child’.
The Skills to Foster course is a two way process of potential carers learning the commitments and realities of fostering and of the agency assessing the candidate’s suitability, with the progressing stage being the formal assessment and Form F (an official document compiled by your social worker and used in the assessment processes). By this time you are encouraged to talk to your employer if you have one and to discuss your decision with your network of friends. Your boss, colleagues and friends all ask the same question of why do you want to foster and by now you have a smooth answer which rolls off the tongue and people nod in agreement.
Why do you want to foster is a mandatory question that your assigned social worker will ask during the assessment period and again you may be asked it at panel which is the final step of you becoming an approved foster carer. However, once you are approved, this question is asked by strangers and casual acquaintances and they are often followed by well meaning statements of ‘oh I could never foster, it would break my heart to let them go again’ as if by some means I was less caring and had a harder heart than they did, thus enabling me to put the child straight out of my mind, the minute they left my care. This is, of course, not the case and I’ve learnt just to smile and change the subject. Another comment that is often made is ‘but you don’t know anything about them!’. This can be true and its part of the tool box of skills that a foster carer learns to develop; dealing with the unexpected. However, we are sometimes more informed about a potential child coming into our care than people realise and the matching process of child and foster carer is a serious task undertaken by all the decision makers involved. Of course location, age and sex of the child, children already in the household, religion and culture are all considered but there are subtle criteria which are also assessed – such as pets, the carer’s individual skill set and experience as well as the knowledge and instinct of the social workers. We usually get a history of the child as part of the referral to help us decide if the child will fit into our home.
Writing this today, I have asked myself again ‘why do I want to foster?’ I glance at the wall clock; my current child is due home from school and I can’t wait to find out how he did in his test and if he has a scraped knee again and realise it’s all because this is what I do and love. I am a Foster Carer.