I am one of the thousands of adults who have survived the Care System, and come out the other side with a degree of emotional security and confidence that I owe to the Foster parents who brought me up from the age of 10, and the professionals that worked to secure that placement. I use the term ‘survived’ as this was in the 1960’s and 1970’s, a period which was later revealed to have hidden a significant level of institutional sexual and emotional abuse of children in the care system. It also acknowledges the high percentage of children, (particularly boys) who leave care to go onto criminal behaviour and the revolving doors of the prison system. If my story has any value at all it is to encourage those foster carers, their families, trainers and advocates that Fostering has a huge potential to transform lives in the long term.
My Mother suffered long term mental health problems, when my father died suddenly in 1964 she had a severe breakdown and spent the next 4 years in a psychiatric hospital. She had previously had to surrender my younger sister to the foster family with whom she would remain with for life. I spent 5 years in a Children’s home. When I was aged 9 was eventually fostered to a couple with their own 14 year old son. One previous foster placement had broken down, but fortunately this one was to last successfully for many years and I lived with them until I was 18. My birth Mother left hospital and found some stability and I had regular contact with her and my sister throughout the rest of my childhood without it impairing my relationship with my foster parents. They have reminded me on many occasions that I did present them with a challenge adjusting to a degree of freedom and autonomy that I never experienced in the children’s home. Fortunately this never went much beyond carving my initials in their fire place and experimenting with matches in my bedroom! Despite these challenges I was provided with a degree of love and security that saw me not only through those years but many years beyond.
Many years later when I began to work with children in care and during my career as a Probation Officer I fully realised the significant odds stacked against care leavers and how much I owed my foster parents. Long into adulthood they provided me with a secure base to return to. Our values and view of the world were often at polar opposites but we never gave up on each other and I came to recognise the huge importance of the Fostering and Adoption system in contributing to emotionally secure adults who might have lacked that in much of their childhood. If you are considering becoming a Foster Carer, or are in a foster family or a Fostering team facing the challenge of accommodating a new child never doubt the huge value of that task.
I know my own experiences will have been replicated by thousands of other care leavers. My foster parents legacy has seen me spend over 20 years working to support offenders, many of whom will have suffered similar childhood circumstances. I have now found a secure family of my own, and remain in contact with my sister and my foster parents who are now in their late eighties and proud of my achievements and their contribution towards them. In a world where ‘do gooders’ has managed to become a form of insult the motivations, instincts and dedication of foster carers needs to be applauded and acknowledged. My story is not intended as a model to follow, just a nod of appreciation those thinking of taking on one of the hardest but most important jobs in the world. The world will be a better place for the work you do, even if you don’t always get to see it.
Richard. aged 56 .Yorkshire.
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