I have been a foster carer for over fourteen years. In that time I have given much thought to the system we have for protecting our children.
I began fostering because I desperately wanted to care for children and could not have my own. Apparently I said to my ex, we foster together or I foster alone. I’ve been on my own with the kids now for ten years. Says it all really.
I wanted to be of help to families who were unable to stay together. I realised it would be difficult and as I had been a youth worker and housing worker, I had some idea of how difficult. What I didn’t know people have written books about.
Fostering has been the most challenging and affirming thing I have done in my life. I am done now. I simply cannot continue in a system where children are treated as possessions and parents have to measure up to an invisible standard. All parents know about the invisible standards, those we don’t know we’ve crossed until we’ve crossed them. All parents feel at some time that they don’t make the grade, they don’t know what to do and they are not going to make it. As a carer, add to that dealing with a government department, a community-based foster agency, the natural birth parents, access and a child traumatised by removal (at least) and you need to be a self-assured, self-confident, self-certain human being.
Human beings just aren’t like that. There are accusations and investigations, there are accreditations and ongoing training. There is dealing day in and out with a child who is most likely exhibiting traumatised behaviour. There is never being considered a professional in the care of that child. There is financial reimbursement that somehow never makes up the cost of having said child not to mention the toll physically, emotionally, mentally or spiritually.
I did say that it was also the most affirming thing I have done too, didn’t I? It has been. I can raise children. I raise strong happy children. When the conditions are right, I can foster natural parents’ relationships with those children and include them in my family. I have done really well in getting fostered children through school, which is not common, and have them complete successfully. I have gone onto have adult relationships with those children. I have done well.
It just about broke me, in every way. The thing I question here though is why do we do it? I have worked in family support and community development most of my working life. I have seen this from more than one side. I have seen parents, whose children have been removed for whatever infraction, be allocated family support and with that support meet all the obligations and hoops the government demands and get their children back! Most parents however do not receive family support to assist them through the terrible process of proving they are adequate parents (and let’s face it most of us are just adequate) and become demoralised and defeated. They give up. I don’t blame them. There are a myriad complexities that got them into the situation in the first place. There is double that to get them out.
I agree that if a child is in danger (like Youngest Daughter who was failing to thrive with her addict mother) they need to be removed to a place of safety. However why is the natural parent not allocated a worker to assist them? How does someone already struggling, navigate the tangled web of the courts? Would our children be better off staying with their family with appropriate support to ensure their health and wellbeing? Would this help develop resilient children?
I was not removed from my adoptive family. They were violent and found pedophiles for everyone. I did tell someone when I was seven and got branded a liar. It was a nightmare growing up with them but you know what? I survived it. I more than survived it. Despite it all I am resilient and determined to have my life be as I choose. Yes, it would have been wonderful to have a support worker calling my parents to account and working alongside them to do better. How much better could life have been? No-one came and I had to rescue myself. And I did.
The investment required to support parents and travel with them on their journey to be a family again is worthwhile making. No matter how bad it was at home, most children would rather be there. So, why don’t we do that? Why don’t we become the villages our children need?