If I’m honest I avoided children for a big chunk of my adult life. I was still making sense of my own childhood. I avoided men who might ask me to marry them always preferring the rogues because I felt I didn’t deserve unconditional love. I genuinely had to make sense of who I was before I could have a family. So, I continued the abuse I had experienced as a child and teenager by unconsciously choosing romantic partners and friendships that were abusive. Until one day it dawned on me what I was doing, then I set about changing my pattern.
I knew that I had much work to do on myself before I was able to look after and love a child no matter whose biology had made that child. A child needs to be kept safe and to be loved in all the right ways. They need to be surrounded by adults who are confident in their own skins and when these humans make mistakes, and trust me I make loads, the children usually forgive us after a bit of eye rolling and stomping off but they learn that we can all quickly recover and move on.
Ten years ago, when my husband brought home a leaflet about fostering from our sons’ primary school he thought we would make good foster carers. Our children were still young and I was reluctant. I was not sure about becoming involved with children services after my previous experiences. My most difficult, often reluctant decisions have ended up as my best. I have fostered over twenty children, some have and are staying long term. I campaign for the rights of children in the care system and those who look after them. I understand the pain that children in care have and are experiencing and scratch my head when professionals who have never experienced that pain feel able to make decisions on their behalf. I am continuously reminded by my children that they have skills, compassion and aptitude that most people would dream of. I am determined to change the misrepresentation of children from care and stop the self-fulfilling prophecies that some of these children have to endure.
I now write and do what I do because I want to help change the narrative about being a child from the care system. We do have a different value, a lesser value ask any of us. We are the ‘troubled’ children. Yet, when talking to adults from the care system I have met nothing but intelligence, talent, resilience, amazing wit and humour and sheer determination. I am always drawn to fellow care system people, we get ‘it’ and each other.
The marketing gloss around adoption and fostering promotes kind couples usually middle aged and wearing cardigans who have ‘big hearts’ and ‘empty rooms’. I want to scream when I see this. There are so many potentially amazing people, married, single, gay, straight, lesbian and bi-sexual, home owners, renting, with disabilities, mental health issues you name it because we love a label. We need resilient, kind, jolly, sensitive people from 21 years upwards who instinctively have a pull towards doing ‘Right by children and young people’. Trust me when I say from experience we don’t all want the standard model of a family, mum, dad etc. As a teenager I would have liked to live with someone(s) who were interesting and talked to me about the world not just the state of my bedroom.
I am quietly working on a plan for an alternative children’s social care system that isn’t crushed under the weight of bureaucracy, financial restraints and corruption. Instead the focus will be on the children who need and deserve loving homes with sensitive, resilient-minded, loving parents.
My best advice for anyone thinking of becoming an adopter or foster carer is ‘be you’, throw the rule books away, and never ‘compare yourself to other families’ people who love and look after other people’s children are the kindest and strongest people I know. Looking after other people’s off-spring is a Topsy Turvey universe and you will have to think, rethink and think again about what parenting is.