Being a birth child in a foster family
Growing up as a birth child in a fostering family is more normal than you may think. It isn’t anything like the care homes you see on TV like ‘Tracey Beaker’ – there are not kids constantly screaming or making mess and there isn’t constant crying about wanting to be adopted. In no way am I saying it isn’t challenging, but the challenges lie more in the psychology of trauma and life events that these children have gone through instead of the stereotypical ‘naughty child’ behaviour.
So I am now nearly 21 years old, and my family started fostering when I was 16, my first brother was 14 and my second brother was 11. We were assessed by the fostering panel for a period of around 6 months before being approved in September 2012. Our first placement was a challenge and a half – we had a young teenager who chain smoked and ran away often, so there was a lot of police involvement within the first few weeks which for me and my siblings was quite daunting. As much as it was strange, this was the point that I felt my eyes truly open for the first time. I had fortunately grown up in a stable, middle class family home, therefore I hadn’t really been exposed to the real challenges of the world that many people face. To me, that’s been the beauty of this experience – the knowledge, values, ethics and skills I developed over the years that has built me and my family into the people we are today. I learn copious amounts of new things from every different child we work with, whether it’s an hour or two years. I enjoyed learning this so much that I am now at University in my second year of studying to be a Social Worker!
You may have some questions, so I’m going to answer the common ones:
1. How long do you keep a child for?
My parents are short-term foster carers, which mean we can take a child into our home or look after them in another setting from an hour to two years. Anything over two years is considered ‘long-term’, which you can (and we have previously) applied for if a placement is going well. The aim is to sustain the placement for as long as possible – preferably until they are 18, but unfortunately placements do break down for many reasons. So the main answer to the question is that it’s different per scenario and child.
2. Do you ever want to adopt the children?
From my personal experience, no. At the end of the day, my mum is a full-time foster carer and therefore a working professional, so as much as we do foster for a valuable reason, it is also a job and source of income. If we were to adopt the child, not only would we lose our source of income, but we would lose a lot of the benefits and invaluable support we receive with FCA, our fostering agency. However, a family friend of ours who started fostering within the past two years is in the process of adopting the first child they were placed with, so it’s completely down to the individual family values and needs.
3. Do you ever get sad when the child leaves your care?
As a Social Work student, I personally am generally able to separate my own emotions from the situation, but there have definitely been times where I have felt emotional and frustrated with a child having to leave. As much as it is work, we are also human, so I think it is normal to get sensitive and upset when you bond with a child well and then they are moved on to a different placement. However there have been situations where we have had a child stay with us for up to two and a half years, and when the individual left I didn’t feel that emotional. Unfortunately sometimes the child leaving is the best decision for both the child and the family.
4. Where does the child go after they leave you?
Again, each case is different. We’ve had children go back to abusive family members after failure to comply with the service, some children go to different (approved) family members, some go to different fostering placements i.e new carers or a group home, and of course some are lucky enough to be permanently adopted.
I hope this has given you some insight into what it is like to grow up with fostered children. Of course there are ups and downs, but overall I couldn’t thank my parents enough for doing this – not only are we changing lives but we are bettering ourselves in the process which is a rare and invaluable experience.
Thank you so much for reading!