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Every child matters

Posted on 10 December 2010, 0:15

‘People think we’re saints. But if you’ve seen it modelled, then you know how it’s done, that it’s possible. My wife’s parents fostered babies, so it was sort of in her oxygen.’
I’m talking to a middle-aged man who’s been a short-term foster-carer for six years. This means children sometimes stay a few days, a few months or a couple of years. They don’t know many other professional, middle-class people who foster. ‘A lot of the other carers we’ve met are from different ethnic groups and many are single mums.’ He met them on the training days which precede fostering. What did he learn? ‘Fostering is a risky business, so you can’t be sentimental. If children are damaged, you need to protect both them and yourself. Fixing loose floor boards, foam on heating pipes, that sort of thing had to be done. It may have been fine for our own kids, but the foster children are legally in state care.’ But otherwise, do you treat them as your own children? ‘To a degree, but of course there are clear rules. No wrestling matches, no tickling, and they’re not allowed in your bedroom. Neither can they share a room with your own kids. Often children in care are over-sexualised at a young age.’
I wonder how his own children felt about the fostering adventure. ‘They were fine about it. We’ve always had a welcoming, fluid picture of home anyway. I mean, we didn’t send them into it with the missionary attitude of ‘We must all suffer for Christ, so just get on with it.’ We talk regularly with them about how it’s all going and they have their own rooms to get away to.’
And you get paid? ‘We get an allowance per child, per night, but it isn’t a wage. In fact these days, they’re trying to make it more of a job and less of a vocation.’ What’s wrong with a vocation? ‘Nothing, it’s probably our vocation but maybe it’s easier for councils to manage employees than do-gooders. It’s like when organisations have to manage volunteers. It’s a different dynamic.’
And so what do you think you’re doing? ‘Fostering offers young people a safe space, maybe a bridge into a more positive life. One of ours came to us because they weren’t ready for adoption, but when they left us, they were. Great! Most crucially, you’re giving them a place in which there are healthy relations, clear roles and predictability. That enables them to relax enough to learn new ways, new things.’
There must be stressful times? ‘Saying goodbye to them is very hard. But for myself, I need to know there’s an end so I’ve got the strength to carry on.’ And there are ‘Aha!’ moments as well? ‘It’s more about slow miracles, small victories. There’s no ‘Eliza Doolittle’ moment. But when the social worker turns up, looks at the child and says ‘That’s unbelievable’, then yes, it suddenly feels rewarding.’

For more information on the fostering adventure, go to http://www.nfa.ws/


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“Children and the Light” by Peter and Elizabeth Fenwick – ALF Rose had this experience many years ago when he was ill with pneumonia as a young child of four or five. Suddenly I was out of my body and floating near the top of the window in my bedroom. I could see myself in bed and my mother kneeling at the side of the bed. She was crying and looked very distressed. I gazed at this scene for a little while and remember that I didn't feel any emotion at all and was completely indifferent to what I saw. Without any warning at all I was travelling very swiftly through a dense forest. Read here
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