So, it all started from when I was aged 11. I remember a social worker coming to my home to ask my parents questions and of course, me and my siblings were asked questions about how my parents looked after us, etc. It was only as I got older did, I realise that those lengthy questions were part of the form F process! Luckily for me, I always grew up with supportive parents, who gave me a nurturing and warm childhood, which to this day I look back upon and feel extremely grateful for.
I think at age 11 starting this journey with my parents, was interesting to say the least. Being the youngest sibling, I always wanted a younger sister but actually fostering is far from “picking” an ideal child. I remember my parents sharing with me about why they wanted to foster and I was extremely excited as well. My thoughts at 11 were, “yay I won’t be the youngest child!!” or “maybe I will get the sister I always wanted.”
Although my parents explained what fostering was, you never really understand until you have a child living with you. The family dynamics change in a way that my parents also had to prioritise meeting the needs of another child, which also included professional meetings. I remember growing up thinking, “Why don’t I get a Personal Education Plan?” or “I would like a meeting with professionals.” Looking back, these were some of the things that I used to think to myself but having grown up now, I realise why children who are looked after have these meetings and actually it was far from a “normal childhood” for them and sometimes just a reminder that they were a “looked after child.”
I think growing older, I realised the children living with me were like me but just had a challenging childhood and different experiences that shaped them but at the end of the day, they were just a child. I enjoyed the aspect of getting to know the several children we had. Each child that came to stay with us was so unique and all had such an emotional story to tell. I remember being 13 and having a young boy living with us at the time; he was brave enough to confide in me to share his past. His childhood appeared so chaotic and dysfunctional and I remember trying not to shed a tear. Only then did it click that I was so fortunate to have a stable home and supportive parents. I realised why my parents wanted to foster in the first place. It almost felt like I had a role to play here and that was to make this child feel like a ‘child’. I made it my mission to try to make their childhood happy too and feel that they were a part of a family, albeit not their own but to least feel that they were cared for.
My personal experience has some highs and lows, which is a part of life but I feel thankful for what each child taught me. I built a lot of resilience and strength throughout the years as a ‘birth child’. Looking back, we had a range of children from asylum seekers, child with disabilities, parent and child, teenagers and younger children. I think a common fear and misconception, is that every child in care does not achieve or will be disruptive to the home, which again is far from the truth. As a birth child, I never felt like I had to get extra attention from my parents or felt that the child placed with us was more important. In fact, reflecting back I look at it in a way that I am sharing happy moments with a child who unfortunately missed out, for whatever reason that led them to be ‘in care’.
Do not get me wrong, there were some challenges as well. I remember times where I used to feel upset when my parents were being disrespected or felt pressured, as I used to feel that pressure myself. I would sometimes carry the weight of what the child felt and whatever challenges my parents faced. I was lucky in a sense that from a young age, the agency where my parents fostered made me feel a part of a team with other birth children. I enjoyed being part of mentoring young children who were looked after and sitting on panel, as I was made to feel important. I think now growing up, this is something that should be highlighted more around supporting birth children who are living with children who are fostered.
I think with fostering, I matured a lot quicker, as in a way you have to because you’re living with a vulnerable person. It made me wiser at a young age, experiencing and hearing the reality some children have to face. Of course, each child may display challenging behaviours, some of which I never understood but I learned very quickly to try to see life from their perspective. I often get asked, “how do you cope living with children who are looked after?” The answer I always gave and to this day still do, it’s not about “coping” it’s about sharing and living your life with a child, who is just as important as you – and giving them a secure base. The most important part I always say is, “do not judge a book by its cover.”
Skipping forward through my teens, I started my journey at 16/17, when I realised I wanted to be a voice for a child and having had so many social workers visit my home, I knew this was the role and career for me. The challenges I faced growing up, made me the person I am today. Looking back, I always remember how many children would view their social worker (mainly in a negative light) and I remember thinking I want to make a difference to these children’s lives, having grown up seeing what their life is like.
Having now developed over 2 years as a qualified social worker, I see it from both perspectives and upon reflection, I would never change my childhood, especially having been given the honour to have shared my life with children who needed a home, not a placement.