Using my voice: reflections from a foster carer

To be a foster carer is to be an advocate. A lot of what we do is related to speaking up for our children to ensure that they have what they need to thrive.

I’m the middle child in my family. I come from a family with six children; I have two older brothers and three younger sisters. I’m slap-bang in the middle.

One of those sisters is a social worker, so for a long time I’ve been hearing stories about the need for safe homes for children and young people. As a child, I had a strong sense of justice and compassion. My mum tells me that when I was little, I would hear of other children around the world who didn’t have enough food to eat, or a safe place to sleep. She says I would always respond, “I’ll share my bed. I’ll split my dinner in half.” It was the only thing I could think of to do; I guess caring for others has always been a part of me.

To be a foster carer is to be an advocate. A lot of what we do is related to speaking up for our children to ensure that they have what they need to thrive. So, you need to know your stuff. You have to quickly learn what your child requires, what they deserve and what they are entitled to. You have to speak up about these things – in letters, on the phone, in meetings. If you don’t, things can slip by.

My youngest two foster children came to live with us – that’s me and Cleo*, my long-term foster daughter – at four and five years old. They have filled our lives with joy and laughter. If you’ve ever seen the show, The Secret Life of Four/Five Year Olds, living in our house is like watching back-to-back episodes. Their future is uncertain, but for now, they are with us. Our lives revolve around very early school runs, because the girls’ school is quite far away from my house. We didn’t want to move them and cause even more change and disruption in their lives, so instead we’re up at 6.30, and everyone is washed, dressed, fed and out the door by 7.30. It’s a long day for them, so they’re usually fast asleep less than 12 hours later. Cleo and I are never far behind.

I was having a conversation with a social worker about the younger two. I wanted to see how we could be making use of some financial support to ensure that they are thriving in their education. I was told that the girls’ school was directing the resources towards the academic elements of education, things like training and support for teachers so their teaching would be of higher quality and one-to-one or small group tuition. Of course these things are of vital importance, and it’s good and right that these particular areas of education are receiving attention and support; we know that children who have been in care can face additional challenges in reaching their potential in school.

But it seemed to me that the academics were being resourced at the expense of other parts of my children’s educational experience. Education is about so much more than just grades and test scores. It’s about more than the listening and writing in the classroom. These things just can’t be prioritised above a child’s emotional wellbeing. Our children need to be able to explore their passions, their skills and their abilities. They need to know that their value doesn’t lie in what they can recite or put on a page. Yes, we need support so that they can thrive in education; but we must hold a holistic approach to education in mind when we talk about these things.

Cleo came to live with me when she was 10. She’s a teenager now, and a beautiful girl inside and out. She smashed her GCSEs, and now she’s at college exploring travel and tourism. She has dreams of being a pilot one day. When she was in school, the support we received meant that she was able to take part in after school classes and activities with her peers, and explore new hobbies and interests. She did ballet and tap dancing. She did swimming. She did cadets, and she’s still part of that today.

All of these things have allowed her to develop skills and disciplines that are part of her story now, beyond the parameters of school hours, activity spaces and certificates she worked towards. Her dancing taught her to stand tall with great posture; now she walks down a street with confidence. The cadets was what inspired her career ambitions, and she is working hard to achieve those dreams.

“So, what about them?” I ask the social worker. “Can’t they go to gymnastics? Can’t they try dance?”

I don’t mind being a little pushy in life – maybe it’s because I’m a middle child. My big brothers were always taking things before me. Everything I wanted, I had to shout for. Now, I’m using that voice to shout for them. I’m using my voice to make sure they are getting everything they are entitled to, everything they need.

*names have been changed to protect anonymity

Author:
A foster carer


Date published:
May 2022


Tags:
Stories


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