'Every time a child leaves they take a little piece of my heart with them'
It is Foster Care Fortnight, the UK’s biggest foster care awareness raising campaign, delivered by the fostering charity, The Fostering Network.
Here, an Edinburgh-based dad speaks openly about what it is like to devote his life to helping children in need of care.
He and his wife have children aged 29, 26, 24 and 18, plus a 15-year-old they fostered and then adopted. They are currently fostering a two-year-old and five-month-old, both of whom have been with them from birth.
He wishes to remain anonymous, to protect his children's identity.
"In the run up to Foster Care Fortnight, a colleague asked me, 'what’s it like to be a foster carer?'
Our family started fostering in 1999 when we had three children. Why? Primarily, we felt we had the capacity to do something more.
We have gone on to have five kids, but our motivations for fostering remain how much we both care about children, want to help them and how we can apply skills developed through work and parenting to benefit children in need. We feel that we have done well out of society and perhaps we can give something back. Also, I think we like a challenge.
We only foster children younger than our youngest, so that a new child fits into the family dynamics, and initially we decided we would only foster one child at a time. But as our kids have grown up we have decided to increase this to two placements, largely to allow us to care for siblings. We have maintained a focus on fostering very young children and our last five little ‘fosterlings’ have all been picked up from the maternity hospital, three on their first day of life.
There is no denying fostering is hard work both mentally and physically. Most of these little ones come with some sort of additional needs and fostering is a 24/7 commitment with few of the benefits that most of us enjoy from a 37-hour week. There is no job security, pension, sick or maternity leave, coupled with a whole range of necessary intrusions, demands and restrictions.
So why keep doing it? It is a true privilege to look after these vulnerable little ones and they bring such joy, not only to us but to wider family and friends while they are part of our family. It does give you that warm feeling that you are giving something back.
And what do our children say?
They say that it has taught them many things about social justice, inequality, compassion, being non-judgemental and hard work. Three out of four have gone on to careers in caring professions. They have also said that it was sometimes upsetting, disruptive and that they felt that the foster children got more attention than them but that those experiences helped them to build resilience, tolerance and patience.
When their time with us comes to an end (the average time a little one spends with us is just under two years), there is delight and heart break in seeing each child move on, either back home or, more often, to a permanent placement with adopters. We still think about all of the different little characters who have lived with us over the years. As my wife says every time a child leaves they take a little piece of her heart with them."