You look through the window and for the first time a social worker is coming up the path to your door. The knot in your stomach is real and only slightly gives you the feeling a child must experience coming to your home to live for the first time.
Your home is where you live, rarely do you let others in to criticise to appraise who you are and how you live, will I be good enough? Clean enough? Is the bedroom big enough? The worker smiles and enters your home immediately looking around, "this is nice" they say. Every glance and comment reels around your mind, but for them, well, it's just one of many visits they do, they know their stuff, they want to help you through the process, they want you to be good but they also want to make sure you are going to be OK with fostering.
Being a gay foster carer hardly registers a mention, of course they have to talk about it, but that's not the point, it's all about can you care for a desperate child, who needs space, understanding, love and predictable consistent attention. Can you listen, can you make room in your life for someone who will in many ways fill your life?
Through the form F process you will learn the rigours of looking after children with complex needs, what it can't do is tell you how to look after children, it always makes me laugh, the first day after all of the training the panel review, there they sat forlorn on my sofa, my first child, aged 12 clutching a playstation 2, one single black plastic bag only half full of clothes that just don't fit, the social worker leaves and it's just you and them. No they don't want to take off their coat, "that ok, I can do this, I can, so what next, food, that it all kids need to eat, so lets offer food". So you ask "are you hungry, I'm making burgers", "suppose so" not the best reaction but a start, so we make burgers, eventually the coat comes off the play station is set up and eight years later they are through school and college and have a girlfriend in London and they are having their first baby and calling you granddad.
As a gay foster carer, and a couple of 27 years, I can now say I have some excellent parenting skills, never had my own child, but I have looked after some pretty difficult children. How did that happen, well just like the children who come to you, they have to just go for it, and so will any gay couple or single carer.
Fostering is not about being a child's new mum and dad, to my mind it is about understanding that you are caring for a child with a very difficult history of neglect abuse and constant disruption where often every adult they have ever met has let them down. So you have to give them a lot of space, develop a relationship of support help and dignity, you have to move aside and make a physical space in your life, this space may initially need to be very big to give them room to settle in. Many people think that rules are key to success, I find imposing personal notions of discipline and "House Rules" just lead to flash points and arguments, so I keep them to a minimum, coax them into seeing that doing things a certain way actually is in their own interest, not just now but for the future. So an LBGT carer will probably never in the first instance try to be a mum and dad, because they haven't already been one, a different note is struck in the relationship, which I believe can give a subtle and significant advantage.
An LBGT carer to some especially to those on the right wing of society is tantamount to "child abuse", various marginal political leaders have said this over time. This is always said by people who would never be generous of spirit enough to be a foster carer themselves. I have found people surrounding me in my local community to be very supportive, generous and genuinely interested in how I foster and what difficulties I encounter. I live in a small village, and that surprisingly helps, as everyone knows who my kids are and look out for them, say hello, make them feel welcome, this all works successfully to help the child feel wanted and regarded in the community, less likely to be disruptive and feel isolated.
Many carers fail at fostering because they make the mistake of making an enemy of the social workers. I have seen it so many times, and it is such a shame, you need to understand as a carer that you are not fostering in isolation, you are part of a large team, which includes social workers, teachers, doctors, specialist healthcare workers, police, therapists. Each of these professionals have years of training and expertise, and know the laws and regulations of their particular area and can if you come along side them, give you real meaningful insights into how to care for the child you live with 24 hours a day. Social workers have a special place as they are part of the daily process, they should always be a professional critical friend, not become a friend or mate. It's important to remember that being a foster carer is a skilled job, with lots of rules, and social workers are there to help keep you inside the rules.
As a LBGT carer with little initial parenting skills, it is important to discuss every aspect of your care and approach when in supervision with your social worker, listen carefully to the support, action ideas you haven't tried before, it's all about learning your own parenting rhythm, the parenting breathing, the listening parent, the guiding parent, the funny parent, the hug. In reality you will just do it all by yourself, quite naturally, simply because you would not have been a foster carer in the first place if you didn't care, we all have natural caring instincts and they just kick in and what feels right very often is. Will you make mistakes, you bet you will, and the child will be the first to point them out and then remind you and everyone they meet for the next two years, all part of building up a set of memories to cherish in the future once they have left the care system for good.
I thought that fostering was about being a surrogate "Mum and Dad", and it just isn't, it's about giving a child hope, space, a chance to be themselves, to come to terms with the past, to maybe believe that the future is actually going to be better than they believed. It's about caring, tantrums, tears, fears, anger, frustration, hugs, love, fun, bonding, sharing, rejection, progress and yes love.
An LBGT carer gets no special treatment by the kids, it's full on whoever you are, you don't have to be anything other than who you are, children are very quick to spot a fraud. If you care they will see it, if you listen and help them they will experience that, and remember it, but they will also push every boundary you set, to see if you are strong enough, good enough to match the fear the frustration the pain of their past, which of course you will be.
Consistent patience, demonstrative, where appropriate, open honest care, is what you give, it's what they need, slowly but surely they will resist less, learn to give way to trust, a trust that is easily lost, over a thousand reasons, and you will have to start again, but it won't be as long to re-establish and begin the progress again. Its about trying your best not to give in, or give up on a child, every act of kindness is the grain of sand that binds the cement linking the bricks of trust. I thought fostering was so many things, and was wrong in almost every thought I had, fostering is much more, deeper complex, inspiring, frustrating, challenging and at the same time easy and intuitive. Being a foster carer has its hassles but has brought more pleasure and satisfaction that any other job I have had over the years.
In 2015 my social worker put us forward for an award "Foster Carer of Distinction 2015" with Foster Talk, a national award and we won. I don't know how but we did, I promise if we can win an award for fostering anyone can, we are not special or different just child centred with a spare room, every LBGT couple I know have a spare room often two, fostering fills you life with so much that matters, I would recommend fostering to anyone, if you are not sure try it, if you fail, so be it you can carry on with the rest of your life, if like us you find you love it, you may end up giving hope to the most vulnerable people in our society, and that's worth doing.