By Bethany Pembrook, Guest Contributor
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Have you considered foster caring? It’s something that many people have thought about, but have often been too scared to take the plunge. There are so many unanswered questions, and, while most people dream they’ll get to look after an adorable, sweet natured toddler, it’s often a little more complicated than that.
Many children in foster care have been through trauma, abuse, and have had difficult lives. A foster carer is someone who can hopefully give a child the love their lives are lacking, the support they need and a stable home they can trust.
So, what makes a single, middle-aged dad want to take on this responsibility? We spoke to Darren, a 42-year-old Dad of one, who started fostering with private fostering agency Lorimer Fostering and hasn’t looked back.
Bethany Pembrook: What made you want to become a Foster Carer?
Darren: I had thought of foster caring for a while, even before being made redundant but being a single male I didn’t think that I was allowed to do it. I have 2 spare bedrooms and lots of spare time to commit to a child and I suppose, if I am being selfish, wanted to improve my own quality of life a little.
I’d heard the adverts on the radio and seen them on buses, etc. but nowhere did it seem to mention that you could be a carer as a single male.
Even so, expecting to be rejected straight away, I rang Lorimer and spoke to Billy West. His answer to my “Can I foster?” question really surprised me. “We do need more single male foster carers, when can I come and see you?”, or words to that effect.
I understand that, even though we bring up our own children as best we can, not all children get the same sort of opportunity in life and that if I was accepted as a carer the children I would be expected to help and the child would arrive with their own issues and personal problems which I was prepared for — or so I thought.
I thought then, and still do, that if I could make a difference to a child’s life, even if only for a few months, then I had done something worthwhile.
BP: Were there any discussions with anyone about this beforehand (family, friends) and what was the general feedback on this?
Darren: Because I didn’t think that I was able to be a carer, the only person I did mention it to was my teenage son from whom I initially got a resounding “NO.” But over time and a few chats he came round to the idea. His reason for saying no was that he was worried for me in case the children I got were violent or aggressive towards me. If my son had not had a change of heart then I wouldn’t be a carer now. There would be no point in being a carer without family support.
Even with my son on my side it still took a while to ring Lorimer back and, although I had mentioned it to some family members, it wasn’t until after I had been told that I would be going through the application process that I told people properly.
The feedback I received from family and friends was positive, which surprised me a bit, I was expecting comments like “why do you want to do that?” or “do you know what you are letting yourself in for?” Instead I got support and people offering references if required (which they are eventually).
BP: Were you the main carer for your own children? If so, how does this differ from being the main carer as a foster carer?
Darren: I have never really considered myself as a carer for my own children, I suppose like most male parents I just considered myself as Dad. My ex-partner and I split up in 2010 and since then my son stays with me every weekend and school holidays, so care is now split between us.
With your own children, because you have brought them up you would like to think that you know most things about them! But with a fostered child it can be a lot different.
It can be different in many negative ways, or, in my case may positive ways. For me, caring for both my son and placement is not that different. They both have different interests and activities but there is no favoritism and they are both given the opportunity to do the things they want to do. They are both good natured and get on very well together but at the same time they also like their own space.
BP: Did you consider the difficulties/risks you may face as a male carer? If so, what did you think these would be?
Darren: Of course, it isn’t an easy decision to allow somebody to come and live with you that you know either very little or, in some cases, nothing about. It seems to be human nature to always expect the worst in someone but if you couldn’t accept that there are going to be some difficulties, you wouldn’t want to be a foster carer.
I know that, not all children are angels, but it wasn’t until I went on the Skills to Foster course that I realized that there are so many different reasons why some children are as they are and that in a lot of cases it isn’t the child that is the problem!
One of the issues I did consider quite a lot was that of allegations against a carer. One of the disadvantages about being a single carer (male or female) is that it is your word against theirs and then all the procedures required to prove or disprove the allegation.
You could sit down and think about all the difficulties you could face but I think you would just tie yourself up in knots. I find that the best way is to deal with issues as they arise and not if they arise.
BP: Are you experiencing these difficulties now you are approved and have a placement?
Darren: I was, like most carers, expecting all the troubles and issues normally related to looked after children to arrive at my door but this simply hasn’t happened. My placement has now become part of our small family and I now quite often refer to both son and placement as “my lads”.
To be honest he has taken me a bit by surprise. He is very considerate towards people, caring and thoughtful (when we go shopping he always asks if he can get something for himself and my son), he is clean and tidy and always does things when asked.
He has been with us for a few months now and although there were minor teething troubles (staying out later than planned) he is now very settled and treats the house as his home and follows our very few and relaxed house rules.
There are probably present and future carers reading this thinking that this doesn’t happen in fostering, ‘no child is that good.’ Well I’m sorry but mine is. It would be nice to prove it but I have to protect both myself and my lads through anonymity.
BP: What training and support have you needed?
Darren: Since becoming an approved foster carer I have been on some of the courses available and am booked on a few more. There is specialized ‘Caring as a Male Carer’ training, which was good.
I don’t think I have needed as much support as other carers may need but I do know that it is there if I need it. I see my supervising social worker every fortnight but, at the moment, I don’t have any issues for her to deal with.
I don’t know if this is a common occurrence but I am now working with some of the carers who were with me on the Skills to Foster course, as a small team, so we give each other a lot of support.
BP: Would you have done anything differently?
Darren: Apart from maybe being a bit braver and ringing sooner, probably not. But saying that, if I had done that I would not be in the position I am in now with my lads and my answers to some of these questions would be completely different.
Some people may say that I have not had my eyes opened to ‘proper fostering’ but I am under no illusions that, if and when, I get my next placement he will be the same as this one. My lad goes to show, to me anyway, that not all looked after children are problem ones. Some just need somewhere to feel safe and secure and to be themselves……..nothing else.
*Darren’s name has been changed to protect him and his family’s identity