The Real Story of Fostering, From Someone Who Was One

Children who play the system and ridiculous rules are only half of the story.

Five years ago, I was a foster parent. It is a part of my life, I have never shared through my writing before.

This week though I sat down to write a short story and had to draw on some of my experiences. It took me back and made me reflect on the five years, I spent bringing up other people’s children.

If you asked me now if I would do it again my answer would be no. If I could go back ten years, would I convince the younger me to embark on the profession? Sadly, my answer would still be no.

These are my personal experiences, everyone’s journey is different. I am not advocating becoming a foster parent, as much as I am not trying to put anyone off.

There are many positives to being a foster parent.

Through my five years, I worked with three young people. Two boys and a girl. Due to my previous profession, working with challenging teenagers, these were the young people I fostered. My experiences would have been different if I fostered younger children. Unfortunately, I wasn’t allowed to find out.

The first young man I fostered was a joy and I loved having him living with me. When the placement broke down, I was devastated and to this day I wish things had worked out differently. At the time, when I was given the choice to have him back or not, I listened to other people. I was wrong, I should have gone with my heart and given him another chance.

Incidentally, he came and found me a couple of months ago to say hi. He has turned into a wonderful young man, with a family of his own. I feel proud to say I had a small part in his development.

The second boy I fostered was a school refuser and had similar anger issues. He was younger than my first but had his fair share of problems.

The last child I fostered was an older girl, she also had her issues. The majority of these being mental health-related.

We teach these kids to play the system.

Here is the heart of why fostering is so difficult. Both my last two children had learnt to play the system. Not that I blame them, as adults this is what we teach them through our behaviour.

For every year a child struggles, it takes three to put it right. If a child is placed with you at 15, you are out of time, before you begin.

Children in the British care system are treated in a way, they have to learn to play the system, to survive. They know exactly what they are entitled to and how to get it. They use foster parents to facilitate this. Who can blame them, many of them have had the worse possible life?

No child is born bad, as adults, we have given them life experiences. They think they need to behave in this way, to function.

Within the UK foster system.

We are told during training, a good foster family will take the child into their home and treat them like their own.

Brilliant I thought I can do this. In the next breath, you are told that you must, however, abide by the rules. For example, no child under 15 should be playing 15 games. Even though, they have many friends that are playing those games. At school and amongst their peers, we have singled them out as a kid in care.

I’m not saying, these warnings and age restrictions are not there for a reason. As a parent though, you should be allowed to use your judgement. If your child is mature and can handle a more mature game or film, shouldn’t you be allowed to make this decision? As a foster parent, you can not.

I broke that rule and let my 14-year-old foster son, play a 15 game. He then blackmailed me and told his social worker what I had done, when things didn’t go his way. Adults had taught him how to play the system well.

During the summer holidays, you fancy taking the children away for a couple of days. You pack a few things in the back of the car and take off. As a foster parent, this is not possible. You need permission to travel, details of where you are staying and relevant risk assessments. On average it took almost three months to get a holiday agreed.

At the age of 16, at special parties,​ I was allowed a small glass of wine. I believe that my parent’s outlook on alcohol stopped me from having a problem with it in my 20’s. It wasn’t something amazing I hadn’t tried, it was something I had learnt to do in moderation.

If you are a foster parent, you can’t let children drink until they are 18. At 18 a foster child is often put into a flat on their own; given £2000 towards furnishing it and told they can now drink for the first time. Is it any wonder that the statistics for crime, amongst care leavers, is so high.

My favourite ludicrous rule was having to seek permission, to get one of my foster children’s hair cut.

It isn’t family, it’s a job

Yes, I can hear you saying. Stop moaning you get paid a fortune. I’m not saying the pay wasn’t good, but the hours were 24 hours a day, 337 days a year (we were given 4 weeks respite.)

However, that is exactly how you needed to think about it, as a job. No matter what the authorities tell you about these children being part of your family, they aren’t it’s a job.

My first foster son once remarked when I gave him an extra £10 to take a girl out.

You are never going to be a successful foster carer. You give too much and don’t treat it as a way to make money.

He was referring to the fact that foster children are allocated £7 a week for pocket money. I had doubled his money, out of my pocket.

He also told horror stories of families, where birth children were given branded food and foster children, supermarket own. I’m afraid I have heard this story many times amongst children in care. Some foster parents have the job part worked out, better than I did.

Think carefully

In the end, I stopped fostering when my marriage broke up. I was expected to go right through the assessment process again and I had lost my spark for the job. That is the other thing, all the time you are making money for fostering agencies, they support you. When times get rough, they move on to the next couple.

As I said at the start I don’t mean this to be a negative portrayal of fostering. There are some brilliant foster carers working endless hours. There are also some, that are in it for the money and the big house.

Anyone who can give these children a home has my deepest respect. However, please don’t go into being a foster parent, lightly. Think long and hard before you join up. Can you turn your home and family life, into a business?