Here’s something written by Bradford Fostering foster carer Naomi* about her unusual foster family situation and her experience fostering children older than her own.
I began to think about fostering while I was on maternity leave after the birth of my daughter. I worked professionally with children, but didn’t want to return to full time work and I also wanted to do something where I knew I could make a more powerful difference to the life of a child. We contacted several different local authorities and voluntary agencies, but they were reluctant to take us on, because we had a baby and wanted to foster older children. It was such a relief when we spoke to someone at Bradford Fostering and found them to be so open minded. Bradford Fostering looked at our skills, our background and the family support around us, not just the age of our daughter.
The social workers at Bradford Fostering worked with us to find the right child or children for us. We were open-minded about the age and background of children, although we had to be as sure as we could be that our child would not be put at risk. It felt right from the very beginning when the two children came to live with us. They desperately wanted to stay together, having already been separated from their other brothers and sisters.
The children were already living in foster care, but their foster carers were older and ready to retire. They had also lived with other carers and in a children’s home, so they had experienced a lot of changes and separations. All they wanted was a forever family where they knew they would never be separated again. They have lived together for four years and counting now.
We were fortunate as it was such a good fit right from the start, the children already attended a school very close to our home. I know that children coming into care often have to be placed in an emergency, but we were able to get to know our children over a few weeks before they moved in. They came for tea a few times and then for sleepovers; before we knew it, it felt right for all of us and they moved in with us. We have since moved to a different house in another area but the children still see their friends from before living with us and from primary school.
Although the children feel like ‘ours’, we know we will never know them as well as we know our own son and daughter. We have read reports about their early lives, but there are many gaps. There are things about their early lives the children cannot remember and that the social workers don’t know. With your own children, you know why some things worry them or what might remind them of an unhappy time. With foster children, you need a combination of empathy, curiosity, patience and imagination to try to work out how best to help them.
Our foster children have a good relationship with my daughter, but their connection with my son, who was born while they were with us, is really special. They have younger brothers who were adopted, so had seen their mum pregnant, but never got to know the babies.
“Sadly, these two live with so much loss, being part of a family when a baby was born has been a wonderful thing for them. My son is a toddler now and completely adores his teenage brother and sister. Being around babies and toddlers was good for our foster children because they got to play with baby toys and enjoy simple things like playdough and bubbles, which they had missed out on in their own early years.
Having foster children much older than your own won’t work for everyone but it has been great for us. You need to be mindful that children bring their history with them and your own children cannot be totally shielded from that. Your children may hear stories and language that you would prefer they did not. But our children have gained an amazing big brother and sister.
Mark and I definitely think of ourselves as parents to four children. The foster children refer to us a mum and dad when they are at school and with their friends, but at home they call us by our first names, which is fine with us. Our families have been really supportive and have invested time and energy in supporting us as a foster family and involving the foster children in our wider family life.
If you are thinking of fostering, I would advise you to think about the impact on those around you and to make sure you are confident about who is in your support “team”. We are supported by Bradford Fostering, but you also need back up from your family and friends and to have people close to you who you trust to help and cheer you and the children on.
*Names have been changed.
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