Being gay or lesbian and being a foster carer
At Sunbeam Fostering Agency
we recruit foster carers from a wide range of backgrounds, races and religion and sexual orientations. We encourage people from all backgrounds including those who are part of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered (LGBT) community to become foster carers and aim to dispel any misconceptions surrounding fostering.
Sunbeam profiles one of our foster carer and how her honest experiences can inspire others to foster.
R. W. is aged 31, lives in Coventry and is a Lesbian Foster Carer for a young boy and girl with Sunbeam Fostering Agency
What made you want to be a foster carer?
My parents fostered when I was little so I was used to lots of foster brothers and sisters coming and going. When my sister got married, she invited two of the children we had fostered for the longest period of time and were still in touch with. My foster brother who had a particularly bad childhood before coming to us, one night before the wedding he told me about a conversation he had with his councillor. He told her what a lovely family we were and how good my Dad had been to him. He felt that if he had got to us just that little bit sooner his life would have turned out differently and things would have worked out better for him. The councillor told him he was looking at things from the wrong perspective. Maybe he had actually come to us just in time and that actually things could be a lot worse. From then on he called us his ‘Just-intime’ family. This conversation made me realise I wanted to be a ‘Just-in-time’ family for other children and I enquired about fostering shortly afterwards.
How long have you been a foster carer?
I was approved as a foster carer in April 2013. I had my first placement on 1st October 2013 and they’re still with me now. I was offered placements between April and October but a house move and the suitability of some of the placements meant I couldn’t accept placements until October.
What has been your experience of fostering?
Overall, I can honestly say that it’s the best thing I’ve ever done. Don’t get me wrong, there have been some days where I’ve come back from dropping the children off at ‘contact’ or a conference meeting and burst into tears. It’s a role that takes you to the extreme and it can get pretty intense at times. I love being a foster carer – it’s more than just being a ‘mum’ to children. It’s about providing them with a safe, reassuring home during a very traumatic period. It’s the most challenging role I’ve had that involved working with children, there really is no other job like it.
Has your sexuality been an issue for you as a foster carer?
I’ve never been the sort of person to allow my sexuality to prevent me from doing something. That being said I was surprised by how much of a non-issue it actually was. I’m used to correcting people and the momentary pause and quick assessment At Sunbeam Fostering Agency we recruit foster carers from a wide range of backgrounds, races and religion and sexual orientations. We encourage people from all backgrounds including those who are part of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered (LGBT) community to become foster carers and aim to dispel any misconceptions surrounding fostering. of my character each time I reveal my sexual orientation. But every professional I have worked with from the team at Sunbeam, to my external Form F assessor and the numerous other professionals who are involved, not one has ‘batted an eyelid’. I guess it’s because all of these people work with such a varied spectrum of society that being gay is no longer an issue for them. That being said, as in any walk in life, there are some individuals (including foster children’s families) who may display homophobic behaviour. What’s important to remember is that this will not be tolerated and there is plenty of support out there if this happens. I am in a committed, long term relationship with my partner, she doesn’t live with us full time so I am classed as a single carer and she is registered as my back-up carer. I’m in no way society’s stereotypical view of a lesbian and I really don’t think it would ever occur to anyone to consider I would be one.
How has the experience enriched your life?
I can’t begin to explain how happy I am fostering – I really wish I had done it years ago. I enjoy working with all the different professionals and seeing the difference a close, well informed team can make to a child’s life. I really feel like I am making a difference to these two children’s lives and I hope I can do this for other children in the future. It’s also brought me a lot closer to my Mum, who was a foster carer herself and can empathise with a lot of the things I go through. Although it is a very different system to the one she worked in 20 years ago, the principles are the same. Care and love a child during one of the most traumatic phases of their lives.
How have you coped financially and emotionally?
Emotionally it’s been a massive rollercoaster. There are some days I can honestly say I’ve experienced every emotion a human being can. I’ve laughed, cried, felt my blood boil and experienced overwhelming joy and utter despair. But it has all been worth it, I wouldn’t still be doing this if it wasn’t. But I’ve also watched these children flourish in a safe, warm environment, I’ve heard first words being spoken and watched a child learn to swim. We’ve laughed hysterically together over silly little things and built dens underneath the dining room table. These children are experiencing a childhood free from fear and uncertainty and I’ll go through any emotional rollercoaster necessary to ensure that continues. It should also be remembered that this is still my first placement. New things are scary and a lot of the apprehension I’ve had to begin with has gone now that I know what to expect. There are no guarantees when a placement will be made and I think that’s a very tricky issue for foster carers to manage. Furthermore, children will often come to you with just the clothes on their back.
How has your work/life balance been?
As a foster carer you’re working 24hours a day, seven days a week until the placement ends. This can prove to be tricky, especially when you factor in meetings, contact session and nursery/pre-school. It’s not unmanageable but you need to be organised. I still get chances to meet up with friends while the children are at contact and I can arrange nights out every now and then. As a single carer I have three back-up carers who can help look after the children and I do take advantage of this. I think because I enjoy the role so much, I make it work.
How has Sunbeam supported you?
Sunbeam been fantastic and I recommend them to everyone! I have a very good relationship with my supervising social worker, and the rest of the team are all very friendly and welcoming. There have been times I’ve just needed to call up and have a chat with her and vent some issues. I’ve never felt like this is a problem or rushed into wrapping things up. The coffee mornings run for other foster parents are also invaluable and it’s nice to know there are other people in the same boat you to talk too. I also really enjoy all the courses run to help further my skills and knowledge. I’m a bit of an eternal student so I love learning something new and so far every course I’ve been on has taught me something.
What would you recommend to others considering becoming a foster carer?
Everybody is different and so whilst fostering might be a great fit for some people, for others it might not work out. The best advice I can give is to get in touch with an agency and talk to someone, ask lots of questions. As part of the registration process there is a three day ‘Skills to Foster course’ to undertake which gives you a better idea of what to expect and answers all your questions. I knew by lunchtime on day one that fostering was definitely for me.
Any good experiences you would like to share?
I think naturally human nature makes you remember the bad stuff so you learn from it. But as I sit here writing this and consciously thinking about everything I’ve been through in the last five months I realise just what a lovely time we’ve all had. The children are happy, healthy and developing well. We have fun together and enjoy spending time with each other. I think one of the best moments for me was the first time I asked the little girl if she wanted a goodnight kiss and she said yes. It was the forth night she had been with me and she gave me a huge hug and a kiss. That was the moment I knew she felt safe with me in my home. She hasn’t turned down a goodnight kiss since.