THE JOYS OF FOSTERING CHILDREN
FOUR FOSTER CARERS SHARE THEIR STORIES OF HELPING CHILDREN WHO NEED A HOME
AS any parent will tell you, rearing a child is one of the most rewarding things you can do in this world. Fostering a child in desperate need of a loving home, is even more so.
Tusla in Sligo are launching a campaign to encourage more people to think about fostering a child locally.
There are currently 83 foster families in the Sligo/ Leitrim/West Cavan Foster Resources Service, run by Tusla. Of those, 62 are general foster carers and 15 are relative foster carers, who together care for approximately 98 children in homes while six children are in residential care.
As we sit around a table in Tusla’s Markievicz House headquarters, four foster carers, Arthur, Thomas, Pamela and Margaret, make it clear their priority is the welfare of the children.
Arthur and his wife have been fostering for over 25 years and has cared for over 30 children in that quarter of a century, including day-care, short-term and longterm, as well as rearing their own four children.
Their family chose the fostering route thanks to old-fashioned word of mouth. “We had never given fostering a thought but we were always looking for something that we felt we could do something with,” he said.
It was a neighbour who encouraged them to give it a go and they “fell in love with it from day one.”
Arthur said his two youngest children were born into fostering and grew up with that way of life.
“They’re brothers and sisters. Most of the kids we still have contact with and they still come down to visit, maybe for Sunday dinner. One the lads rang from abroad and his heart was broken he couldn’t come home for Christmas,” smiled Arthur.
They have two foster children living with them at the moment, aged 10 and 17 years, as well as two teenagers of their own -at one stage last year they had three doing the Junior Cert.
“It’s very rewarding. Your house is always alive. There’s always something to do,” he said.
Arthur, like all the carers, is grounded enough to admit there can be challenges to fostering, but nothing other families don’t face.
“Yes there can be issues but the thing you have to take on board, every child who comes into care has it’s own demons that need answering, such as ‘Why am I here?’ You have to treat every child differently, no two children are the same. You deal with it one to one and reassure them you’re there for them anytime they want to talk,” he said.
The youngest child came to them at four days old and they cared for that child until they turned seven. That child returned home to their family when circumstances had improved.
The circumstances that result in a child being cared for by foster parents are many and varied: mental health, poverty, death of a parent(s), illness.
Was it tough to see that seven year old go? “No because we worked so hard with the family to make sure that happened. We promoted for them to go home and so far today they’ve grown up and have careers today,” said Arthur.
The most important thing for him is that the children are happy. Getting a phonecall from a former foster child who’s now grown up and living independently makes it all worthwhile.
“You say to yourself, there he is, a fine young man and you’re after helping to mould this. That’s the reality,” he said.
“The kids that we’ve raised, everyone of them has stayed on the straight and narrow. They’ve fallen off the track here and there growing up as all children will - I’ve done it myself - but there’s none of them in prison today, they’re holding down good jobs. They’re valued members of society and the community,” he said.
Single and same-sex couples are also very welcome to become foster parents.
All four foster couples have one primary carer for the children while the other partner works outside the home.
The most important thing as a foster parent, they stress, is never to judge the birth parents.
“Whatever problems they have, it doesn’t reflect on how we manage the child,” said Thomas.
“It’s important to know there will be tough times but there is support there to help you. Even if you take it on and it doesn’t work, it doesn’t mean that you’re a failure or the child’s a failure,” he added.
He recommends trying the weekend respite fostering first to see if it’s for your family. “If you do the 8 week training, that doesn’t automatically mean you’re a foster carer,” said Pamela. “It just gives you a very good picture of what fostering entails,” she added.
“There’s lots of kids out there who need homes. People worry about what they’re taking on but it’s not always that there’s major issues with children coming into care. We have always had a very good experience. We’ve gotten so much out of fostering,” she said.
Arthur agrees. “We’ve had Santa in our house non-stop for the last 32 years,” he said, prompting laughter all around.
“Isn’t it a lovely thing to come down on Christmas morning and see them all opening their presents - we’ve always had that. I couldn’t imagine a time without them,” he smiled.
Team Leader for the Foster Care Resource Services for Sligo/Leitrim/West Cavan Ann McGloin. Carl Brennan.