The Sligo Champion - - FRONT PAGE - By SORCHA CROW­LEY

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.

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