FosterWiki Opinion Piece

What has fostering ever done for me?

What has fostering ever done for me?

By Sarah Anderson, Founder, FosterWiki
Foster Care Fortnight 2023

In a nutshell, fostering has changed my life immeasurably, the young people who have come into our lives have enriched it in every conceivable way and most of all, which I wasn’t expecting, it has taught me so much about myself.

Like many, fostering wasn’t ever on my radar, it wasn’t something in the pipeline, and it wasn’t part of my career trajectory, no, nothing like that at all, in all honestly was just a bit of a random moment on the way home from work one evening, it suddenly came to me. I went flying through the door and announced to my husband we were going to foster and two days later had someone sitting in our house to assess us.

After years of counselling looked after children and young people in the NHS I suddenly had a burning desire to make more of a difference than 50 minutes a week afforded me. I really wanted to change some of those lives, if I possibly could. That was 15 years ago.

There is almost a script when it comes to foster carers speaking about fostering and people are very used to hearing the same things, of course, I’m not saying it’s not all those things, but from my own personal experience fostering is so much more complex, nuanced and visceral, so very life-changing, it becomes your life.

It became a real journey of discovery for me, turns out I’m somewhere between rebel and accidental activist and I sometimes found it easier to connect with traumatised teenagers than the professionals around me, what that says about me I’m not sure.

It also bought my intolerance for injustice and inequality into sharp focus and I learned I was something of a fixer, it took a while to step back and wait for the young person to step forward. I learned when to stay silent (no mean feat for anyone who knows me) when and how to respond, and how to relate and be relational, I found out how impatient I was and discovered all my triggers, or rather the young people did, turns out I had quite a few, and then some, more soul searching ensued.

It makes you a better person, fostering, on so many fronts. You hear and take on board stories of neglect, abuse, and abandonment, at first you feel angry but as you start to understand and see things like intergenerational trauma, you develop great empathy and depth of understanding.

You also learn the depths of love a child has for a parent, despite how they have been treated, it’s heart-stopping at times.

The system, as we all know, is deeply flawed, it was a complete shock to me and I had to learn pretty quickly how to work in it as a foster carer, and how to survive in it. I learnt all the skills you need which they don’t tell you about, and I can tell you there are some quality life skills right there.

Fostering holds you in the present, plans can be made but any foster carer will tell you they can change in a heartbeat, literally in a moment, you learn the ability to make the most of the here and now, and you learn resilience in the face of change, however sudden, it’s quite the gift. I think you’ll probably find amongst the most resilient and adaptive people during the Covid lockdown were the foster carers.

Fostering is the world’s greatest leveller, when you start you secretly think you know it all and fairly quickly realise you know nothing, but that’s ok because the children teach you new things every single day and each new child or young person that enters your life you begin a new learning curve. I like that, it keeps you inspired, keeps life vital, and no day is ever the same.

Then there’s that immense high when things go right, it may be momentary might be longer, but it has no equal. It might be as simple as a young person having a fleeting happy moment in a life where happiness has been so elusive, it may be seeing a teenager old beyond their years of being a child again learning to skate, or something as small as their delight in buying penny sweets. It may be they achieve something, the smallest of wins, they buck the trend, and you watch in awe as they win at life. There is no other thing you can do that gives you a feeling quite like that, no other thing that makes you feel like fostering does.

People ask why you foster, and what you get from it, but honestly, the ‘thing’ it gives you is indescribable. Sometimes when the going gets really tough you wonder why yourself, you think you’ve nothing left to give and can’t go on, then within the space of seconds everything changes, the phone rings from the placement team and you suddenly find actually you have everything left to give, only another foster carer will understand how that call feels, how you are suddenly revived and how excited you get, and the feeling a couple of hours later when a new little someone arrives on your doorstep.

Early on in my fostering career, I recognised the need for improvement and change which has led to many years of campaigning, supporting and championing foster carers and the children they care for.

It has given me the opportunity to meet some of the most extraordinary, wonderful, selfless and inspiring people you can imagine. It has afforded me a meaningful journey and the chance to make an impact. What I’ve learnt from that is for another time, but to be sure, that day I came through the door and told my husband we were going to foster I never imagined for a minute I would end up here, and I am so grateful for that.

Despite fostering being one of the hardest, and possibly the most challenging thing you will ever do, you will have experiences and the chance to make a difference to the lives of children and young people which will stay with you forever, and probably out of all the things I will ever do in my life, this will be what I am most proud of.