Chris and his husband Ian have been together for a decade, civil partnered for 8 years, and fostering for the last 18 months.
In support of LGBT Fostering & Adoption Week (7-13 March 2016), Chris and Ian let us in for a cuppa to chat about their fostering careers. They hope to inspire others who identify as lesbian, gay, bi-sexual or transgender, to not let anything stand in your way if you want to apply to Foster for Somerset…
Ian: “We started thinking about starting our family 7 years ago. At the time decided we needed to be financially stable and in a bigger home. So we moved, secured better jobs financially, and went from there.”
Chris: “We knew we wanted to start small and see where it took us. We started out as carers on the emergency fostering scheme, Friday to Monday, for 10 months. Initially we looked after 5 to 10 year olds but as time went on, found we worked better with the older children. We were doing day care and respite as well, and cared for children as young as 16 months, all the way up to 16 years, looking after 13 children in that period.”
Ian: “It was busy! But we enjoyed the anticipation of that 2am phone call, to hear that someone needed us, and waiting for their arrival. For some people that would be quite scary, for us, it was exciting.”
Chris: “At the time we felt we wanted to dip our toes quite gently into fostering. We didn’t think we wanted to take on older children who might have had more difficult experiences, and so be more difficult to deal with. But a 15 year-old emergency placement changed everything. On paper, this lad looked very challenging, however when he arrived he was lovely.”
Ian: We’ve been long-term carers officially since November, looking after two teenage boys.
Q. What do you most enjoy about being Foster Parents?
Chris: “It’s making the difference. When you look at where we were 6 months ago, and see how far the children have come; what they’ve achieved, it makes you feel really proud.”
Q. How have you helped the children you’ve fostered?
Ian: “I think it’s been a combination of boundaries, consistent parenting, and support. With one of the lads nobody had sat down with him and discussed his future in terms of work or further education. We made it clear to him that we would support him to go out and find a part-time job and start hunting for a college course.”
Chris: “We are both very driven people, so we wanted to help him achieve and move his life on. It’s been a rocky road and we have raised our expectations of him and ourselves in getting him onto the right track.”
Ian: “He’s said himself he needed that discipline and people to push him; to see that he can achieve and progress.
“The other young lad we care for is very different. They are chalk and cheese. I think it makes a difference him being in a different environment, as we are both very focused.”
Chris: “It’s getting them to believe in themselves and recognise their potential.”
Q. How did you feel when you were first approved?
Ian: “I was really excited when we came home; we were buzzing after we had just been approved. I think we were probably waiting by the phone all night for the call!
“I think all the training we had through the process was invaluable and brilliant, but you also really learn by doing.”
Chris: “And you’ll constantly make mistakes too, but it’s the learning that matters.
“Our supervising social worker, Zoe Floy, has been amazing, absolutely brilliant.”
Ian: “If I’ve ever needed to phone her to have a chat she’s just there. It makes all the difference.”
Q. How did you feel when you had your first foster placement?
Chris: “It was scary as hell having our first placement. They were two siblings aged 7 and 8, for an emergency placement. You don’t know how the children will be before you get them through the door. They were fine when they landed initially, but later, they were asking us what was going to happen to them.”
Ian: “We’ve always thought honesty is the best policy. We are always open with the children about what we know. We told them that we knew what was going to happen tomorrow, and beyond that, we didn’t know, but we would be there.”
Q. What is the biggest challenge about fostering?
Chris: “Fostering is very time-consuming and very demanding, and you have to be prepared to go all-in. It can be difficult to get the balance right sometimes. We’re lucky that, with the children we care for, we get one day a week to ourselves to do the relationship thing and have some downtime.”
Q. What would your advice be to others who identify as LGBT, and feel there might be a barrier to them applying to foster because of it?
Ian: “Chris and I come from very different perspectives on this, due to what we’ve experienced because of our age difference. I grew up thinking I could do anything; being gay has never been a barrier.”
Chris: “I think it’s a generational thing. It’s far more socially acceptable to be openly gay now; far more part of our society, culture and education. I love going to information events and meeting prospective foster carers, and talking about experiences.”
Ian: “Even when I was at school I was very quiet about my sexuality. Now there are young children talking about being gay, or transgender, or experiencing body dysmorphia. It’s more recognised.”
Chris: “30 years ago it wasn’t. 30 years ago, I had to think, ‘I’m gay, and that means I can’t do this, and I can’t do that’. Now there are LGBT characters in every TV soap opera. It’s in your home now, and that’s been a big, big change.
“If you want to foster, and identify as LGBT, do what you feel is right. If it’s something you want to do, you should go for it. There will be people who are accepting of it, and people who aren’t, but you have got to do what makes you happy.
“When you’re going into fostering, you’re doing it because you want to make a difference to a child’s life, not to satisfy someone’s opinion of you, and if you have those skills to offer, then why shouldn’t you?”
Enquire to become a Foster Carer for Somerset today – click here, phone us on 0800 587 9900 for a confidential chat, or come along to one of our information-packed events.