MumsnetGuestPosts (MNHQ) Fri 13-Jun-14 15:58:43

Guest post: 'Growing up with foster children made me the person I am today'

The decision to welcome foster children into your family can be a difficult one - particularly if you already have young children of your own. Here, MN blogger Steph Douglas describes what it was like to share her home with foster children from the age of four, and argues that fostering can be rewarding for the whole family.

Lead photo
Steph Douglas

Sisterhood (And All That)

Posted on

Fri 13-Jun-14 15:58:43

(17 comments)

Steph Douglas was four when her parents started fostering

People are always curious when I say I grew up alongside foster children. I think lots of people feel uncomfortable with the idea of welcoming a stranger into their family without knowing the consequences – and if we talked about it more, perhaps more people would be inclined to consider fostering as an option for them.

I know lots of people that are put off because they worry about the impact on their own children. Of course, having a kid is tough enough already - why knowingly add external factors that might make the situation even harder? My Mum has said that you have to know your own kids pretty well before you step into the unknown world of foster care. Having said that, even without fostering nobody can predict the future; whether to have another baby, choosing where to live, what school they’ll go to - you can't know what impact it will have on the family.

I was four when my parents started fostering, and I remember the giddy excitement when a social worker came to see me and my three older siblings, trying our best to entertain this visitor who seemed so interested in talking to us.

We started with babies, and then moved on to school-age kids, Remand Fostering, and both short and longer-term placements. The first little boy that came to stay with us was about one. He only stayed with us for a few weeks, but we all cried when he left. It got easier after the first few children. We quickly became used to having other people in the house, and kids are adaptable – especially if they themselves have a stable and loving upbringing.

Most of the children that came to stay with us were quiet to start with. I'm sure it was quite overwhelming to suddenly be in a large family of loud personalities. The fact that they were in care suggests that this new environment was markedly different from the family life they were used to. As we practised the Karate Kid crane kick on each other, some stayed quiet, some got angry, but most eventually joined in.

It taught me the lessons that I've carried into adulthood - the tolerance that has to come from living with people with different values, to try not to judge people, and probably most importantly, that people's behaviour is often a result of their experiences. Most people grow up in a bubble of others with similar upbringings, but a foster family will get exposure to something beyond that bubble.

As a parent, I've thought about the quietness of some of those children, and it makes my heart heavy. At the crux of it, these were innocent kids who had no control over the circumstances life had placed them in – and so there was a tonne of emotions, challenges and behaviours that came along with them.

It wasn't always a bed of roses. Some of the kids on remand from prison were particularly difficult and different from anyone I'd ever met – surly teenagers with a penchant for law-breaking, old enough to feel angry about their lot. But they could be fun too: they'd say ‘cunt’ in front of my Dad - an upstanding member of the clergy - and wait for a reaction. You have to go quite far to shock my parents.

Over the years, we had a number of foster children and two of them became my brother and sister. I have five siblings. I get frustrated when people ask how many of them are my ‘real ones’. All of them are.

Now that I'm a parent, I feel exceptionally proud of the way my family turned out and particularly of my mum and dad – they had the courage to follow through on their ‘calling’ to help children who needed it. They never wanted praise for it, and they’d never frown on anyone who didn't want to do it; I suppose they view it as a vocation.

Biological children can benefit hugely from fostering. It taught me the lessons that I've carried into adulthood - the tolerance that has to come from living with people with different values, to try not to judge people, and probably most importantly, that people's behaviour is often a result of their experiences. Most people grow up in a bubble of others with similar upbringings, but a foster family will get exposure to something beyond that bubble. And I've got good memories of having a full house – the noise, the rows, and the fun.

My husband and I have talked about whether we might foster. We have a one-year-old and a three-year-old and right now are just getting through the survival stage that having small babies brings with it. I think of the ways we've already agonised over how to provide a life of love and happiness for our own children, and then imagine kids facing a lifetime without parents, or a life of neglect or indifference. It's hard to think of a good reason why we wouldn't.

Fostering isn't for everyone. But if one of your main reasons for not considering it is because of the impact it might have on any biological children, hopefully my experience might reassure you. There's a lot of value in realising not everyone has been brought up like you, and a lot of pride in seeing someone settle in to your family because of the love and security you've given them. Your family might be able to provide the environment that all children deserve to grow up in, and that is pretty bloody special.

By Steph Douglas

Twitter: @StephieDoug

kaymondo Fri 13-Jun-14 18:59:15

So much of this rings true to me - my parents started fostering when I was 18 months old and are still fostering today. Our house was always organised chaos and I always found the relative calm of friends houses strange.

We had a lot of children who had been abused so I guess I was exposed to some pretty dark behaviours at a young age but I maintain that it made me a better person and truly made me grateful for my family.

Having said that, I wouldn't foster myself. I'm not as good a person as my DM is and selfishly I want to enjoy my own children without the drama and heartache that looked after children inevitably bring with them, through no fault of their own. I don't want my children to have to share me the way I shared my parents, but I do feel guilty for feeling like that.

theuncivilservant79 Fri 13-Jun-14 19:13:33

I loved this post.

jamaisjedors Fri 13-Jun-14 19:13:51

I feel like kaymondo too, but my parents (well my mum really, Dad got involved as little as possible) fostered just children younger than us.

Now I have my own children, I realise what some of the kids wen through and it makes me feel sick.

Itsfab Fri 13-Jun-14 20:30:53

I don't like this post but can't verbalise it at the moment. I found it a bit rose coloured tbh.

Kirk1 Fri 13-Jun-14 20:58:03

Thank you for this post, I was a foster child and having a family to care about me helped me become someone worthwhile. I was in a long term placement from age 10 until I left home to go to University. My foster family still are my real family and it's good to hear that it can be a positive experience for the foster family too.

namelessposter Fri 13-Jun-14 21:02:21

I was raised in a fostering family and I agree with lots of this. I don't regret any of the foster siblings that shared our home - even those with very difficult behaviours and very sad backgrounds. And as an adult, it's meant I've looked into the eyes of teenagers and young adults and seen the 7 yr old inside who has someone in the home who hits them, or abuses them, and they have no words to express it or 'safe' adults to confide in, so let it out through actions. I wouldn't rewrite my childhood to edit them out and would seriously consider fostering ourselves now we have a family of our own.

lets1234 Fri 13-Jun-14 22:31:47

Thanks steph love u all to and i nearly cried in a happy way mind glad i got u all as my brothers and sisters u know who u all are love ya all x

Catticals Sat 14-Jun-14 00:36:56

That's a lovely post stephsmile

Kentmummy1 Sat 14-Jun-14 13:22:24

A lovely post but it sounds as though you had rather lovely children! I grew up with foster children, ranging from babies through to teenagers ready to leave the care system. My younger sister and brother had some genuinely lovely children come through the door, although also some children that had been subjected to the most horrendous abuse and as such displayed some pretty dark behaviours as a result. I've witnessed my mother thrown up against the wall by her throat, my dad have a broken nose from an angry teenager and one teenager steal my bra to masturbate into! These were the worst of the years I lived with and there were genuinely happy times too. I can honestly say though I would never foster all the time I had my own children. My parents loved it and they helped so many of the children that came to our house short and long term.

sillymillyb Sat 14-Jun-14 22:45:34

I don't know how to verbalise what I want to say, so forgive me for this ineloquent post. I don't wish to offend but I disagree so completely it's untrue.

I strongly feel that if you have your own children you should not foster.

I was physically and sexually abused for years by a foster brother, I have witnessed my parents and brothers beaten up, manipulated, shouted down. I think that some of the more challenging behaviours that some foster children display, should not be witnessed not experienced by other vulnerable children.

It is your job as parent to protect your child, and I feel that fostering prevents you from doing that. You are opening up your home to an unknown element, and for every success there is the risk of failure.

My brother no longer speaks to my mum and I have had years of psychotherapy and several break downs. All down to being a natural born child in a fostering home.

I am pleased you feel so positively, but it feels like Russian roulette to me. I cannot comprehend taking that risk with my most loved and precious son. I just don't get it.

Again, I really don't want to offend people, but I disagree with your post and seeing it there at the top of the mn page bothers me, I wasn't expecting to open an article making me feel so shitty, and I hate feeling like I need to warn people of the dangers because there are so many others evangelising it.

BelleateSebastian Sun 15-Jun-14 09:58:25

I read your post and thought it sounded like it had been written by a fostering agency!

I grew up as an only child and my parents began to foster when I was about 9, mainly boys aged 10-16.

tbh I haven't really given much thought to it but I would personally never expose my children to what I was exposed to - types of experience have already been highlighted - I briefly fostered in my twenties and the amount of money that I got for it was ridiculous (I got 30k+ 20 years ago for having 3 'difficult' children) ..... now when I see some of the frankly unsuitable, uncaring foster carers (I come across them reasonably frequently through work) I know exactly why they do it! in my experience the bad fc outweigh the good, especially when the children they care for get older (and attract a higher 'fee') the genuinely good ones are amazing and worth every penny.

fledermaus Sun 15-Jun-14 10:55:00

I'm not sure that that kind of age gap is allowed/encouraged these days Belle (a 9 year old birth child and 10-16 year old foster children). A relative fosters and has birth children and her LA is strict on fc being at least 2 year younger than any birth children, though is practice she fosters under 7s and her birth children are secondary age - this is to protect birth children from the behaviour of foster children as well as to allow foster children the attention they need.

BelleateSebastian Sun 15-Jun-14 11:09:55

Yes, I'm aware that the rules have very sensibly changed!

suzanne3childrenandit Sun 15-Jun-14 19:37:19

This is really interesting Steph - you don't very often hear about fostering from the other children's point of view. Our church has just recently partnered with an organisation called 'Home for Good' in an attempt to get the church involved and essentially ask people to offer up their home and themselves as either foster parents or adoptive parents. My biggest fear would be exactly what you highlight - that my biological children would suffer. The other one would be that we only have 4 bedrooms and don't have a spare! I think anyone who can do this is wonderful. Do all of your siblings feel the same way?

scarlettsmummy2 Sun 15-Jun-14 21:04:20

I am a foster carer and have an eleven year age gap between by 16 year old foster son and two birth children. It is a long term placement that has been really positive for all of us. My birth children do no know any different, and just see A as their big brother. Of course there were risks that we considered before fostering, but we have had no regrets, and really hope this continues. Having said that, when the placement ends in a couple of years, I would only foster babies as my own children will be older and I would be wary of risks.

wonderpants Sun 15-Jun-14 21:18:25

I am a foster Carer, as were my parents and maternal grandparents.

My children love fostering. We are approved for pre-school and they have really enjoyed having little ones in the house.

I have no regrets and talk frequently to my children about fostering and what we do!

F0xy Mon 16-Jun-14 11:52:57

I would love to foster, but as a single parent that is not financial stable, I feel it will be along term goal rather than a short term one.

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