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Opinion: 'I used to think foster parents were very special people. I now know they are very ordinary people.'

As a family and as individuals, we have benefited every bit as much as the children we have and continue to care for – life has been enriched.

Image: Kichigin via Shutterstock

TWENTY-TWO YEARS ago we were the ‘perfect’ 2.2 kids family. My own two teenagers were growing up and both my husband and I worked. Life was comfortable.

We had no real understanding of what fostering was about, apart from thinking that the people who did it were “great people”.

Then our lives took a different path. Our grand-nephew came to stay, a beautiful baby boy, because my niece and her boyfriend were unable to care for him.

For a while, our home became a hub of activity with people coming and going. Social workers visited us and interviewed my husband and I and our children. They had to assess us to see if we were able to take care of this baby. Just because we were family did not automatically mean we were suitable.

That’s how it began and we became what are known as ‘relative carers’. Baby continued to grow and thrive and we settled into our new and bigger family. Access visits were arranged to allow the baby to see his parents and maintain a relationship between them.

Then a few years later, we received a phone call from our social worker asking us to take a baby who needed a home for “a few days”. My husband said “That’s grand, sure it is only for a few days and we will manage”. The children were happy to help and so it was a big “Yes” from all of us.

That’s how we found ourselves in a new situation caring for a beautiful baby girl, who was not related to us and we became what are known as ‘general foster carers’.
Life as we knew it had completely changed. We had the additional challenges of access visits and the many sleepless nights that go hand in hand with a young baby. Those few days have turned into 13 years and are still going strong.

As a family with four children we have experienced all of the trials and tribulations that come with that. Many times we questioned ourselves and wondered were we mad to be on this journey. However, when you look into a baby or a child’s face and you know that they are fully dependant on you for their needs, and they have made that eye contact with you, you know you are hooked. You will do that long walk with them, for as long as they need you – and believe me sometimes that walk is hard for them, for you, for your children and the birth family. With the support, training and information and keeping the child’s well-being and welfare paramount, that journey could be all the more satisfying when you see a child reach its own potential.

We recently added a third foster child to our crew and we at this stage, 22 years on, have a greater understanding of what fostering means, not only to us but to those children who need us.

So, if you are reading this and you think all children deserve to be kids, to play, to be looked after and not have grown-up worries, if you think that all children have the right to be safe and be allowed to be a child, then maybe you too could be a foster parent.

I used to think that foster parents were very special people. I now know that they are very ordinary people. They can be from the child’s extended family or they can be everyday people from all walks of life, who can make huge differences to children who need a chance.

I can only try to emphasise that as a family and as individuals, we have benefited every bit as much as the children we have and continue to care for. Life has been enriched, difficult, rewarding and challenging. In short, life has been a rollercoaster but would we change what we have done? No we wouldn’t.

Caroline and Emmet

A new Tusla campaign is encouraging Dubliners from all walks of life to consider opening their home to a child.  The campaign will be launched later today by Minister for State for New Communities, Culture & Equality, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, TD.

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Caroline and Emmet

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