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'They drive you nuts and make you laugh' - Irish foster carers share their stories

The child and family agency is currently running a campaign looking for a home for one particular child.

Image: woman with child image via Shutterstock

THE STATE’S CHILD and family agency Tusla is urging more people to consider becoming foster carers as it continues to need solid and nurturing placements for children who have to be away from their families, whether that is for a short period, or longterm.

Sharon*, who has been a foster carer for nearly 14 years, has had more than a dozen children come through her home over the years.

“I was always interested in fostering, long before I was married even. My mother was an only child and her mother fostered. She used to tell stories about all the children, it had a huge impact on her life. And I knew people who had grown up in foster care and they had good experiences. It was something that was always very positive in my head.

She and her husband had three children of their own between the ages of four and 12 when they decided to get involved in the care system.

“You tend to start quite short-term and some people always do short-term. It’s not that we wanted extra children – we weren’t thinking of adding to our own family, but as it turns out we have added to our own family.”

The two foster children living with Sharon’s family have been with them seven and 12 years, both having joined the family as babies.

They are just like our own children.

One of the couple’s biggest worries was the impact fostering could have on their own children.

“We were told about a lot of stuff before we started, but a lot of it didn’t happen, we’ve been very lucky. In the early days we were warned about things like cultural differences. Or you could be taking in a child at Christmas time who doesn’t believe in Santa and they might tell your kids which would be devastating”.

Sharon said she has never had a child with “terrible behaviour” but there have been children who didn’t bond well with the family or who did not settle in well.

“You can stop the process at any time if it’s not working you you. My kids can’t imagine anything else and I hope some day they’ll foster too.”

Her advice for anyone considering fostering is to be flexible – and a sense of humour helps too.

It must be horrendous for the kids coming into a stranger’s house and all you can do is try to be kind. Put yourself in the child’s shoes. We don’t think of ourselves as foster carers, we think of ourselves as parents and like any parent, you try to give the child what they need at the time. If they need lots of cuddles, you give them lots of cuddles.

‘It will leave a hole in our lives’

For Jennifer* and her husband, the decision to foster was for different reasons.

They were unable to have children of their own and had started the adoption process.

“We just thought why go overseas when there were children here in need of foster homes. We thought maybe we should consider trying it and seeing if it was for us.”

She said the large volume of paperwork at the start of the process can be “frustrating” – “there’s no hiding anything, that’s for sure”.

And the training can only prepare you for so much, she explained.

The reality can be somewhat different. Really, a lot of stuff is out of your control. You have to be willing to relinquish control at some level. You won’t have a say in the longterm care of the child.

She and her husband now have two young children in their care who have been with them for two years. The two children are siblings and have regular visits with their family, who they are expected to be returned to.

“It’s difficult for us walking a line with them, to try to get them to want to stay with you but also to want to go home. It will leave a huge hole in our lives when they do go back, but at the same time you want what’s best for them. If being with their parents is the best option, then we’ll get through it.”

Jennifer has described their experience as foster carers so far as “challenging and interesting”.

There are so many people involved in your life all of a sudden – social workers, access workers, guardians. But you have all the normal benefits and the challenges of having kids in your life. They introduce you to new things, you see them develop. They drive you nuts and keep you up at night, but they make you laugh like all kids.

What has been most rewarding, she says, has been the positive change she saw in one of the children they have in their care who was overly eager to please when she first arrived.

“She’d say she loved everything, when she didn’t really. You’d give her broccoli and she’d say it was her favourite dinner. It took over a year, but in the last few months she’s just blossomed. She’s more confident, she stands up for herself and her teachers have said it to me.”

She advised anyone thinking of fostering to use the supports available, but also to speak up for themselves.

“If you want to have kids in your life, there are kids out there who need homes, even if it is only temporary. You watch them learn who to cycle, to swim, so many changes in the crucial years of their lives. Having an opportunity to be a part of that is lovely.”

A forever home for Jack

Tusla occasionally runs campaigns seeking placements for specific children and is now looking for a family in Dublin or Wicklow that can take care of a 10-year-old  boy called Jack* into adulthood.

Jack is a fun-loving, inquisitive boy who likes tennis, swimming, skiing, boxing and video games. He has been unable to live with his mother since he was five and due to changes in circumstances in his foster family, it is no longer possible for him to remain with them.

Tusla said Jack’s life experience and the separation from his mother have impacted on him in some areas. He receives extra supports in school and can struggle to make friends. Jack can also be very persistent at times, both in his views and his behaviours and he sometimes struggles to express his emotions.

He would benefit from being placed in a patient and caring family as he responds well to warm, nurturing care and clear boundaries. It may benefit him to be in a family with older siblings.

Anyone who thinks they could provide a warm and loving family for Jack or who would like more information on fostering can visit the Tusla website.

*Names in this article have been changed to protect the identity of Jack and the foster children of the women interviewed.

Read: ‘It’s not the State’s problem, it’s the family’s': Care system to adopt tough love approach>

Read: Over 500 children placed in out-of-hours emergency care last year>

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