NUMBER 185 • 15 JANUARY 2003 • BELIEVING IN FOSTERING
INDEX OF QUOTES
Fostering however, does not come without its cost; the hidden cost of fostering can be very high. I am talking about the cost to my own children. They share their mother – me, my affection and my attention. They share their home, their toys and their rooms. They have made emotional, as well as physical space for other children; children they had never even met before they walked in our door.
We need to be vigilant and allow time for the core family. We need to watch out for signs in our own children that indicate to us that all may not be well. For example, delaying coming home, clingy or sullen behaviour, or a change in personality. All these can be caused for many different reasons apart from fostering but it is our jobs as parents to be watchful and make sure that the fostering experience does not impact negatively on our own children, the ‘foot soldiers of the foster care system.’ (Cregan & Kennedy. 1999)
‘The foot soldiers’ – children who care in this way are very special people; they are vital to the fostering life. Without their help and cooperation, I believe, fostering cannot be successful. They are the unsung heroes in the fostering partnership. Young carers can grow up more aware than their peers of the difficulties and problems that other families experience; they live with the reality of family breakdown everyday. In my experience they grow up faster, and are more sensitive to the needs of others than their non-fostering friends. On balancing the positive and negative effects of fostering on my own children, I firmly believe that they have gained in a way that would never have happened without fostering. They are the winners.
Despite any negative effects on our own children, very often, a foster child can change your life in such a positive way, in a way you never expected ... It’s the hugs of enthusiasm that are automatic when you come in the door. It’s the smiles made and shared. It’s the unconditional love and complete trust we share. This may not happen with every foster child, but has happened in our home with more than one foster child, making it worthwhile for all the family. In the words of one of the ‘foot soldiers,’ who I am proud to say is also one of my own daughters,
"It’s the little things. I love being a youth who fosters. I hove shared my parents, my family, my bedroom, my life, my love, and my last Rolo. Everything! I can't put into words the feelings shared with a hug, a kiss or just a smile. No words are needed to show love ... ”
(Jean Kennedy, 2001., this issue)
Studies have shown that foster carers, in general, are stricter on their own children than they are on the foster children. (Poland and Groze, 1993. Lemieux, 1984. Wilkes, 1974.) We need to ask ourselves, ‘Why’ this might be? Do we expect more from our own children? Do we expect them to be better behaved or even more helpful? Yes, I think we do, we expect our own children to show a good example to our foster children, is this fair? Children in families have to learn to share and this is especially true of large families, and even more so of fostering families. It often results in our own children being given less attention than the foster children because there is an assumption that they are alright. (Cregan & Kennedy, 1999)
My interest in the effects of fostering on foster carer’s own children goes back many years. This interest was rekindled at a workshop I attended at the International Foster Care Conference in Canada in 1997 presented by a group of three foster carers from Cork. Following this, Maine Cregan, one of the original presenters, and myself, continued to look into the subject in far more detail and present our findings at local, national, European and international fora. It is very heartening to see that further interest in this particular subject has escalated as can be seen by the number of studies and similar research that has been carried out in more recent years. One study that caught my attention in particular, was done by Sheila Ryan, a senior fostering social worker in the Kerry region. Her findings, which were similar to ours, are published in, ‘Hand in Hand’, the book of proceedings from the IFCO European Foster Care Conference, Ireland, 2001. Sheila Ryan also highlights the central role of children who foster,
“Whilst many foster care departments review foster carers annually and elicit views of foster carers at regular child care review, rarely do the foster carers’ children participate at these reviews, nor are their views sought. This is something that requires consideration by agencies so that the importance of foster carers children is truly acknowledged and their contribution to fostering reviews actively pursued.”
(Ryan S., 2000, p. 66)
I believe that foster carers’ children very often have a lot of positive experiences and views that could be shared with the foster child’s social worker, which could help the agency have a broader understanding of the success of the placement. We need to work together to develop a forum for the voices of the ‘foot soldiers’ to be heard within in the system where they are practically invisible:
“I think that the fostering system has yet to highlight the importance of youth carers and yet to include and honour the vital role of youth carers. I think that I should have an input into what happens in my home!”
(Jean Kennedy, 2001)
Kennedy, J. (2002). 'Believing in Fostering.' Irish Journal of Applied Social Studies. Vol. 3 No.1. pp.104-105.
Cregan, M. & Kennedy, J. (1999), ' Playing both ends
against the middle.' A research paper presented at the International Foster
Care Conference in Melbourne, Australia.
Kennedy, Jean. (2001) Youth Caring. It's the Little Things. Irish Journal of Applied social Studies. Vol.3. No1.
Ryan, S. (2000). The Impact of fostering on foster carers children. In Hand and Hand, book of proceedings, IFCO European foster care conference, Ireland