‘Come with me on a journey ten years back in time and I’ll let you into the secret of how I came to be here now.’
Col has been fostering for two-and-a-half years. He has had a variety of fostering placements and shares his experiences of fostering as a single male carer.
Week 1 – To boldly go…
…not exactly where no man has gone before, but certainly where relatively few have dared, wanted to or, just as likely, knew-that-they-could, set foot. I’m talking about fostering, and whilst there are couples where the man is the main carer, I’m a single male and although I may not be quite as unusual as a Gloucester Old Spot Pig, for example, I’m one of a rare breed nonetheless.
But before I share a little more of my strange and wonderful world with you – and explain what spotted pigs have got to do with fostering – let me introduce myself and tell you how I came to be a foster carer.
I was wondering whether to give myself the pen name ‘Kirk’ as a kind of continuation of the Star Trek theme that began this blog. Then I thought I’d go for ‘Spock’, which would have been really appropriate, a sort of Star Trek-meets-the-famous-paediatrician-and-author-of-one-of-the-definitive-childcare-books, but I’ve settled for Columbus (or Col for short) because, just as the explorer of the same name discovered his new, exciting world in the Americas, so I discovered mine when I found fostering.
In a previous life, longer ago than I really care to remember, I was an accountant. I’m telling you this firstly to demonstrate that even accountants can move on to do interesting and hugely rewarding things (after saying that, what’s the betting a very offended accounts department ‘forget’ to pay me this week?) and secondly, because it leads me nicely into a little story, a story that will give you a glimpse into one of the thought processes I went through after I’d told myself that fostering was what I wanted to do.
A local firm of solicitors had advertised for someone with a financial background to head a new Family Finance department it was setting up. I applied for the post and was successful. After I’d started, the senior partner told me that the main reason I’d got the job was because of the answer I gave to one of his questions at the interview. The question was, “What advice would you give to someone who came to you and said they were giving up their job to become self-employed?” I replied, “I would tell them to go and lie down on a sunny beach somewhere until the feeling passed.” And that’s pretty much what I said to myself after deciding I wanted to be a foster carer. I didn’t exactly find a sunny beach to lie on, but I did let the thought swish merrily around in my head until it passed… except it didn’t. In fact, as it swished and swashed it grew stronger with time and here I am.
‘That’s all fine and dandy’ I hear you say, ‘but you haven’t told me why? I mean, what motivates a single man in his fifties to think about fostering of all things; and once you’ve taken the plunge, gone through the process and been accepted, what then? What’s it actually like?’ And hands up those of you who are also thinking, ‘Sounds a bit…well…odd to be honest.’ If you are thinking that, I’m not offended and you’re certainly not alone, but more on that in the weeks to come. In the meantime, come with me on a journey ten years back in time and I’ll let you into the secret of how I came to be here now.
Late in 2004, after speaking to someone she knew at a village club she belonged to, my wife came home and started talking about fostering. Her enthusiasm for the idea was infectious and so we agreed that once we’d got Christmas out of the way we’d take a closer look at what it entailed (fostering that is, not Christmas!). Christmas came and went but, sadly, before we had chance to make detailed enquiries, my wife was diagnosed with a terminal illness and died in April 2006. During her illness, fostering wasn’t mentioned at all, but it continued to pop in and out of my head as the weeks and months passed following her death. As far as I was concerned, however, the idea had become a non-starter because I was now a single male and I’d assumed you had to be a female or couple to foster. The weeks and months turned into years and as they did so the fading flame of the fostering idea was totally extinguished… until…
…Fast forward to 2011.
I saw a TV programme about kids who were living in residential homes. It seemed that some were just too challenging to be fostered, but there were others who maybe could have been fostered but there were just too few foster carers to go round. I remember thinking something along the lines of, ‘That’s a shame. There must be hundreds of kids in that situation and if I’d been allowed to foster I might have been able to make a real difference to one of them.’ My overriding memories of the programme were first the huge impact it had on me and second, my frustration (misplaced as it turned out) at not being able to foster. I suppose I could sum it up by saying that at that point it almost felt as if fostering was a vocation – or calling even – such was the sense of really wanting to get involved.
The following day, I picked up a local freesheet and lo and behold there was an ad for foster carers and much to my surprise, it said that pretty much anyone could be considered (although I did wonder if that included former accountants). I went onto the internet and researched several fostering organisations in my area – both Local Authorities and agencies – and eventually decided to approach Families Fostering (formerly Families for Children), mainly because the website seemed more comprehensive than most and the training and level of support looked to be amongst the best.
A phone call later, and everything pretty much snowballed from there – or at least it would have done had a family crisis not got in the way, but that’s another story for another time.
So now you know the ‘Why’. As for the ‘What’s it like?’ please stay tuned to the weeks that follow and all will be revealed.
Before I sign off for this week though, I’d like to come back to my friends Christopher Columbus and the Gloucester Old Spot Pig who, in the context of fostering, have quite a bit in common – well, sort of.
Now, I’d planned to say that Columbus, as well as being a great explorer, didn’t rely on others to find his way through the choppy waters of the world’s oceans because he was also a brilliant navigator. Unfortunately, I then found out that when he landed in the Americas, he was actually aiming for the East Indies which by my reckoning is just about as big a miss as you can get (good job he wasn’t in charge of the Apollo Moon landings). Anyway, because it suits my purpose, I’m going to exercise a bit of literary licence here and pretend that on the occasion of the ‘big miss’, Columbus did rely on someone else to navigate who, it would seem, held their sextant upside down or back-to-front or something, thereby taking Columbus in completely the opposite direction to that in which he wanted to go. So, literary licence duly exercised and you the reader having forgotten his navigational incompetence, I can now say that Columbus was an accomplished navigator which for the purposes of this little section I need him to be. As for the Gloucester Old Spot, well, they’re known for being as calm and docile as a pig can be and pretty resilient into the bargain. If you put those qualities together, then you’ve gone a long way to cooking up the ingredients (hope there are no Old Spots reading this) for a half-decent foster carer. You see, you’ll need to successfully navigate your way through and around the myriad of challenges and obstacles that fostering will inevitably put across your path; and being level-headed, calm and resilient while you do is a definite help. Get that right most of the time though, and the rewards should far outweigh the frustrations and heartache that from time to time fostering inevitably brings. See you next week…
Next week – ‘The best laid plans…’