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Fostering In Ireland: Could You Become A Foster Parent?

The need for foster families in Ireland has grown immensely. More and more children are needing urgent and immediate care. Advertising for foster families from private agencies is even spreading to our social media sites urging people to take on this massive life changing role. 

I have as a parent always been fascinated by how the fostering system works. So, I thought the best way to find out the answers to all my questions is to talk to somebody who is a foster parent. This foster parent will remain anonymous throughout this article as it's necessary to protect their identity and that of the children she has helped. 

Have you noticed any major change in the severity of cases coming to your door over the years?

I believe the demon drink and drugs has increased child vulnerability. It has also increased the need for urgent temporary care day or night with just a few hours’ notice at times. This increased pattern of abuse has certainly put the pressure on not only the HSE but private agencies to find more suitable placements. There is a huge shortage of foster carers in the system. And in the summer months’ people take holidays and so temporary placement must be found for that foster child. This is causing huge pressure on an already squeezed system. 

So why did you decide to Foster initially?

Like many, it had played on my mind for many years but then just decided to act on it. I must admit though if I knew now what fostering entailed and had fully understood the toll it can take on all my family members’ I probably would not have taken that next step. Fostering is not like the pictures’ they show you on TV or advertising. It’s such a raw experience to open your home to these children and open your heart. 

How did you know you could do it?

It takes a lot of time to get a handle on fostering and how the system really works. The staged pictures they advertise can fairy-coat the reality of fostering. The hardest part is the children and where they have come from. Some may have been abused. Their parents may suffer from substance abuse or are simply just unable to look after them. The love the children in the system have for their parents is so forgiving an amazing unconditional love. No matter what the parents have done; all they want is to go home. It can be heart breaking but it’s not about you, it’s about the kids. 
Is the fostering system sufficient or should it be privatised if the pressure is that great? The HSE do an amazing job but the only down fall is they are only available Monday to Friday office hours after that support is not available. The reason for these rationed hours; funds are stretched beyond belief. Social workers are swamped with cases, with more being added every day. It is the sad reality of our lifestyles today. 

What about fostering through an agency?

Private Fostering is a financial business that must make money to stay afloat. This is perfectly understandable but it is the HSE that pays these agencies to place children in suitable homes. Families that use the private fostering agencies do so more than the HSE because they have 24hour social workers so it more appealing to go with the agencies even though at times the children they foster can be more difficult. The money would be better spent building support within the HSE giving 24hour care rather than paying an agency to do the job. 

What happens to a child who cannot be placed with a foster family?

When a child cannot be placed by the HSE for whatever reason they request the private sector find that child or children a placement. Should that fail and the foster child cannot be placed in any suitable foster home the last step is a residential home for children. Mostly these are children that end up in Residential Care because their behaviour is too challenging to be managed in any other care setting. This decision by the child’s social worker is not an easy decision to make and is not made lightly. 

How many children have you fostered?

I have fostered over forty children in the last fourteen years. Some have stayed a few weeks and others have stayed a few months. Either way, it is hard not to become attached and to want to shield them and protect them, the feeling can be quite immense at times.  Even after they leave you in some way are always part of their lives. 

Do you struggle to let go of the children you have fostered and do they return home immediately?

Yes, at times it's devastating but that’s why as foster parents we receive ongoing training to deal with this. Not all kids are returned straight home. I am mostly a temporary foster parent. The children are then placed in more permeant homes when appropriate places can be found. The children still have supervised visits with their parents continue and little by little should the situation be sorted they are then returned home. But it takes time and patience. 

I keep in contact with a lot of my foster children and would occasionally meet up with some and their families. I hope I have made a positive impact a lot of lives and for the better. People do not realise the work and time that goes into having foster children. Everything is done for that child and it’s all about getting that child to supervised meetings with their estranged parents or parent. At times, this has meant I have sat in a car park for hours on end waiting to take them home. Then to deal with the emotions they have of maybe seeing their parents only to be torn away again.  

Is fostering a special calling?  

It's only meant for certain people I sincerely believe that. You must be a very patient person and not selfish. Your partner/family needs to be 100% on board too. It’s all about reunification and getting that child back into their home environment, bringing about the restoration of unity within the family. I have fostered for a long time now and have seen all sides of fostering. 

Out of the forty children, one has decided to stay?

Yes, one of our foster children has made themselves a permeant fixture in our home. The adoption process is currently ongoing and it’s going to be a very emotional and special day when he becomes a family member forever. 

So why this child?

‘He picked us’,  it was as simple as that. I’m reminiscing now but when he came to us that first day; he had eyes like a little-lost soul. Immediately we became Mam and Dad to this little-lost soul. He was craving a family just wanting to be loved. His little feet fitted perfectly under the table and that was it, he was home. 

What is your opinion and do you know any same sex couples who are foster parents?

If you google fostering the requirements are quite broad married, single same sex relationship, spare room and it goes on. I know of only one same sex couple who are fostering a young boy. A very happy well-rounded boy with amazing foster parents. Anyone can be a foster carer. It doesn't matter if you are single, married, living together, divorced, gay, lesbian or heterosexual. 

How did it affect your family life when you started fostering?

When I began fostering my youngest was eight years old and to this day she still feels she missed out in those younger years. But she knows the importance of fostering and will probably, when the time is right, become a foster parent herself. 

Is it important to have a good relationship with your social worker?

Yes, the social workers are there to make sure the child that is placed with you suits your family. This can be hit and miss too as situations vary and children react in different ways to separation anxiety and abuse suffered. The social workers pass no judgement should you refuse a placement. It is important to the social worker that we as the foster family don’t burn out. A burnt out foster family is of no use to a needy child. The child that is placed with us the foster family has their own social worker and we the foster family have their own social worker. I can only imagine the pressure this puts on an already stretched HSE system.

Author’s note: 
It makes you wonder why there are not more foster families available with the spectrum being so broad. It’s harder to get a bank loan these days than become a foster parent. Maybe it should be highlighted more that fostering is open to all families. I know myself I would love to foster but I also know the reality is with having three kids of my own from age six up to twelve, I don’t believe I could give 100% to a random child who needs so much love and special care and that is unfair to any child who deserves so much more.

Are you a suitable foster parent? Have you ever considered being a Foster parent? Can you open your home to children and youths in the system that have been abused, neglected, abandoned, and face tremendous obstacles and stigma from being in the system through no fault of their own.

Foster parenting is a powerful way to lift the heads of children and youth and show them that there is some hope for the future. This is what our foster parent interviewed and others have done, and it’s a relief to know there are people out there like them who selflessly take on the role of a foster parent. It takes a very special person to do this and do it right. Who needs superheroes when there are unknown amazing super heroes out there called Foster parents. 

Visit fostercareireland.ie & tusla.ie for more information on fostering, or visit the Foster Carers Ireland Facebook page.


About the Author

 ‘The Stay at home Mum’

Louise is a full-time writer, blogger and stay at home mum of three. These three are her reason to live but also the reason for her love of a good wine. To describe motherhood Louise would use just these six words Joyous, exhausting, daunting, love, protective, unconditional.   

Louise writes everyday life articles, adult fiction and children’s stories. Louise has successfully written for other publications like Intrigue.ie and The M Word.

Pop over to find out more about Louise and read some of her work on Facebook and on her website.

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