We continued completing the paperwork for the Foster Assessment and were feeling positive. I was excited about moving forwards and starting to fulfil what I believed was our purpose. I felt like we had been on an incredibly long journey; I had imagined, as I looked forward years before, that by this point we would have completed our biological family and would be looking towards fostering. The path had taken a very unexpected turn but we were ready to start with the next chapter and ready to fully throw ourselves into it and commit to it.
We arrived at the three day foster training feeling a mixture of excitement and apprehension. I looked around the room at the other couples being assessed. We were the youngest by far but I also noticed that there were a few single women. The social worker invited us to introduce ourselves. We were told not to mention our skills or experience at this stage but to mention what had led us to want to foster and why we had decided to do it at that point. As we went round the room people were mentioning wanting to make difference to the lives of vulnerable people. There was a wealth of experience; some of the foster carers were divorcees, some had no children, some were looking to extend their family through caring for an older child on a permanent basis, some were single parents and others, like us, were couples with biological children who had the space and capacity to care for another child. Our turn came and I introduced both John and I. I explained that we had wanted to foster as a couple for a number of years, that I had always wanted to foster and that I grew up with foster caring bing the norm. I also explained that we were bereaved parents and had been putting things on hold for a long time whilst we tried to extend our biological family and that we felt that we could potentially wait for ever without there being a right time to foster. We felt that as we had a spare room, as I wasn't working and Sam was about to start school meaning that I could commit fully to caring for a foster child, that now was a good time and that we were excited. Immediately I could see the social workers exchange glances and start to make notes.
We continued around the circle and for each person who introduced themselves there was a disproving look on the face of one of the social workers. The final lady in the group had no children and was single. She wanted to care for an older child on a long term/permanent basis as she had the space to do so. The social worker leapt on her. She told her that foster caring was not an easy profession, neither was it an appropriate way to build/extend a family. With this she then turned to me and said 'I mean I imagine you would love for someone to just come and give you a baby to keep? That won't happen with foster caring!'. I was dumbfounded and John sat in silence next to me evidently equally as shocked. I had expected at some point to come face to face with opposition from people who might misinterpret our desire to foster as something else but her reaction truly shocked me. She carried on with 'if you want to complete your family then fostering is not the way to do it'.
I swallowed and took a deep breath whilst tears stung my eyes. I reminded myself not to cry and steadied my voice before saying 'with all due respect, you asked us to introduce ourselves and give our reasons for fostering. You did not ask about our skill set. Had you done, you would know that I am a qualified teacher, that I have worked with children with additional needs, Looked After Children and other vulnerable children. You would know that my grandparents fostered and that we have thought very long and hard before making this decision. You would also know that I have decided not to return to work so that we have the capacity to foster. We are not trying to complete our family through fostering and know that it would never be complete'. She was taken aback and retorted with,
'it will if you adopt'.
I explained to her that adoption may be an option in the future; that if we can't have another baby of our own we may well look into adopting a baby but that this was a long way off. I also explained, however, that there will always be a gap in our family and our lives left behind by Emilie. I explained that this would never be filled - that we understood and accepted this as much as we could and that we would never try to replace Emilie through adoption and certainly not through fostering. And that was it. We had been given a hard time because of our history, and our resilience and desires for foster caring had been tested. They eased up on me for the rest of the day, but that evening we decided that we were not happy with the way we had been treated or perceived. I met up with some friends and shared the story of my experience that afternoon. Everyone was visibly shocked. That is when the tears came - thick and fast. They were tears of anger and tears of frustration. I had no idea how we could break through the walls to convince the social worker that we were ready; yes - there would be hard times but we wanted so much to be able to care for vulnerable children. The following morning John explained to the social worker who had spoken that way to me and asked about her motives. He was planning on explaining that we were considering making a complaint. Before he got this far, however, she apologised. She said that on reflection she realised that she had spoken out of term and that she could see we were a very resilient and knowledgeable couple who had thought very hard about foster caring. She did tell us, however, to expect to come up against opposition due to our recent history.
I was frustrated. We were always going to be bereaved parents and were always going to suffer from infertility. I wondered for how long we were going to have to explain ourselves.
The parenting course training was over two dates and took place in the October and December of 2012. This was a real turning point for me. I initially found the training painful as we discussed what might bring parents to the course and how to support them. People introduced themselves and mentioned their children in their introductions. I longed to be able to say I had 2 biological children (which I do now, 16 months later, offering further explanation if people ask) but at the time it was simply too painful to mention Emilie without sharing her story. I simply said that I had a son and left it at that. I can't describe the pain I experienced at this and felt that I was denying Emilie's existence. Funnily enough, I got talking to one of the course leaders at lunch time. She had introduced herself as having 6 children, one with Down Syndrome, and offered no further explanation. At lunch time she explained to me that her fifth baby had been stillborn. I asked her if she included them in the six children she mentioned to which she said 'yes'. I realised at that point that I didn't need to deny Emilie's existence; that I could mention her as one of my children and that people could ask further questions if they wanted to. I often say that I have a biological son and daughter and that we are also a foster family. People do ask how old my children are. I will say, for example, 'Samuel is 5 and Emilie would be 2 1/2'. I leave it up to the person asking questions to venture further, which they often do. I am no longer shocked by people's reactions - although sometimes a little surprised and often John and I will have a giggle about someone's reaction the as we relay the day's events to each other. People react in very different ways. I learnt the hard way, through the social worker's reaction, that people can be shocked, they can jump to the wrong conclusions and it can also induce terror. I have even had one lady, who asked me about my own children (and asked further questions relating to their ages...and where my 2 year old daughter was) whilst heavily pregnant with her second child, put her had up to me and ask me to stop speaking. She said she didn't want to hear any horror stories!
There are no rules to govern people's reactions.
The foster panel came round in the December of 2012. We were both incredibly nervous and had prayed an awful lot that if now wasn't the right time to start fostering; if it was too early or if we had heard wrong, that our application would be deferred. Panel lasted less than 20 minutes. As soon as we walked in we were told that we would be approved but that they wanted to ask us a few questions. I braced myself for difficult questions about Emilie and infertility but instead they asked about Samuel and how we would support him as a foster sibling. Happy with our answers they closed panel by letting us know how excited they were to have us on board, congratulating us and acknowledging Emilie which they said they felt was important.
On Christmas Eve 2012 we received a phone call. A 16 month old boy was needing a placement for an unknown period of time. Would we be willing to take him?