I regularly receive emails from young people who are in care, or adults who have been in care system. I would like to say that these people emailed me to say how positive their experiences had been but sadly that is not the case, far from it. The majority of care leavers who have emailed me felt that they’d had a bad experience in care: let down by the system, their social workers, and even the foster carers who looked after them, whom they felt simply didn’t care.
To begin with I wondered if these emails were unrepresentative of the majority – only those with a grievance bothered to email. And while I sympathised with what had happened to them – very much so, it was tragic - I thought that their grievances, especially against their carers were probably due to a misunderstanding or lack of communication. Of course foster carers cared or they wouldn’t be carers!
But the emails continued to arrive so that I was forced to acknowledge that there was a real problem. Too many of those who wrote believed their carers hadn’t cared, and some even thought they’d been ‘in it for the money.’ I was appalled and saddened by their words and I came to cherish the emails from those who’d had a positive experience in care and felt that their carers did care – my carer was like a mother to me and I loved her, made me cry.
It’s sad and pitiful that so many care leavers feel we don’t care. I’d always assumed - I think most carers do - that the children I fostered knew I loved and cared for them, but after reading these emails I rethought. Why should foster children know I loved and cared for them? Their experiences may have taught them that the person in the role of care-giver didn’t care and had let them down badly – the reason they were in care now.
I asked some of those I corresponded with what they felt their carers could have done differently. Their replies weren’t all about what their carers did or didn’t do for them, or what they bought or didn’t buy, or even about the holidays, birthdays and the Christmases they’d enjoyed - often for the first time. What they yearned for was to hear their carers say that they wanted them and loved them.
Perhaps as foster carers we need to state the obvious to our foster children and tell them we love and care for them. What is obvious to us may not be to the foster child who is likely to have a different belief system to ours, based on their experiences before coming into care. I have now begun making a point of telling the child or children I’m fostering how much I like looking after them and how pleased I am they are part of my family – something I would have previously assumed they knew.
While it isn’t appropriate to tell a child who has just arrived that you love them - they’ll think you’re a phoney - when the time feels right don’t hold back. Tell them you love them. Even if the child isn’t with you long term, knowing there is someone else out there who loves you can only be positive. You can’t have too many people loving you, it just isn’t possible.
Cathy x (www.cathyglass.co.uk)