The significance of stability
Selina is a social worker and care experienced. She came into care when she was nine years old and lived with her foster family until she turned 18. Selina is convinced that the positive family experience as a foster child enabled her to live the happy life she leads now. She knows how important it is both for carers and the ones cared for to stay in touch if it is in the child’s best interest and argues for this to be more encouraged.
In 2017, the total number of children in care in the UK reached a staggering 70,500.
This is a figure which increases each year; with a large proportion (74 per cent) living within fostering families.
The role of foster carers is one of significant importance. It is often undertaken in the background and behind closed doors with not always much immediate thanks. Foster carers welcome children into their home in planned and emergency situations where a child has or might suffer significant harm.
As a social worker, I understand this from a personal and professional perspective.
From a young age, my mum suffered from a mental health breakdown which never improved. After a second failed re-unification, I went to live permanently within a foster family from the age of 9–18.
I remember the day when I was told by my mum’s social worker that I was not going to return back home. I had mixed emotions. On one hand, I yearned to stay with my mum and on the other I wanted to feel safe. The unfortunate reality for me was that I did not feel safe any longer.
The first few months in my new surroundings were a blur. Luckily for me, my surroundings were the pillar of the community and unbeknownst to me, a place to call home which would span a whole lifetime. There were six of us in total in the house and I was the youngest and spoiled. The home was always full of friends and I loved the family BBQ’s, birthday parties, Sunday dinners and presents from families which I had never experienced. This didn’t mean that I had lost my family. My mum was an important part of my life. She was always included, and we spoke on a daily basis. My brother and sister were with me, so I felt protected. The first moment I felt alone was when my sister said that she was going to university. I cried when she was leaving as we had always been together. My foster mum was a multi skilled almost wonder woman who was able to do everything and looked after many others in the community. She would spend days braiding my hair. She taught me a lot about self care, how to cook, clean, and how to look after myself.
However, there were very challenging moments where I would say things such as: ‘You are not my mum!’ There were occasions as I reached adolescence and starting to push the boundaries a lot more. I could tell that comments, as above, did upset her, but she always remained calm and didn’t let my emotions affect her. Looking back now, I feel lucky to have been able to achieve a high level of happiness in my life, a career I am passionate about, and becoming a good parent. Many of which I largely believe due to the love and attention that I received and remaining as part of the family into adulthood.
Some social workers can become anxious about the idea of a child maintaining contact with a foster carer once they leave their care. All foster carers who take that decision to care for someone else deserve to be respected and allowed to remain in contact if it is in a child’s best interests. Too often, foster carers have to make their own arrangements with the child outside of the professional network. I appreciate that every child in care is unique and my story is based on my own positive experiences. However, the number of children who I have worked with who do not feel able to ask for ongoing contact, and remain curious about their previous foster carers, is high. I support any campaign which could find a way for this to be encouraged in much more natural manner.