When Henry's family started to foster he was only seven years old. Even though, at that age, he didn't quite comprehend what fostering was, he quickly learned how it was helping the children his family was caring for. Now 18, Henry works for his local authority as an ambassador for children and young people and recently won one of our Fostering Excellence Awards for his outstanding contribution to foster care.
When the children started coming to stay it was confusing at first. A lot of my parent’s time would be focused on them and I didn’t quite understand the reasons. I found it difficult sharing my parents’ time with other children I didn’t know. However, after a while I saw the brighter side of it and was making friends with the fostered children. I learned about their stories, and it really helped me to get to grips with what we were doing as a family. Seeing the children’s faces at Christmas, birthdays or days out was amazing. That is the main thing that stays in my head and these were the times where I thought what we were doing means something and is special.
Obviously, there were also some incidents with foster children that I didn’t understand as a kid – police coming to the door, constant phone calls and late nights for my parents waiting for children to come home. One of the main negatives in fostering is when the foster placement breaks down. In life, sometimes things aren’t for you and maybe someone else out there can be better for a certain child, but when you try your hardest and it doesn’t end well, you can’t help but feel a bit down.
Another major challenge is saying goodbye. Where you have someone in your family for a long time who shares your space, time and life with you, it’s very hard to see them leave. And to stay in touch with the fostered child is difficult, but if it can be done, it’s a big positive. These things really affected me as a young child because seeing your family upset or under constant pressure is scary. My family were amazing in these times though, and they explained the situations very well to me.
People react in different ways when I tell them that my family fosters. Most people say it’s amazing, followed by a few questions, which I don’t mind answering, because if I didn’t foster, I would be interested in understanding how it works and what it’s like. You do get some people who think my family are mad for doing it, which I also understand, as it’s not for everyone. It takes commitment and a lot of effort to be a in a fostering family. People usually say it’s crazy because of the bad things that sometimes happen, but when you experience the good times and see someone’s life turn around in a positive way due to your family’s actions, it’s worth it.
All my friends are interested in what we do because it’s different and I think they learn things too. If I am spending time with my friends, the children we care for are more than happy, and more than welcome, to join us. It gives them more people to talk to and it also helps them settle in. Meeting important people in others’ lives helps them to feel more at home and part of the family.
A team effort
I think of fostering as a group job and it always benefits to have support from family members. I sometimes join my mum in training she attends, not only to give her someone to go with, but also to help get a better understanding for my own benefit, which I highly recommend.
The main thing I would say to other people’s parents is to always keep your child up to date, as there is nothing worse than being confused. Explain to your children why certain rules might be different for fostered children (e.g. being taken out to nice places regardless of behaviour) and it should be fine. The most important thing for me growing up was my family managed to keep our family time. We were all able to work together and help out in our own way. At the end of the day, everyone in the fostering household has a role.
Fostering has helped me to become more caring and appreciative. It has enabled me to understand how to deal with tough times and to not judge a book by its cover. It has also helped me become the person I am today.