What is being fostered like?

Here’s a thought…Imagine that this evening, when you are getting ready to go home from whatever activity you have been filling your day with, work, relaxing, looking after the kids, going to classes, you are approached by a police man.

This has probably happened before. You’ve seen the police hundreds of times before. They’re helpful, checking everything is ok, or giving you directions. Today they don’t.

They tell you to get into the car. What is happening?

They tell you that you can’t go home tonight because it isn’t safe. What isn’t safe? Why not?

They drive you to some offices. Not nice swanky ones, but non-descript anywhere type offices where everyone walks round with lanyards on and there are more people than probably should be crammed onto the desks.

You are told that you can’t go home and tonight you will be going to stay somewhere else. Where? Who with?

You are told that the rest of your family aren’t going to be with you, expect maybe your sibling. Why not? Why can’t I see them?

You are put in a car and driven to a stranger’s house. They seem smiley and happy, but underneath have concerned faces. Why are they trying to smile and be nice? Why can’t I see my family?

They cook you dinner. Comfort food. The kind of food that you would always eat. But you don’t feel hungry. Where are your family now? Who are they eating their dinner with?

You get put to bed in a new room. The bed feels different. It’s a stranger’s bed after all. You are exhausted by the questions in your head. The answers you have been told aren’t enough. Being told you aren’t safe at home. What does that mean? Who’s house am I in?

To imagine this as an adult with all our powers of rational deduction is scary enough and if it were to happen would make you mad. Imagine now that it is your 8-year-old self going through this. Or your 12-year-old self. Or even your 4-year-old self.

Every year 35,000 children come ‘into care’ in the UK and around 80% of them come into foster families as part of this, experiencing something like the above. It feel like the rug has been pulled from under their feet.

That is not to say that they shouldn’t have been taken into care. 6 in 10 come into care because of neglect or abuse at home, the place where they should have been safest. The majority return home within 6 months, but many thousands don’t. But coming into care can be truly terrifying for children trying to make sense of the what is happening to them. However-many kind adults they meet doesn’t take away from the shock they feel and the feelings they need to process. It can take a long, long time to do this.

Now go back to imagining the house you’re staying in. What would you like it to be like to make you feel that bit better about being away from home? Think of the people you’d like to be there looking after you. What are they like? What are their characteristics? Take a minute to do this.

You probably thought of people who have cared for you. People who cared for you well. Maybe your parents, an auntie or uncle, or maybe even foster carers you grew up around or with. These people shape us, and the care that they gave us can inspire us to step up for the child who is about to arrive in care, feeling scared and needing an adult with a spare room to be able to listen, empathise and stick with them for as long as they need them to.

Imagine that was you.

Today is the start of The Fostering Network’s Foster Care Fortnight #FCF2016. Why not check out Home for Good’s article to find out more.