The Real Story of Fostering, From Someone Who Was One

Children who play the system and ridiculous rules are only half of the story.

Sam H Arnold
Aug 21, 2019 · 6 min read
Foster Parent
Foster Parent
Photo by Kevin Delvecchio on Unsplash

Five years ago, I was a foster parent. It is a part of my life, I have never shared through my writing before.

This week though I sat down to write a short story and had to draw on some of my experiences. It took me back and made me reflect on the five years, I spent bringing up other people’s children.

If you asked me now if I would do it again my answer would be no. If I could go back ten years, would I convince the younger me to embark on the profession? Sadly, my answer would still be no.

These are my personal experiences, everyone’s journey is different. I am not advocating becoming a foster parent, as much as I am not trying to put anyone off.

There are many positives to being a foster parent.

The first young man I fostered was a joy and I loved having him living with me. When the placement broke down, I was devastated and to this day I wish things had worked out differently. At the time, when I was given the choice to have him back or not, I listened to other people. I was wrong, I should have gone with my heart and given him another chance.

Incidentally, he came and found me a couple of months ago to say hi. He has turned into a wonderful young man, with a family of his own. I feel proud to say I had a small part in his development.

The second boy I fostered was a school refuser and had similar anger issues. He was younger than my first but had his fair share of problems.

The last child I fostered was an older girl, she also had her issues. The majority of these being mental health-related.

We teach these kids to play the system.

For every year a child struggles, it takes three to put it right. If a child is placed with you at 15, you are out of time, before you begin.

Children in the British care system are treated in a way, they have to learn to play the system, to survive. They know exactly what they are entitled to and how to get it. They use foster parents to facilitate this. Who can blame them, many of them have had the worse possible life?

No child is born bad, as adults, we have given them life experiences. They think they need to behave in this way, to function.

Within the UK foster system.

Brilliant I thought I can do this. In the next breath, you are told that you must, however, abide by the rules. For example, no child under 15 should be playing 15 games. Even though, they have many friends that are playing those games. At school and amongst their peers, we have singled them out as ’a kid in care.’

I’m not saying, these warnings and age restrictions are not there for a reason. As a parent though, you should be allowed to use your judgement. If your child is mature and can handle a more mature game or film, shouldn’t you be allowed to make this decision? As a foster parent, you can not.

I broke that rule and let my 14-year-old foster son, play a 15 game. He then blackmailed me and told his social worker what I had done, when things didn’t go his way. Adults had taught him how to play the system well.

During the summer holidays, you fancy taking the children away for a couple of days. You pack a few things in the back of the car and take off. As a foster parent, this is not possible. You need permission to travel, details of where you are staying and relevant risk assessments. On average it took almost three months to get a holiday agreed.

At the age of 16, at special parties,​ I was allowed a small glass of wine. I believe that my parent’s outlook on alcohol, stopped me having a problem with it in my 20’s. It wasn’t something amazing I hadn’t tried, it was something I had learnt to do in moderation.

If you are a foster parent, you can’t let children drink until they are 18. At 18 a foster child is often put into a flat on their own; given £2000 towards furnishing it and told they can now drink for the first time. Is it any wonder that the statistics for crime, amongst care leavers, is so high.

My favourite ludicrous rule was having to seek permission, to get one of my foster children’s hair cut.

It isn’t family, it’s a job

However, that is exactly how you needed to think about it, as a job. No matter what the authorities tell you about these children being part of your family, they aren’t it’s a job.

My first foster son once remarked when I gave him an extra £10 to take a girl out.

You are never going to be a successful foster carer. You give too much and don’t treat it as a way to make money.

He was referring to the fact that foster children are allocated £7 a week for pocket money. I had doubled his money, out of my pocket.

He also told horror stories of families, where birth children were given branded food and foster children, supermarket own. I’m afraid I have heard this story many times amongst children in care. Some foster parents have the job part worked out, better than I did.

Think carefully

As I said at the start I don’t mean this to be a negative portrayal of fostering. There are some brilliant foster carers working endless hours. There are also some, that are in it for the money and the big house.

Anyone who can give these children a home has my deepest respect. However, please don’t go into being a foster parent, lightly. Think long and hard before you join up. Can you turn your home and family life, into a business?


Sam H Arnold is a writer and mentor. Using her 25 years of teaching experience and a degree in Education she can mentor the most reluctant writer. She also has knowledge of many topics in education and child development. It is these and private life experiences which are the foundations of her writing.

Stay in touch by joining her newsletter.

The Ascent

A community of storytellers documenting the journey to happiness and fulfillment, in mind, body, and soul.

Sam H Arnold

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UK writer & mentor. I share articles on writing, LGBT issues, parenting, mental health & more. For all my articles follow me on Facebook.

The Ascent

A community of storytellers documenting the journey to happiness and fulfillment, in mind, body, and soul.

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