Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Guest Post - Taking a chance on Margaret Madden - Chances Fortnight

We all take chances in life. From choosing a boyfriend, a career or a house; through to choosing a wedding dress or names for our children. These are decisions you expect to make over time. But there are also the unexpected decisions that often creep up. In this case, one of the biggest choices myself and my husband have ever made was to become foster parents.

We had originally begun the fostering process about fourteen years ago, after seeing an advert in a local paper (accompanied by photos of children looking for homes). However, as our own family expanded, the plan had been put on the backburner. Fast forward to 2010 and the idea creeped into our minds again. We had moved into a large house, our children had all started school and I had taken voluntary redundancy from my job with an airline. All of a sudden, I was at a loose end and yet could not face another pregnancy. With four children, who were all gaining increasing independence, we felt we had a lot of experience and love to offer. After briefly considering overseas adoption, we decided to re-visit the idea of fostering. There are so many children who need love, care and attention; maybe this was our chance to help?

After the initial phone call of inquiry, there were home visits, a TON of forms to be filled out, courses to attend and some very intrusive questioning. Add in police clearance and compatibility research, and we were good to go, after about eighteen months. We were approved for short-term placement (anything from one night to six months) and within a day we received our first request. We were equally excited and petrified. What would we do if there was a problem? In Ireland, the state fostering agency only operates from 9-5, Monday to Friday, and this is what scared us the most. Luckily, the six-year-old boy was not too frightened and knew he would only be with us for a few months. He had behavioural problems and it took a while for him to adapt to our family routine, but he soon settled in perfectly. He thrived in school and his health improved dramatically. He got to spend time with his mother twice a week and yet slotted into our family with ease. The day he went home was joyful for him and heart-breaking for us.  Fast forward to today and we have had nine foster placements. We have a little girl over five years now, and it is likely that she will remain with us indefinitely. (Here in Ireland, it is rare for foster children to be placed for adoption).

When we tell people that we are foster carers, there are always the same reactions. “Aren’t you great? I could never do that. Just hand them back? No, I’m too emotional. I wouldn’t be able for that at all”, or, “They usually come with a lot of baggage, right?” Just because a child is in care, does not mean they are ‘troubled’. It is rarely their fault that they ended up in the system. More often than not, it is due to their parent’s addiction or mental health issues.  It is hard saying goodbye, of course it is, but they are usually going back to a well-supported network of family who will hopefully continue to improve their circumstances. But I think people forget that these kids need somewhere to go. The awful days of orphanages and children’s institutions are, thankfully, gone and the state has finally recognised that these kids need a voice.

Foster parents are more than just a roof over their heads and food in their bellies. They are a family. A support system. A voice for the children. We teach them that their circumstances are beyond their control, they are not to blame and that they deserve to be loved. A lot of these children have basically raised themselves thus far, and we allow them to become kids again. We help them catch up with schooling, health and dental issues, emotional problems, etc. Sometimes we show them how to brush their teeth; sometimes we teach them how to trust. Mostly, we teach them what it is like to be a child; how to laugh or cry; sleep without interruption or fear. We also fight for their individual rights. There is regular communication with social workers and visitation assistants, regulated update meetings (with a roomful of officials making decisions for the child) and there are often days where we feel completely helpless due to lack of legal rights for foster carers. However, there is no way we would ever regret our decision to foster. Our own birth children have learned to be the most caring, patient and understanding people I know and have admitted that they believe being foster-siblings has made them stronger and more understanding.  We have welcomed the most amazing, bright and beautiful children into our home and now have an added member to our family. Without fostering, we would have never have met these children; never taught that first little boy to read or taught our youngest to ride a bike and impulsively smile for photographs.  These kids will always be a part of us and no matter what age they are. Our door will always be open for them.

Thank you for sharing Margaret, you are providing a much needed role for many children, and I'm sure they will never forget you. 

Margaret Madden is a book blogger/reviewer who contributes to the Irish Times, The Sunday Independent and She is a final year BA student of English and History who can be found with her nose stuck in a book, or with an audio version in her ears. Irish fiction is her addiction of choice.

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