Liverpool has over 1500 Looked After Children. Could you foster one?
Phil Watson and his family have been fostering for Liverpool City Council since 2010.
Phil says ‘It can be challenging, exhausting, hilarious, but above all rewarding. I can see the difference we are making to the children we have looked after.
We chose to foster for the Council, because they don’t make a profit. This is very different from the Independent Fostering Agencies that operate in the city. We have fostered seven kids since we started. We had one little lad for four hours and one kid for over five years! We can’t solve all their problems, but we know when those kids are with us, they are safe’
Foster carers need to be over 21, have a clean criminal record, be healthy and have a spare room. You can be of any class, culture, heritage or sexual orientation. You can be single, in a relationship, own your home or rent. You don’t need to give up work to foster, as long as your work is flexible enough to cope with the demands of looking after a child.
As well as being paid, foster carers are exempt from Council Tax and get free Lifestyles Gym Membership. Full training and support is given. Liverpool City Council are actively looking to find new carers.
When men turn 40, it’s traditional to have a midlife crisis. I decided to become a foster carer. More accurately, my wife suggested we explore the possibility of becoming a foster family.
Our birth children were 5 and 7, and although I am biased, they are really rather fantastic kids, being academic, sporty and fairly sociable.
My job as a secondary school teacher was demanding but going well. My wife was a solicitor. We lived in a semi detached house with pebble dash and a compost heap. Perhaps we were in danger of becoming a little ordinary.
At first glance the risks seemed to outweigh any benefits.
Would we have room in our house and hearts for an extra child?
How would our kids be affected? More importantly, would my wife still have time for me?
My wife took us along to an Information Event run by The Council. I’d been on worst dates!
We heard stories from a foster carer, and a young adult who had grown up in foster homes. Their stories had us in both tears and laughter.
Many adults who have grown up in care struggle in later life.
Many of our homeless , our prison population, and those suffering from mental health issues were once in care. This information offended my sense of justice. It was not enough to feel pity, I had to show compassion, and take action. As Christians, we were also strongly motivated by our faith and God’s obvious heart for the ‘orphan’.
Our own situation also influenced me. My own children had begun to go on sleep overs.
I’m sure your kids have done the same or will do so in the future. I remember my son, then aged five, showing a little bit of anxiety about spending a night at his best friend’s house.
I sought to reassure him.
My son knew what he would be having for tea, he knew where the toilet was, he was taking his own duvet and pillow, his own bag of power rangers and a bag of sweets. He knew what he’d be watching on TV, and he knew his Dad would be picking him up in the morning.
And yet, still he was nervous.
I began to wonder. What would it be like for a five year old, or younger, to be taken to a stranger’s house and left there, perhaps forever?
I knew we could keep a child safe. We could provide food, a warm bed and some sort of reassurance. This is the essence of fostering.
My wife rang the Council and registered our interest to become foster carers.
Six months later, we were approved as Foster Carers for Liverpool City Council.
10 years on and we have fostered 8 separate children.
We have had children for four hours, a week, six months , and one we decided to adopt.
We just fell in love with him, and he fell in love with us. He’s not the most articulate child and can have trouble accessing and expressing his feelings in a socially acceptable way. However, one day when he had been with us a while he was being ominously quiet. I found him in our lounge surrounded by shattered glass wielding a permanent felt tip pen. He had taken a framed family photo from the mantle piece, punched the glass out, and added a picture of himself. I’m not a psychologist, but it was fairly obvious what he was trying to say.
We adopted that little man a few months later. Although Hollywood would have you believe otherwise, adoption is not the end of the story and does not solve the problem of trauma. As a 13 year old, he is still fearful of unknown adults and still struggles when a routine changes. But he has a family now, a whole network of grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends who can help him navigate life. For him, statistically, the future is far brighter as an adopted child than as a ‘Foster Placement’.
Fostering is difficult, but the rewards outweigh the problems, and its value is unquantifiable. Occasionally I encounter men of my age who talk about wanting a new challenge. They run back to back marathons, climb Kilimanjaro, or become Vegans. Meanwhile, I am trying to convince a kid that 3.00am is a bad time to play tennis, and that not every adult is dangerous. It’s probably not as glamorous as running a FTSE company, but my wife thinks it’s sexy and I get to spend a lot more time on the swings at the park. Clearly, I am the real winner, and so are the kids who we look after.
We get significant support from the Council’s Social Workers but have also become associated with a National Charity called Home for Good.
Home for Good’s mission is to find a safe home for every one of the 80,000 children in care, whether it be fostering or adoption. They also do a great job supporting those of us who foster and adopt, by running local support groups and providing resources.
Fostering isn’t for every one, but everyone should consider it before they decide it’s not for them.
If you’d like to find out more, contact Home for Good or your Local Council about fostering.