When you become a Foster Carer you go on a course called Skills to Foster.
It can last two or three days and is often held in some sort of inhospitable Council Building.
We had found childcare for our Primary aged children and it felt like we were going on an adventure, perhaps even a hot date!
I’m a massive extrovert.
I’m invariably the loudest in the room.
My wife held my hand as we sat in a circle of strangers. This was not so much a loving gesture, more a recognised control mechanism. I knew a gentle squeeze meant ‘Perhaps you should consider talking less’. It’s a simple system and it works for us.
Our course was made up of an eclectic mix of potential foster carers. If you did not know the context, you would have no idea what we had in common.
There were three couples, and a handful of single women.
I’ve only ever met one single, male Foster Carer.
We represented a range of ethnicities, cultures and backgrounds.
I’m guessing we were mostly middle aged or older.
The course was run by Social Workers and Pete.
Pete was a Foster Carer. He’d been a taxi driver and had had numerous contracts driving children in care or children with additional needs to and from schools. He’d enjoyed being with the young people so much, that he and his wife decided to foster.
The Social Workers spoke the most, but Pete’s interjections showed a dry sense of humour, a deep understanding of kids, and a relentless desire to help people. We all liked Pete.
I was concerned that the course would be a bit like school.
I’m not very good at sitting on a chair and listening to presentations or monologues.
I start mucking about. This is somewhat ironic, because I’m a teacher.
I’ll let someone else decide if I’m a good teacher, but I’m pretty sure I’m not a boring one.
If one of my classes is settled and working, I’m the one who causes a disruption.
In some lessons, I think I should be the one who is asked to leave the room and take some time out.
The course was much better than school and I still think back to what I learnt.
We were encouraged to think, to reflect and to empathise.
If your house were burning down, what one thing would you take? Your pet, your photos, something of sentimental value? For me, it would be my Grandfather’s ring, that I will one day bequeath to my son.
But what if the fire were so intense that I had to leave the ring behind too?
I’d be devastated. It’s irreplaceable.
How did you get your name? My middle name is the same as my Grandfather’s. My son also has this name, even though he was born 25 years after my Grandfather died. I have explained this to my son.
These questions and discussions helped us consider issues of identity, and issues of loss.
How would it feel to lose everything? Absolutely everything.
How would it feel to not know your own history, to be navigating life without a grown up who was totally and utterly on your side?
I know who I am and where I’m from. If I want to know more, I ring my brother or my Mum.
For kids in care, identity and family history are far more fragile.
I’m white, I’m male, I’m 6 foot tall, I’m heterosexual and I went to University, twice.
There are examples of people who look like me on the TV, in the government, and more or less in any profession you care to mention.
I have rarely had to fear for my safety, and expect to be treated reasonably and courteously by anyone in authority.
It’s hard to be aware of the privileges you enjoy, unless you think long and hard.
The activity that has stuck longest in my mind is when I had to pretend I was 15, black and a lesbian.
If this were my identity, could I kiss my partner in public?
Could I get on a bus and go anywhere in the city where we lived?
How would I be received if I joined a new school or applied for a job?
Others on the course had to pretend to be disabled, suffering from depression, be a different ethnicity or background.
We also had to consider how it would be if we were a child in the Care System.
There are no definite right or wrong answers to these questions.
It’s amazing what some humans can overcome, and achieve.
But we don’t all have the same starting point.
The child in care is more disadvantaged than most.
You can’t learn all you need to know on a Three Day Course.
But it’s a good place to start.