Foster parent Yvonne urges other black people to consider fostering this Black History Month
Whilst Yvonne appreciates that mixed ethnicity foster placements can and do work, she thinks it’s important that young black people in foster care have a space where they can grow into their own culture.
It was a sheer accident that Yvonne became a foster parent, and a fluke which has sculpted the last 28 years of her life. In 1994 Yvonne was part of a black women’s group which helped women through domestic violence and with housing issues, they were also a netball team. One of the ladies in the group was a social worker, and she asked if anyone there would be interested in supporting black children in the local area. Yvonne thought to herself: ‘I could do that…’ And the rest, as they say, is history.
Yvonne is passionate about fostering. She has dedicated almost three decades of her life to it; her Fostering People journey began in 2008. As a black woman in the East Midlands, a predominantly white area, she is devoted to providing an inclusive space for dual heritage and black children. A safe place for these children to learn, grow and develop without anyone asking probing questions, or looking at them in strange ways because their skin is not the same colour as their “parents’”.
“It didn’t bother me, the questioning,” started Yvonne, “but I can’t help but think about how confusing this must have been for the children. We had a pair of Turkish siblings in our care for a while, they were the most delightful children, but they were light skinned, and everybody wanted to know who I was. The children must have realised that I wasn’t quite theirs in some way. The only good thing was that if I told someone I was in foster care, they became interested in fostering and would start asking me questions. And the awareness in the local area grew, all because I was looking after children with a different skin tone to me.”
Whilst Yvonne appreciates that mixed ethnicity foster placements can and do work, she thinks it’s important that young black people in foster care have a space where they can grow into their own culture. Yvonne explained: “Training and varied experiences can help, and you can read all the books you like, but sometimes you have to live it to know it. Often in the East Midlands young people in care will go to school with a majority of white people, then come home to white people but it’s important that they are able to experience their own culture.”
She continued: “To me, it’s important that young black people see black people other than those that are on TV. We want them to see positive role models and professional people. I was formerly an accountant and my husband Michael is project manager with a housing association. It’s so important to their ambitions and expectations in life to see black people other than the negative stereotypes being portrayed on TV. I think this is getting better, but there is still a long way to go.”
Currently, Yvonne supports three children through foster care and has one teenager who is on a guardianship placement. His older sister was in a guardianship placement too, but she now lives at university full time, and comes back to visit on occasion. Some foster parents like to keep count of the number of children they have supported, but this is something that Yvonne never thought to do, she said: “I don’t think the numbers matter. It’s more about how long you have managed to be a part of their life, and the influence that you can have. Have they felt safe in your care? Have you provided them with the right environment? I never want to turn these kids out, I want to help them grow and be safe.”
Yvonne is calling for more foster carers to come forward throughout Newark, and the rest of the East Midlands. She believes that too many people see fostering as quite an old fashioned concept, and that there are not enough conversations being had. Yvonne divulged: “I think it’s shrouded in mystery, the perception is of older women knitting in their living rooms doing a bit of childminding on the side… But that’s not what is really happening. Nowadays, it’s more of a profession that comes with professional rewards and the satisfaction of a ‘job’ well done. It would be great to see more young people coming forward to foster, and they need to learn about the difference that they can make.”
Foster care is not without its challenges, but it is an incredibly rewarding journey if you allow it to be. Yvonne stressed some key traits that all foster parents should have, including flexibility, confidence and strong mindedness. She said: “Just because a child looks lovely, it doesn’t mean they are going to be a little angel. You have to deal with lots of people in a variety of settings and you need to have the strength to manage the situation. Rose tinted glasses will not work in foster care! For us, we just look for the joy in what we do, and we know that there will always be another child who needs our help, support and love.”
Fostering People is on the lookout for more foster parents to join their team of passionate carers. When considering fostering your age, gender, sexuality, ethnicity or religious beliefs are not brought into the consideration. If you have a spare bedroom, and a loving home environment to offer to children and young people throughout the East Midlands, then foster care could be right for you.
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