Yvonne's Fostering Story
Yvonne tells her fostering story in her own words, talking about the children she has looked after, what motivated her to foster initially back in the 1990s and her experience of caring for children with whom she didn't share the same culture and religion.
Yvonne shares her fostering story as part of Black History Month.
Sharing her experience as a black foster parent, she tells her story in her own words.
I never intended to be a foster carer. In late 1994, I was in my mid-thirties, free and single. I was part of a black women’s group that dealt with issues such as domestic violence and housing - it was also a netball team. My only experience was of working with teenagers as a part-time youth worker. One evening another woman in the group, a social worker, mentioned that the council had come up with a new initiative to recruit ‘black foster carers to look after our black children’, and would anybody be interested? I thought to myself, “I could do that”- and tentatively asked for more information.
Despite not having the profile that would be expected of a prospective carer nowadays – I had no experience of raising children and I was working full-time (in those days it was a vocation rather than a profession), I found myself attending training sessions and being part of a small group of like-minded people who wanted to make a difference particularly (but not exclusively) to children and young people who reminded us of our younger selves.
The training and assessment process didn’t seem to last long and in May 1995 a 13 year old dual heritage girl arrived at my door. She was a pleasure to look after and stayed with me for a few months before returning home. She was followed by 2 more girls (dual heritage, one after the other) again they each stayed for a short while before moving on. Neither of these were the easiest of placements, but we got through it. Then came the whirlwinds that were N & D, 2 small boys, again of dual heritage, aged 5yrs & 3yrs at the time. I think this was when my fostering career really started! Remember, I was on my own and working full time… Somehow we got through each day, D in particular was prone to tantrums & swearing at inappropriate times, there were many times I could have said ‘enough is enough’. Along came Michael, my now husband – who would have thought he would take all 3 of us on? He was (is) very supportive and we continued on. We saw these boys through their teenage years and they are now 31yrs and 29yrs and we are still in contact with them. Whilst caring for N & D, we joined a private fostering company formed in the mid-90s and in quick succession we had 3 more boys of black & dual heritage. These placements were difficult, they were all in their early teens and exhibited very challenging behaviour- absconding, alcohol abuse, glue sniffing, to name a few and needless to say the behaviours were having a negative impact on N & D. As this was the general nature of young people (many from residential settings or fostering breakdowns, so ‘difficult to place’), coming through the private fostering agencies at the time, we reverted back to fostering solely for the local authority. The LA then asked us to look after 2 more brothers (dual heritage aged 2 and 5 at the time) and when I finally gave up full-time work another boy (dual heritage 13yrs) came to live with us and for many years we were a happy band of myself, Michael and the 5 boys.
In 2004, Michael secured a job which involved him working mainly in Lincolnshire. The boys were either in or heading towards their teenage years and a couple of them were starting to exhibit more challenging behaviour and mixing with ‘the wrong crowd’. We decided to move from the city to a smaller town closer to Michael’s job. The town (where we still live) is predominantly made up of White British people, any non-British residents being mainly of Polish heritage, people from black or Asian backgrounds are still very few and far between. Imagine 5 boys of dual heritage walking into the local school! The girls were a bit too interested….
Our boys settled in well and they all made firm friends amongst their mainly White British peers which most of them still keep in touch with. I think it helped that they had each other and also they were secure in their placement with us. I feel that being with an 'ordinary' black family helped them to feel more positive about their own heritage - they didn't need to live up to the (usually negative) media stereotype of what a black boy should be, they could just be themselves. It wasn’t all plain sailing and they still had their issues, but now when they meet each other they will reminisce about their time together – they see our family as family, not as individual foster children who just ended up in the same placement.
We joined Fostering People in 2008, by that time all the boys except one had moved on, a couple onto Independence, another 2 unfortunately did start to get involved in criminal behaviour and so went into residential care. We were also looking after 2 children of Gambian origin, R & E, a girl aged 6 and a boy aged 2. These were the most delightful, polite children you could wish to look after, and the LA knowing we were moving onto FP wanted to put them back with their own in-house foster carers. (They were placed with us after we told them we were switching to Fostering People, but they placed them anyway, thinking they could pull them out before our approval was finalised). After a battle with the LA, they finally acknowledged how well the children were doing and with very vocal support for us from the children’s school, they agreed they could remain with us. In 2015 we took out special guardianship on R & E, they were then aged 14 and 10 years. R is just about to turn 20 this month and is now settled at a prestigious musical theatre school (affiliated to the Universtiy of Bedfordshire, one of only 40 chosen from several thousand applicants) and E is now 16 and working hard on his GCSE’s. E really wanted to show his support for the Black Lives Matter cause last summer, and the local church had organised a march (to be honest it was more of a stroll). E was featured in the local newspaper holding his BLM poster, proud of being a young black man even, if there are not many others like him in this area.
Over our 27 years of fostering, we have looked after numerous other young people, some for a few weeks or months including children of other ethnicities eg: K a 15 year old boy from Afghanistan, who arrived in Kent and was quickly sent onto Nottinghamshire to a black family (us) – we had almost nothing in common with him, communication was difficult, we knew very little about his Muslim faith and it is difficult in a small town to source Halal meals and find a mosque for him to worship in. Who knew that in the local school there were 2 other boys from Afghanistan who lived with their uncle who also ran a takeaway? Food sorted, but no-one wants to live off takeaways, so we took regular trips to Nottingham to shop for halal foods. Also, there was a local ‘mosque’ in a community centre just a few streets away from where we live. It’s surprising what’s on your doorstep if you ask the right questions. One of the tasks involved for sanctuary seeking young people is to help with the immigration process, this involves many trips to his solicitor and conversations through an interpreter. He now has ‘leave to remain’ until 2023, so he is able to work and, providing he keeps himself out of trouble, he can apply for an indefinite stay after this date. K stayed with us for just under 2 years and we were delighted when he found family members in London that agreed to take him in. He still calls from time to time to say “hello, Mom” – he’s the only young person I have looked after to refer to me as ‘Mom’.
We also had a sibling group of 3 (of Jamaican heritage), each of these young people had their issues but we were able to provide care and support to them for some years, one into independence after a period of ‘Staying Put’, the other 2 unfortunately moved on to residential care due to some challenging behaviours.
Along the way there have been a few White British children placed with us, we’ve also had Turkish/WB and Asian/WB children. It is noticeable that when we have children that are clearly not of the same ethnicity as us, eyebrows shoot up, especially on the school run. You can sense people’s curiosity – why is that woman with that child – is she the nanny? In fact, one mother knocked on my door having found out we both lived on the same estate - she asked if she could leave her child with me because she hadn’t realised it was an inset day and she urgently needed childcare! In all the years I’ve done the school run with R & E (the children of Gambian heritage) no-one has batted an eyelid, but the differing skin tones seem to raise people's curiosity and people who you have never spoken to before suddenly become interested. It's a good recruiting tactic as I am always asked about fostering! I’m sure it’s the same for white carers with non-white children in their care and they will definitely have their own tales to tell.
Another strange story: I had taken a young person to audition for ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ (he didn’t get very far in the process, but he should have got a prize for enthusiasm!). Anyway, there was a Nigerian woman with her son sitting next to us, we got talking and one of our children told her we were a foster family. Straight away she asked me to help her – could I take her son because him and his father didn’t get along and she didn’t know what to do! She was very serious and I’m sure she would have given him to me if I had agreed. I could only advise her to contact her local social services – I still wonder how that turned out.
We have really enjoyed our career as foster parents, there are so many stories, some you couldn’t make up. We are currently looking after 2 lovely children (aged 6 and 4 of Caribbean/African heritage) and supporting them through the adoption process. A fantastic family has been found for them (WB/African-Caribbean) and I’m sure this will be the start of a wonderful future for all involved. We wish them all well.
A conversation 27 years ago has led to a life of many new experiences for myself and Michael. I’ve been to prison (only visiting!) on several occasions, seen the inside of more police stations than I would wish, learnt about Afghanistan and it’s culture, played our part in preparing children for adoption, become a parent through Special Guardianship and sat through numerous Musical Theatre performances. We’ve supported children through good and difficult times, 2 of our children lost their mother through a drugs overdose and another young person met his birth father for the very first time visiting him in prison. I have made a point of including the children’s ethnicities in this article as I wanted to remind myself that it was the emphasis on looking for ‘black foster carers for our black children’ that was instrumental in me putting my hand up at that first meeting, I’m not sure I would have reacted in the same way if it was just a general request for foster carers. The training and support given to foster parents nowadays means that we are all very capable of looking after children from all ethnicities, this was just the ‘lightbulb moment’ for me.