Foster parents - unsung heroes of the adoption system
Foster parents really are the unsung heroes of the UK's adoption and wider child protection system.
Caring for children sometimes rejected by others. Children who are often hurt and damaged. Children who almost universally have been through trauma, or pain or both.
Our experiences of Foster carers were universally positive.
The families who cared for our children prior to their adoption were loving, giving, caring and, to us, entirely welcoming.
They hid their pain at passing the children they had cared for and grown to love on to us remarkably well. For painful, undoubtedly it must have been. Very painful.
Both families were experienced in caring for children. Both approached it professionally and appropriately. Our son and daughter were not the only children placed with their respective foster families.
As we got to know the people who were caring for our children during the preparation for their transition to our own family and during the transition week itself, we also learnt a little of the other children placed in the foster families' care.
This knowledge increased our admiration of these remarkable people still further. They dealt with the stress and tribulation of medical problems, attending regular hospital appointments and administering treatment at home as required.
One of the families also dealt with the trauma and upset of assisting one of the children with investigations into his treatment by the authorities. Returning with our son to the foster carers home one afternoon we found one of these interviews was just ending. Struck not only by the hurt this caused their foster child, we were also astounded at the loving, comforting approach of the foster carers. They immediately made it better. The child instinctively, almost instantly reminded of the safe, loving place of safety he had now reached.
I've talked in a little more detail about how our weeks of transition went with both of our children. 'That awkward feeling' and 'It's a gonna be a GREAT race' for our son and 'And so we are four' for our daughter.
Suffice it to say that both foster families made the entire process so much simpler, friendlier, easier than we had anticipated.
They kept their distance from the process. An appropriate distance. Not getting in the way of our bonding with our new children.
Collecting each of our children on the morning of their final move to our home was, I know, terribly hurtful of both foster families. Their sense of loss palpable. Their pain writ large.
In one case the foster father was not present. "He makes sure he's never here for the final move," his wife told me. "He finds saying goodbye just too painful." Entirely understandable after so much investment of love and attention in the child moving on to their new family.
Maintaining some distance from the children in their care was clearly something of some import for both families. In both cases they maintained a part of the house that was purely their own. Neither encouraged the children to call them 'Mum' or 'Dad', preferring instead to be called by their Christian names.
One of the mothers commented when we were discussing the role as it being her 'job'. A phrase that injected professionalism into our conversation about a subject which, inevitably, feels in no way business like or, indeed, professional. The emotions being too raw when considering the child in front of us.
It would be wrong of me not to mention our one, indirect, negative experience of the foster system.
Upon removal from his birth family our son had been placed originally with a different foster family. One unused to dealing with children of either his age. Unable to provide the boundaries and support he needed in those early days. Ultimately breaking down so comprehensively that upon his move to live with us our son's fear of being returned to his birth parents was exceeded only by a fear of having to return to that foster family.
Matching adopters to children is essential. Doing the same wherever possible for foster families is born out by our son's experience. Of course, that's not always possible. The need to find accommodation for a distressed, confused, disorientated in child in the middle of the night allowing no luxury of choice.
The remarkable foster carers we came across took everything and anything in their stride.
Most notably the fact we were gay.
One of the families had not been told that we were a same sex couple.
Having been given our names they had assumed J was the husband and that 'Nick' was short for 'Nicola.' They were therefore expecting 'Nick' to be the willowy wife of the nice middle class couple they assumed had been chosen as adoptive parents for their foster child.
So on my first visit to discuss the plans for transition, they didn't expect to see a 6' bald bloke in front of them when they opened the door.
"Hello, I'm Nick," I said, holding out my hand.
There was a slight hesitation from the foster mother. "Oh, hello!"
"You were expecting me? I'm not early am I?" I asked, concerned.
"No, no, come in. We were just expecting someone else." The foster mother covered extraordinarily well.
I have to say, all credit to them, our daughter's foster parents pulled things together in a totally professional, indiscernible and friendly manner. Indeed, I only found out that they were expecting 'Nick' to be a woman as I left, after an hour of coffee, with details of how to prepare for our child's arrival and a myriad of photos of them.