To mark Pride Month, we asked one of our same-sex foster families to share their experiences. This is Cheryl and Emma’s story…
The idea of becoming foster carers was initiated by Emma more than 10 years ago. She had one birth child but had always wanted more.
Both Emma, 46, and Cheryl, 51, had worked in care for the whole of their lives so were accustomed to giving a lot to others. However, wife Cheryl was unsure about fostering as she was committed to becoming the manager of the care home where she worked.
Lots of questions
Cheryl said: “We deliberated for a couple of years. Emma kept on nagging me about it and I thought I should probably stop being so selfish! The clincher was meeting up with some friends who were foster carers themselves and seeing how well it worked.
“But we did have lots of questions. Alongside my career worries, we were concerned about the impact fostering might have on our birth children (I have two children – Robert, 30 and Rachel, 22 – and Emma has one – Lucy, 20). Financial anxieties played a part and we were also worried whether the fact that we were gay meant we wouldn’t be able to foster. We wondered whether any children would actually get placed with us.”
This is a common concern, according to Team Manager, Katie, who is herself in a same-sex relationship:
“When they first contact our agency, a lot of LGBTQ people ask whether it is OK that they are gay. I reassure them that we don’t discriminate against anyone on the basis of sexuality or anything else. I think these fears reflect people’s wider concerns in society as a whole. Many same-sex foster carers worry about how the children they care for will be regarded at school, for example. But, blended families are much more the norm than they used to be.”
Even having made the decision to apply to become foster carers, the “fear factor” continued to play a part for Cheryl and Emma:
“You’re going into the unknown. We found we had preconception about children in care – that they were difficult to look after or very damaged – but once we sat down and worked through it all, it was a no brainer. We had both worked in the care sector for all of our lives and we’d always been involved with children.”
Cheryl and Emma became registered foster carers in 2013 with Jay Fostering, part of the National Fostering Group. Cheryl explained: “They were recommended to us by friends and they helped to allay any fears and supported us through the process.”
Cheryl and Emma have not experienced any discrimination as foster carers but that’s not to say that the process has been completely free from challenges. When one young man came to live with them, he brought with him the homophobic views that had been instilled in him by his birth parents. Although he was only 8, the boy told them he didn’t want to be touched by lesbians.
While the experience was deeply upsetting, Cheryl explained:
“You have to try and understand why someone is being discriminatory. Basically, it’s just ignorance – he just didn’t know any better. We worked with him over a period of time, sitting down with him and explaining that just because we are two women who love each other and live together it doesn’t take away from who we are as people. We wanted him to understand that it’s OK for two people to love each other, whoever they are because his prejudices went beyond sexuality to race and religion too.
OK to be different
“We found stuff on the internet and books with the message that it’s OK for people to be different. Friends and family supported us and our supervising social worker and local authority support placement team were amazing. That was five years ago. Now he has no qualms with us. It took us a good year to work through it all with him but now he says he loves us and gives us hugs. This feels like such an achievement. We have been accepted by his grandfather and siblings, too, who were also wary at first.”
Comfortable to be himself
Another young man in their care was exploring his own sexuality and found it a relief to live with a same-sex couple. Cheryl said:
“He came to live with us in September 2013, soon after we were registered, and stayed until he was aged 18. We got him really well and knew what questions he was likely to ask and the pathway he might take. He felt comfortable to be himself and still keeps in touch four years after he left. He’s doing very well and has had relationships and appears very content. Our house is an open house and I think he appreciated the open, honest conversations. If he wanted to know anything, he’d ask us outright. We have gay friends as well and he saw that it is natural and it’s OK to have different feelings.”
The couple benefited from the foster agency’s buddy system which enabled them to talk to other foster carers who might be facing similar issues. Their advice to any foster carer is to connect with support and community groups. Cheryl said: “I’m not particularly a fan of LGBT-specific groups, my suggestion is not to restrict yourself to someone who is in the same bubble as you but to look wider for support.”
Katie Meers pointed out that Skills to Foster training offers advice to foster carers on how to support children who may be struggling with their sexual identity. There is currently no specific training for LGBT foster carers and she said this may be an area for the agency to explore in the future. She said: “We support all of our carers equally and if any additional help is needed we make sure it is provided. We do offer to put same-sex foster carers in touch with others in a similar situation if they want it, but not everyone does.”
Getting past stereotyping
Cheryl and Emma’s advice to prospective foster carers, whether LGBT or not is:
“If you’re struggling with anything, ask your agency if there is anyone you can talk to because almost certainly there will be. If you decide not to foster, make the decision for a good reason – like you can’t cope with the kids – not because of your sexuality! Sexuality really does not matter at all if you have a good agency. We need to get past this stereotyping. If you want to become a foster carer I would say go with your dreams regardless of your sexuality.”
Katie added: “The amount of time we have enquiries from gay people asking if it’s OK for them to foster. The message I want to give is that this question really doesn’t need to be asked. Yes, it’s OK. Sexuality is not a consideration at all.”
If you are considering starting your fostering adventure, get in touch with us today!