This Father’s Day, we’ve asked some of our foster carers to share their thoughts on celebrating it sensitively with the young people in their care.
In this interview, foster carer Carey shares his experiences.
1. Can you tell us a bit about your history of fostering – when you started, how many years you’ve been fostering, and how many children you’ve looked after?
My wife and I were approved as foster carers in July 2014, so that’s four years. We’ve only looked after four children, though our current placement has been with us for nearly two years.
2. Days like Father’s Day and Mother’s Day can raise mixed emotions in children in care. In your experience, how do the children in your care react on tricky days such as these?
We’ve been lucky in that the two children who have spent most time with us have both had a really strong bond with their mums, and every contact is special for mum and child. So the specialness of Mother’s Day is a bit diluted. With Father’s Day, both of them have had very little knowledge of their dad, but because their bond with mum is so strong, I don’t think they feel like they’re missing out. But then children in care can be very good at hiding their feelings.
3. Father’s Day and Mother’s Day can obviously be difficult for carers too, as you’re conscious not to come on too strong. How do you approach days like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, and what do you think the biggest challenge is?
There’s no way a foster carer can replace a biological parent. Even in adoption, blood is thicker than water and that inseparable bond will eventually emerge either in adolescence or adulthood. The biggest challenge is making sure a foster child knows who’s in charge at any given moment, as they will have so many people telling them what to do – carers, social workers, teachers, parents, siblings, extended family. It’s easy for them to get confused.
For our foster child, Mother’s Day is a chance to say thank you to his mum for his life and his natural talents, so we encourage him to make the most of this opportunity. As for Father’s Day, he is lucky to have plenty of male role models in his extended family, so he might hand out gifts to his step-dad, his uncles and his brothers.
4. Many foster carers still celebrate Father’s Day and Mother’s Day. If you’re one of them, how do you normally celebrate with your child?
We don’t have any children of our own, so there aren’t any issues with our foster child feeling left out. My wife’s mother is still with us, so we might take her out for a meal at a restaurant on Mother’s Day and bring our foster child with us. For Father’s Day, we would do something that both my foster child and I enjoy, like playing football in the park, or watching a Star Wars movie together.
5. What advice would you give to new foster carers who are unsure of how to approach days like Father’s Day and Mother’s Day?
It really depends on the circumstances of each child. If your child is in regular contact with parents, then bring that special day forward (or take it back) so it coincides with contact. Make sure the parent(s) knows what’s happening. Get your child to make something that’s personal – paint a picture, draw their own card. Expect tears at pick-up time, so bring some tissues – you might need some yourself!
If you have your own children, make sure you include your foster child in everything you do on special days like these. But it’s not just about the special days. If you treat your foster child as your own son or daughter through the weeks, months and years, then they will treat you as a father or mother.
6. How do you approach talking to children in your care about their biological parents?
We never pass judgement on the failings of mum or dad as a parent. Telling a child “you’re in care because your mum or dad’s not good enough to look after you” is a complete no-no. Our general line is “we’re just looking after you for now while Mum/Dad gets herself/himself well enough to look after you again.” I’m not sure how I would approach talking to a child in long-term care who has no contact with their biological parents. I would need training on how to do that.
Every child is different so it’s difficult to give general answers.
Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions Carey!