We Are Family readers Andrew and Iain are a couple in their 50s living in a small, rural community in Wiltshire. They foster Steven*, 10, whose disruptive behaviour led to problems at home and school. This is Steven’s first time in care and he is the couple's first long-term placement. We talked to Andrew and Iain about their experiences as foster carers.
Iain: It always interested me. I knew I could never have children but felt that I had a lot to offer in terms of support and understanding. I had been going through the process as a single man, but then Andrew and I met up again (they had known each other previously).
Andrew: I wanted kids too, and had been quite involved with my nieces and nephews. When Iain and I got together we were told that we would have to wait two years to make sure our relationship was stable before we could apply as a couple. There were never any issues about us being older (Andrew was 50 when they started the process and Iain was 48).
I: Some of the parents who’s children were to be fostered might have had an issue with us being a same-sex couple. Strangely enough Steven was given to us because we're a same-sex couple: the understanding was that two men were better suited to deal with this particular child. We’ve had that before: people have said it's a positive as some kids can manipulate male and female couples against each other. Sometimes they don’t have respect for women because of the environment they’ve been brought up in. With Steven it doesn’t even come into his head that we’re a same-sex couple.
A: Often when you go to an agency as opposed to a council you get kids with more challenging behaviour, or older ones - the kids that the council can’t place...
I: We knew that, but didn’t really appreciate what the difference was. We decided to use an agency and were quite open to what age child we would be offered, but because I’m a smoker we couldn’t have any under-fives. We don’t smoke in the house, but that’s the rule. Boy or girl, we weren’t bothered.
A: We did respite fostering initially so we’d had some experience with kids of different ages. It's like a holiday for those kids: they can be on their best behaviour. We were warned that one kid was very difficult, and were told to fasten the bookcases to the wall, remove ornaments, but he was fine. He was hyper: he didn’t sleep. Respite fostering gave us a bit of an idea about what we would be dealing with. What it didn’t prepare us for was the day-to-day; if you’ve got a kid for a week or two there’s an end in sight but it’s different when you have one long-term.
I: The same with rules: in respite fostering you can tell them that you’ve been told that they have to have their bath at a certain time, to go to bed at a certain time, but when you’ve got a child with you longer term it’s your own rules. If you don’t get it right at the beginning it’s hard to implement rules later.
A: Kids are very good at remembering. ‘Oh, you let me do that last time...’
I: You have to be consistent. It's good to have a key word or sentence that you can use between you. I could be dealing with Steven and Andrew walks in and wants to pipe in; it’s good to have a saying like ‘have you checked on the chickens?’ which actually means ‘shut the f*** up’! Always show a united front, even if you want to kill each other. In front of the kid you have to go along with each other. They pick up on a lot.
A: Initially one kid didn’t want to go out at all, he didn’t want to go to school, all he wanted to do was play computer games and not communicate with us or his social worker.
I: He wouldn’t shower, he wouldn’t walk the dogs; he wouldn’t put his shoes on to go out... he was in his own world. Even if you sat with him he wouldn’t communicate.
A: He hadn’t been in care before and didn’t want to be here. He was going to a safe place: if I don’t engage with the outside world then it’s not happening.
I: He was withdrawn at home before, and he’d been verbally and physically aggressive. His family couldn’t cope. At school he would act out big time: if he didn’t want to do something then he wasn’t going to do it. But he’s not like that now. He’d never been taught the importance of doing his school work, but he’s got so much potential. He could do it, but he was scared of failure so he’d give up. There was no routine, no structure at home, and getting that structure, that nurturing is what they need. But he’ll never blame his family: he feels guilty that he’s having a better life... it’s all ‘I hate you, I want to go home’. They’re not fighting against you, they’re fighting against the world.
I: When you take on a kid you don’t think about the little things. You can’t stop for a coffee when you’re out and about; kids don’t want to do that. You spend a lot of time in soft-play centres!
A: The rewards come from small things: with Steven the look on his face when you tuck him in at night, or his wanting to sit next to you on the sofa. Seeing him chat with people in the village and achieving little things he’d never done before, like sledging or talking to a horse.
I: Steven’s doing great at school now. It’s early days, but he’s showing great potential – considering how much school he’s missed. He’s a bright kid, he just needs reassurance and clear boundaries. We got him into swimming: he hated it at first because he had major body issues, but now he loves it. Every Saturday morning he comes out of the pool beaming! This is not the same boy that a report was written about a year ago.
A: Everybody in the community has been really supportive. We only moved here a month before we got Steven. Everybody likes him. We had another child with is for respite fostering recently and Steven was brilliant: he took on the big brother role. It was great for both of them.
*Names have been changed to protect identities.