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The gift of being a foster carer

What is our conception of fostering? This article explores the reality behind the myths and what fostering means for our communities.

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The concept of foster care emerged in the mid-16th century, becoming regulated in the mid-19th century. This history is poignant and has shaped our understanding of who are foster carers, what is foster care and what should it look like. 

It's about relationships, not preconceptions

The words ‘foster carer’ may bring to mind thoughts, meaning and images that you attach to this role. Through looking back at history, we gain deeper understanding, take away learning and think about things in the current context.

There is no definitive image of a foster carer

Foster carers are individuals from all walks of life, living in all different types of communities, across the country. Their role is to provide safety, support and care for children and adults for a variety of reasons and for varying periods of time. The contribution foster carers make and impact they have is transformational and the biggest impact of all is making a difference in a child or adult’s life. 

We know times are changing with many challenges for individuals, families, communities, and society in general. Every one of us is part of a local, national, and global community. Sometimes we do not always appreciate the happenings in these communities, especially your local community on your own doorstep. Foster carers are needed every day, and as a country we are experiencing an ongoing crisis in being able to provide the needed support to children and adults. The need is here and now in your local area and community.  

        Small child in yellow jacket walking up a ramp, adult holding a hand

It could be said that the greatest gift we hold as human beings and individuals is the relationships we make and emotions we share. This supports growth, positive change, enhances relationships, builds resilience, and makes a difference in your own life story.

Foster care has changed over time, with a focus on the kinship approach and being connected. We need to keep children and adults in their own local communities, with familiar surroundings, around people they know, reducing the disruption they experience.  

You are a great asset, having unique personal characteristics and experiences. You can achieve amazing things by working with others. 

Individuals and families who are foster carers are not isolated. They have their own personal networks, and this grows with meeting new people and other foster carers, alongside being part of a professional team.  

What are we taking away about being a foster carer and fostering?  

Just be you. You can be a foster carer if you are over 18 years old, have a spare room and the motivation to make a difference. Don't exclude yourself if you have your own disability or needs, have pets, or for any reason you think might make it difficult for you. 

You do not have to own your own home, have had children of your own or experience (we all have to start somewhere to gain experience), be in a relationship, be a full-time foster carer.

So throw away any preconceived ideas, forget everything you thought you knew about fostering and remember:

  • Our local communities are on our doorsteps

  • We all contribute to our communities now and for the future

  • Let’s talk about what it means to you and me

  • We are all part of one another's journey

  • It's all about relationships

  • It’s transformational for you and me

  • The greatest gift is time, understanding, love and energy.

Ruth is a foster carer with Oxfordshire County Council and she tells us her story:

logo for foster care in OxfordshireFor me, becoming a foster carer was a long-held ambition. At university my room-mate had been in foster care from a young age and it had transformed her life chances in such a way that I found inspiring.

“After a few enquiries over the years, I finally took the plunge and was assessed and approved as a foster carer with Oxfordshire County Council and it’s now been nearly four years since I started fostering.

“I’ve found everyday as a foster carer is a new challenge, and yes there is still stress at times but unlike my previous jobs I know that I am making a difference to someone else’s life every day.  Some days are tough and I’ve learnt to be everything from detective to counsellor, taxi driver to teacher but those days where you see the children in your care flourish make it all worthwhile.

“The biggest surprise for me with fostering is the emotional connection. I was prepared for challenging and difficult behaviour but I wasn’t prepared for how much love I would feel for the children I’m caring for or how much love they would give me in return.

“My only regret about becoming a foster carer is that I didn’t do it earlier - I always subscribed to the misconception that I needed to be older, financially secure and even possibly in a partnership to foster but the truth is, almost anyone can foster.

It is a life changing commitment, especially as a single carer, but with the support I have received at Oxfordshire County Council from my supervising social worker and organisations like Attach and the Oxfordshire Foster Care association I don’t feel alone.”

Oxfordshire County Council logo(Reproduced with kind permission of Oxfordshire County Council)

Carers' stories are all different but what they all provide is just the same: support, security, and safety with a sprinkling of love! 

Fostering provides the opportunity for a child to build relationships, trust and create memories that will improve their life chances in the future. We all have a responsibility to improve the lives of vulnerable children, this is a collective responsibility which can be achieved in different ways:

  • Become a foster carer.
  • Speaking in the community about fostering and build an awareness of the need for more people to come forward and foster.
  • Advocating for our children and ensuring that they have the same life chances as other children. 



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