I attended a meeting of new volunteers this week and was asked to introduce myself, firstly by explaining what brought me to the table, how I would describe myself and lastly to conclude with an unusual personal fact.
Here’s what I said:
I believe in the power of young people to make our world better. I know that because I was young and bursting to sort things not so long ago. I’m surrounded by young people in my work, in my community and at home. I see the exact same determination that I had every single day. What I also see, however, is the barriers that can get in the way of someone reaching their potential.
I’m a proud foster parent to three beautiful, fascinating, powerful young men. I love them.
People’s motivations for fostering will be different. People from different backgrounds, with different experiences will apply to become foster parents.
I think that’s okay. So long as the driving factor is the determination to give young people who need it a home where they can be safe and wrapped up in love.
I went from being an opera singer to a foster parent. That makes me sound much posher than I am. I’m from Caldercruix and my dad died when I was a teenager. I spent a lot of my earlier years supporting my family and my route into classical music training was met with a lot of sofa surfing and dinners wherever I could get them.
I believe deeply in the way that performance, and the creative arts, builds people’s confidence and shows them that they’re worth something. That’s why I have always used my voice to give others one. I secured an Arts Council grant to teach young people in secure care how to have a voice through performance. They wanted to rap – I went with it.
I spent most nights after the sessions thinking. I wondered why they were under lock and key. I wondered how many people had let them down before I met them. Then I wondered what else I could do.
After a breakthrough session, one of the young people said to me:
“Why don’t you just take me up the road with you, I’d be no bother and you could be my mum’.
This is the beginning of the reason why I foster. I didn’t take that young person home – although I asked if I could – but I promised him that night that I would become a foster parent.
A family friend of mine is currently going through the process to become a foster parent too.
I’ve given her loads of advice from my perspective and asked her to speak to my boys. I’m reminded how deeply searching and personal this process was as I support her. My husband left school when he was fourteen years old and grew up in Shettleston. His discussions with our supervising social worker about his exploits with the Shettleston Tigers was part of the revealing, humorous and interesting road to becoming foster parents. The process demands honesty and introspection.
I remember answering the question about how we felt about each other and if we argued. My answer was shaped around my experiences growing up with my mum and 5 brothers and sisters. I said;
‘I always love him, but I don’t always like him’.
I think that’s what good parents must always reinforce, constant love.
This doesn’t get in the way of a good ticking off when you cross the line, do daft stuff and put yourself at risk. What people forget is that the existence of love is the only thing that makes that work.
I set bedtimes because I love my boys and want them to thrive after a good night’s sleep. I want them to show me their homework so that I can learn from them and support them to achieve their potential. They invest in themselves because someone is invested in them. Their success, their happiness, their life matters.
The best thing about being a mum to my three boys is that they know I love them and I know they in love me. I need to be clear though – they don’t always like me! I actually think that it’s awesome that they are in that place. Too many young people feel unable to voice their unhappiness, their displeasure at a decision, because things very rarely change in the way that they want them to.
The most dispiriting thing I hear from some other young people in care is when they feel ‘contained’ in some else’s house. When they’re ‘kept safe’ and meeting their GIRFEC milestones but no one makes them feel loved, nor shares their love. I believe it’s 100% possible to love and share love within the care system.
The rising professionalism of being a parent in the system is a difficult balance. The culture of care is a risk-averse one and that’s why we have so much process in place. We’re protecting professionals but not necessarily thinking about the impact that has on young people.
We are all human beings in the system, not least the young people who are so much in need of love, reassurance and someone to believe in them. Everyone is responsible for sharing and receiving love. Just because I need to fill in forms doesn’t mean I don’t shed big, daft tears at children’s hearing when the boys are told what a pleasure it is to meet such amazing young people, who are achieving so much in life.
I cry as much with pride, as I do for the times that they were written off as ‘bad’,’broken’ or ‘vulnerable’. That’s why I ask the many amazing people I meet to consider fostering. I don’t have a spare room left now – people like my boys need yours.
As we enjoy the warm glow of the STV documentary, and we congratulate Shaddelle, Harry, Laura and Ashley on their enormously courageous act, I want to tell all the young people what my son said to another young person at summer camp this year.
His friend was experiencing more change and turbulence at home;
‘I know you’re worried about the future, and that you might have to go into foster care but it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me. Have faith that it will get better. Look at me. I don’t think of myself as being in care- I’m where I’m meant to be. I’m loved. I’m home’.
We can only make his words a reality if we come together to give young people in care love.