9,000 kids need loving foster homes.
It only takes one for each youngster.
In 1988, I was among them.
Thirty years later, my Mum (formerly my foster mum) is one of my best friends. In honour of the love they, and my brothers gave me, as well as a nod of respect to my late foster-dad, late last year, I took their family name—that’s why some of you may know me better as Sean Ferrer. I believe every child and young person needs a loving family to call, and to feel is, their own. You can make a life-changing difference to a child’s life, but before you do, ask yourself this:
What kid should be ‘grateful’ for being looked after?
It’s their right, surely? Imagine if your own son or daughter thanked you for looking after them; felt some emotional ‘pressure’ to express gratitude for giving them a bed to sleep in; food to eat; clean clothes to wear, and for being gushingly appreciative for being the first place they ran screaming their heads off to having been stung by a wasp for the first time… wouldn’t that feel, well, weird?
If you enter fostering, expecting legions of immaculately-behaved, ever-thankful children and teens, who consistently provide you with spiritually-fulfilling parental validation, then fostering is not for you.
No child is like this, (unless they have been emotionally abused into behaving like this), and expecting such ‘polished’ behaviour from kids dealing with profound emotional and abandonment trauma, from kids who may have had to survive in ways we’d normally find degrading in the extreme, who have had to adapt their behavioural responses to cope with some of the most unthinkable horrors of abuse and violence imaginable is as far from the yardstick of empathy as it is possible to get.
So, whilst foster kids and teens won’t radiate spadesful of gratitude at the time, you can take it from me, that in later life, what you do for them now will have a profound effect upon them later.
What society does to children; children will do to society.
My plea to you is simple: I was fostered. I would not be the person I am today had my past been different. I may have been murdered by my childhood abusers—things were heading incrementally in that direction. But for sure, I would most likely not have now dedicated my life to bringing more people into fostering as I do today.
Kids are kids; not out of control ‘monsters’ wanting to burn down your house, steal your cash, and microwave your cat. I wouldn’t have dared nick so much as 5p out my (foster) Mum’s purse; she’d immediately spot the petty theft, and know who the perpetrator was, too.
How? Only other mothers know the answer to that one, but as family adults, we now enjoy many laughs at the expense of mine and my (foster) brothers’ now pathetically ludicrous naivety as teenage ‘IKEA’s (‘I Know Everything Already’), as we genuinely believed that hosing ourselves down with Right Guard and practically Brillo-scrubbing our teeth with red-and-blue striped Macleans was Totally Convincing Proof We Did Not Secretly Smoke Cigarettes.
I digress, but without complete distraction from the case in point. Ultimately, I’m not asking you to do anything more than raise a kid who needs your love, your security, your stability, your healthy boundaries.
We’re the grown-ups now. Our attitude and our actions influence our society’s future.
I realise it’s impossible to ignore, but it’s not the eighties anymore. Today’s kids may regard ‘ET’ as we once did ‘Bill and Ben The Flower Pot Men’, and we can make a million other hilarious cultural comparisons. One thing we cannot do, though, is ignore our individual and generational responsibility for the safe passage of our next generation into the same position of power and influence that we now, currently, occupy.
I’d like to ask us all a question:
In the absence of any other adult who is evidently going to assume the responsibility, if a child, or children, are alone, whatever the situation may be, if some kind of danger presents itself, whose responsibility is it to protect those kids?
I know my answer to this, and I also know that almost all of my generation (‘X’) as I think we’re called, generally share a similar view. I’m heartened by this. Hard as it is to pin the the precise causes of societal shifts in attitude, for me, it calls to mind a phrase I sometimes heard among my Black-African and Black-Caribbean colleagues when I worked in local authorities’ children’s services departments:
It takes a whole village to raise a child.
Disappointingly, my personal experience, from several quarters, has not demonstrated the same degree of compassion among our parents’ generation; the baby-boomers. I recall a comment, almost verbatim, some years ago: ‘I simply have no interest whatever in raising somebody else’s child.’ Reflecting upon this now, I am rather sad that these words came from someone who knew I had grown up in care, and who made no effort to soften the opinion in spite of my plain hearing of it. It didn’t strike me as callous as the time, but it does now. Worse, from elsewhere, was yet to come, but that’s a core part of my forthcoming book.
My personal standpoint is as simple as can be. Legal parental responsibility lies, usually, with a child’s biological parents, but all children, as future adult members of our society, are, to some degree, our collective responsibility. And some 70,000 of them, for one of a million reasons or several, that lie along a measure of severity of abuse and harm, and never, ever, for happy reasons, simply cannot live within their own biological families.
So, please. Step up to the plate. Offer a place at your dining table for a young lad or girl who right now might be cramped up in gnawing hunger. And, yes, that’s the absolute truth of it. I used to steal books from school so I could tear out the pages to eat because I was starving to death. I smeared them with stolen toothpaste to make them taste nicer. I somehow survived. Others, like Daniel Pelka, did not.
I was just 8, 9, 10 years old, and that’s just a small glimpse of a much nastier overall picture, none of which my abusers shared with social services of course. My personal case files read like a work of fiction, which of course is largely what they are.
Since I was never asked in any half-interested sense what life was like for me at home, and my birth-father and step-mother, also darkly dubbed my ‘torturer-in-chief’ were hardly going to volunteer a full and authentic version of events. Notes, then, scribbled down at face value, were, thus, 25 years later, read by me, roughly 200+ pages or so, mostly describing an out of control little boy who I didn’t recognise at all.
But I was rescued, by my final foster-family, the fifth or sixth, interspersed with deeply abusive residential stays in a children’s home. Those responsible for that know who they are, may well be reading this now, and I will write in detail about all of that in my book to be published next year.
Then, I was just 13 years old, taken in by a family, just right for me, in West Bridgford, a suburb of central Nottingham. Now I’m 43, living in Battersea, southwest London. In as much time again I may be well be gone, and perhaps you might be, too.
It matters to me to make my time count. How about you?
I’m making my time count by dedicating my life to this work. Make your time count, too. It’s finite. But nurturing, parental love isn’t. Foster carers aren’t people with wings on their back. Just regular people with regular life histories, or even a bit irregular.
Been in debt? Smoked a joint or two in your youth? Nicked a record from a store? Didn’t do so well at school? Single? Divorced? Twice-divorced? Married? Straight? Bisexual? Gay? Trans? Enabled? Disabled? Working? Or not? Fluent in English? Or almost there?
Live in a mansion, or tower-block? I’m in a tower-block, by the way, a pretty scruffy-looking one, too, next to Clapham Junction train station, a location which has artificially pushed up the price of my 3-roomed concrete box to about the cost of a small town in the northeast… a pointless illusion of wealth since no-one will buy it anyway!
If you’re aged 25ish to 65ish, then fostering needs people from every walk of life because kids come from all walks of life and the surest path to a strong, lasting placement is a great match.
What fostering social workers aren’t looking for are naïve, inexperienced people. Have you ever heard the phrase:
‘You can’t kid a kidder’
Go on, smirk! But, you’d be surprised how your own life journey, with all its’ ups and downs, will be seen as priceless treasure chest of experience to bring to fostering. We’re all imperfect—perfection is not a human characteristic. And who learns from other people’s mistakes anyway? It’s not that I enjoy burning my own fingers, but, well, it’s the only way I seem to learn, sometimes!
The points being…
Firstly, if you ever had such a misconception, now is the time to let go of the idea that we’re looking for stiff, uber-middle-class, emotionless, pious married couples with stiff collars and upper lips. I mean… srsly? Today’s kids’ would eat relics like this couple (below) for breakfast!
Secondly, if you’ve lived a ‘real’ life, then
you’re a whole lot less likely to be manipulated by kids whose inherent nature is to pull the wool over your eyes at every opportunity (and I mean all kids, not just those in care)…
Today’s fostering agencies, whether your local council or an independent agency, need ‘real’ people like you! And, not to be subtle about it, you’re needed, well… now (see first word of this article).
Fostering. All it takes (to start with) is a big heart and a spare bedroom (and we know the spare bedroom thing is frustrating, but it’s for a good reason, read why here). Search for your local fostering agency by tapping your postcode into the search bar of our home page.
Of course you’ll be asked questions, children and young people who have come into care having suffered abuse and neglect, most certainly should never find themselves experiencing even more abuse elsewhere, as happened to me. But think of it more like this: you won’t be asked anything you wouldn’t want to ask anyone else who was going to look after your own kids, or nephews or nieces.
So, if you have been, please stop procrastinating! Pick up the phone. Fostering agencies are waiting, and somewhere out there is your future foster-daughter or son. They may not even be in care yet, so God knows what hell they’re going through right now.
Please. Do it.
I count. You count. Everybody counts.
Thanks for reading and I look forward to your feedback.
Sean Parry is a time-served, multi-award winning recruitment marketer. He has worked among all sectors, private and commercial, public, health, police, fire and rescue, third sector, and local authorities. Over 20 years, Sean’s affinity with the cause of looked-after children and young people drew him to work ever more closely with children’s services.
Initially this included large scale social work recruitment exercises, later leading towards fostering and adoption attraction and recruitment marketing strategies. Full details of his career, and the core carer recruitment support service that Sean now provides on a retained consultancy basis to fostering agencies can be found on his LinkedIn page.
If your fostering agency is looking for specialist support to recruit new foster carers, please get in touch on 07977 712 712 or by email for an exploratory, no-obligation discussion, or contact our article-sponsors, Kasper Fostering. This will be followed up with a summary of your support needs, along with full details of how he can help, anticipated outcomes, and hourly rates. Testimonials of Sean’s work from former fostering agency clients are also published on this website.
Don’t forget to join us at Do Fostering on Facebook, now the country’s most popular fostering page, achieved in just two and a half years by Sean alone with an exceptionally limited budget – testament that effective, results-producing marketing had less to do with budget and more to do with developing a plan that works… and sticking to it!