As two weeks of stuff aiming to put a spotlight on foster care get underway, two of our writers remember what it was like to grow up in families who fostered.
Alice Fleetwood remembers her foster siblings, and what they brought to her upbringing, very well.
I grew up with three brothers, one foster brother and two foster sisters and for some reason, it is not something I share with people.
However, as it is Foster Care Fortnight, I figure now is as good a time as any to tell some stories of the household in which I grew up.
My home life was always going to be crazy: my mother was the youngest of 15 children from a Liverpool-Irish clan living in the heart of Toxteth. Like every family, we were diluted nobility, with two pianos and a debt to the coalman. I never questioned why, with four children already, my mother took in three more, but it added a sense of the real world that doesn’t always come with blood relatives.
When my foster brother arrived, in my childishly selfish world, I did not want another boy in the house. He was troubled; he could barely make conversation, he didn’t know how to play and his parents scared me.
“My first foster sister was a whirlwind of noise and colour, like a psychedelic film on full volume. She was at a ‘special school’ and stayed with us during the holidays.”
His mother whispered nervously and his father was a punch waiting to find a target. He hadn’t gone to school much before we took him in, but it didn’t take long for ‘the transformation’; that thing that supposedly only happens in films. He started to look smart and talk homework with my elder brother. The teachers loved him. But all too quickly, he was placed back with his parents. I have no idea what happened to him, but at least he knew success, even if it was short-lived.
My first foster sister was a whirlwind of noise and colour, like a psychedelic film on full volume. She was at a ‘special school’ and stayed with us during the holidays.
She had names for her slippers and thought she was married to my cousin after we cruelly held a fake ceremony in the garden. Looking back at the photos, we did a pretty good job of her bridal outfit that consisted of a crown of garden flowers and my mother’s nightie.
Although I was only young, I understood that her mother made huge sacrifices to visit her. She would travel 200 miles by public transport and sit quietly, watching her daughter playing happily in another woman’s house.
Soon after, my second foster sister arrived. Her mother had tried to kill her but she was mostly happy and well adjusted. We would sit in my bedroom, whilst the others were fighting or having a disco in the cellar and she would teach me stories in her native language.
In those days you received hardly any support, very little money and no training. What was important was that we all had freedom to play and be wild and it was a house for kids, not adults.
Those children were taken from difficult and dangerous situations and put into our playground that we called a home.
Having them around made us understand people better, even if we didn’t necessarily like them more.
Alice Fleetwood is a football-loving, vegetarian, bird-watching leftie but not a social worker, as you might presume. @Aliceliverpool
A young Karen Campbell never knew who she was going to find at her grandma’s house. And she loved it.
Ever since I can remember, my lovely grandma’s house was filled with kids. I say ‘kids’ in the catch-all sense as they ranged from babies to teenagers.
I remember me and mum visiting every Friday after my disco dance class (jealous?) and never being phased by a change in the dynamic of the house.
Often there’d be a new face or faces there; sometimes a social worker would be visiting (the one with a very bad ginger dye job and a red leather skirt made an impression).
Some kids stayed five minutes, some stayed years and one had been adopted before I was born – my wonderful aunty who, because we were close in age, was more like a sister to me during my teenage years.
Because I’d never known anything else, this was absolutely the norm for me. Only when I got older did I realise this was actually a hugely special gift my grandma was giving.
Lilian (Grandma) started fostering years before I came along. She had started after marrying my granddad, her second husband. Having been brought up in a Barnado’s children’s home, he wanted to help kids who found themselves in bad situations.
They looked after kids from all over the place – I remember one lovely little boy from Israel who I was particularly taken with as a four-year-old – and they cared for them all equally.
When my granddad sadly died too young, after a wobbly few months, Lil decided she wanted to continue fostering, and did so with aplomb for the next 10 years or so.
“Because I’d never known anything else, this was absolutely the norm for me. Only when I got older did I realise this was actually a hugely special gift my grandma was giving.”
Don’t get me wrong, there were up and down times along the way. A lot of these kids were damaged, angry and relentless, and she did experience threats and theft.
But she also experienced overwhelming respect and love, and says to this day there is no better feeling than helping kids have a good stepping stone to a better start in life; after all it’s not their fault they’ve been dealt a pile of shit cards.
Some of my friends used to ask me if it bothered me sharing my grandma, and I could honestly say it didn’t.
I was the only granddaughter in the family and the foster kids saw her more as a mother figure; so as a grandma, she was all mine.
Also, because I’d grown up with this as my only reality, I knew nothing else and had it instilled in me that there were kids a lot worse off than I was, who deserved to be looked after. (It should be noted that this did nothing to help my cause during pleadings for a Crystal Barbie and Ken).
When I was younger Grandma’s house was like a sanctuary to me and I used to love being there.
I truly hope some of her wonderfulness has rubbed off on me – we certainly share our love for a glass of pinot, so one can only hope.
Karen Campbell is a life coach at www.your-lifecoach.com. She likes gin, James McAvoy and pretending she’s not from Scunthorpe.
For more information on what’s going on during Foster Care Fortnight and to find out more about fostering, visit the website here.2124 Views
Some of Standard Issue's brilliant women's carefully crafted words for your reading pleasure.