‘I am a foster carer’ - why do foster carers find it hard to say?
During Foster Care Fortnight, Sara Smith, Head of Operations at The Fostering Network Scotland discusses calling out stigma.
I am Sara Smith, Head of Operations at The Fostering Network Scotland, coach, mentor oh and foster carer.
Why do I hesitate when people ask what I do to say I am a foster carer? What makes me wait and judge the person before saying I am a foster carer, yet it is a role I have done for nearly twenty years alongside other professions.
I hesitate because of judgement and stigma of the children I care for. I hesitate to protect the children and young people who are with me now, to protect those who came before, from that stigma and judgement.
When I say I am a foster carer, I often get:
‘Wow a foster carer, you are amazing, I could never do what you do, what a hero.’
‘Those poor children, have they had a horrid life, are the parents drinkers, junkies and/or abusers but now you have given them a better life.’
‘They are bad children, why bother?’
This role is a privilege
I am not a hero, I am a foster carer, that is not amazing it is an honour. I judge the person I say this to as I do not want the stigma for the children, young people and families I have been privileged to have been connected with, and I do not want to be seen as special. The children and young people who I have been privileged to know and be a part of their world. Families who I have developed bonds with, creating a real community feel and ensuring every child is supported and allowed to grow and achieve without stigma. I am not special - they are - each and every one of them.
For each and every child I have fostered we have danced the dance of how we use language, judging when I am Sara, when I am the foster carer, when I am not, to challenge the ‘mum’ or now I am older, grey and wrinkly, the ‘gran’ comment. When the child looks at me with a twinkle in their eye knowing in that moment I must be that person knowing I will not stigmatise them by saying ‘no, I am the foster carer’. That is the dance of the foster carer and the balance of knowing when to say I am the foster carer. I am the foster carer when the child with me gives me permission to be the foster carer. This is the skill I must have to ensure I have the child at the centre, listening to their needs and knowing when I am the foster carer. When I get it right stigma is removed and the child chooses their moment to say this is my foster carer, or the moment when I can be in the company of a child, their mum and dad and be the foster carer, a part of the family all focused on getting the best for the child, when this happens it is special and powerful, and a major part of why I am a foster carer.
Challenging the myths
Do I challenge the perceptions of my role? Oh yes and the longer I have been a foster carer the stronger I have become in my defence of the reframing of language, challenging the myths and standing up for the rights of every child who has been with me. I challenged whilst waiting for surgery, the surgeon and anaesthetist were telling me that children are better off in care, better removed from their homes, I was quick to inform them of the findings of The Promise, that children should remain at home unless it is not safe for them, and I would like a world where I no longer needed to say I am a foster carer. They were quick to knock me out and avoid the discussion, the uncomfortable feeling of being challenged, but I will not stop beating that drum!
Now on LinkedIn I have listed all my roles - I am a foster carer. This little moment of defiance, a moment when I realised I needed to say it and continue to challenge the judgements when they come. Only then will I ensure I am supporting the reframing of perceptions and language in support of all children and young people.
Foster Care Fortnight gives me the platform to say I am a foster carer, and to celebrate this.
No longer will I hide.
I am Sara Smith and I am a foster carer, Head of Operations at The Fostering Network Scotland, coach and mentor.
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