Jamie is a single male carer breaking down misconceptions about who can become a foster parent
Foster care is an often overlooked form of childcare. Commonly thought of as taking in "problem" children, in many cases foster care is a last resort for those who haven’t had access to a secure, loving home. Whatever the reasons behind it, children go into care because their home simply isn’t safe for them any more.
Carers offer these young people stability. But there are many misconceptions about the kind of person who goes into fostering. Foster parents are often imagined as a married couple who own their own house. In reality, anyone with a spare room can apply.
We spoke to Jamie, a single male carer, to find out more about why he chose fostering.
I’m a single man, my house was empty and I was lonely. Having friends who have young children convinced me that I had a lot to offer, and I could get a lot from caring for a child.
I had some conversations with a few local agencies and I found that I could be paid to do this, and thanks to my company offering flexible working hours, I could offer a lot of my time to the child. I was surprised that I was eligible as a single male, but sometimes you’ve just got to go out and make an inquiry!
I had friends who had used me as a babysitter for quite some time and they were very encouraging. They had seen first hand how I could interact with children. The only initial drawback was how it would affect my career, but my company was very supportive.
My mum was a bit in shock when I told her. I think she had an idea that I would be looking after a runaway child with lots of problems, maybe she had just watched too many soaps! When she started to learn more about the kind of children who needed care, she soon came around to the idea of being a grandma, and helps when I need it.
"As a foster carer, I give my foster child a bit extra space"
Well firstly it is full time. When you see your friend’s children every few weeks or months, they grow up so fast and you’re not really a part of that. You don’t have to help with their day to day struggles, teach them new things, help with homework, or anything like that. You can just be the fun second uncle who plays games.
There are similarities though. As a foster carer I try and give my foster child a bit of extra space when they need it. I will help with homework, and I will keep an eye on who they’re friends with, but I haven’t ever issued a grounding or punishment. I think, at the end of the day, foster children need support not detention.
I’m not sure about there being any benefits over a female carer, I don’t think you can really compare it. The agency took it into consideration and decided I would be better prepared to look after a male child first, so that I could be more of a role model figure, and I think it’s worked out well. But I also feel confident I would be a really good carer to a female foster child, especially with the support of family and friends.
I don’t have a comparison, but I suppose it would help to be able to come up with ideas together, and to take over should I need to be at work late. But I have had great help from my mum should I need any help, and my mum and my foster-child have a fantastic relationship.
Of course! It is a huge responsibility and I had become comfortable living alone. But once I had talked at length to the foster agency and been on a foster skills course, I felt excited and ready to become a carer.
In terms of how my foster-child was going to react to me, I was of course nervous and it was a little awkward at first. But we have developed a strong friendship. We play football, watch TV, and all those normal things a parent would do.
I wouldn’t say difficulties, but there have been times when my placement has tried to take advantage, as all children do. Just on things like not wanting to do homework, staying out to late, or arguing back. I think when there is a disagreement it's important to remember your training and give them space. The “you’re not my parent” comes out a lot but you just have to be confident in knowing how to deal with that.
I see the social worker from the agency every fortnight and the reports have been good. They say everything seems healthy, so of course that support keeps me motivated to carry on.
It will be difficult, but I hope my foster-child's home situation is resolved soon so that he can go back to his birth parents. If, or when, that day comes, I will be excited for the him. Then I will be nervous all over again for my next foster-child!
To find out more about fostering and becoming a foster parent, visit gov.uk/foster-carers