MILLENNIALS have notoriously got a bad rep for being the self-indulgent, lazy generation. But a soaring number of Brits in their 20s are giving up their freedom to become foster carers.
The number enquiring about fostering vulnerable, abused and neglected children has trebled in just a year according to Tact, the UK’s biggest fostering and adoption charity.
It’s a huge, life-changing commitment to make – but young foster carers insist they can still party with pals, go on dates and even dance the night away in Ibiza, just with little ones in tow.
Tact CEO Andy Elvin says: “People of all ages can become foster carers. The most important criteria is your ability to listen and empathise, to provide a stable and loving home, and to speak up for the children you care for.”
Today, the need for foster carers has never been greater amid a spike in domestic violence reports, financial woes and child abuse calls during the coronavirus lockdown.
Here, three young foster mums tell SOPHIE JANE EVANS how their lives are more full since becoming foster parents, as they call on other big-hearted millennials to foster Britain’s surging number of children in need.
The names and details of the foster children have not been included at Tact’s request.
'The first night with a child was surreal'
FULL-TIME mum Emma and her husband Alex, 31, a Royal Air Force serviceman, live in the West Midlands. They have fostered five kids in eight years and have three sons of their own, Charlie, five, Ollie, four, and three-year-old Rylie. Emma, 30, says:
'I WAS just ten when I went into foster care. Although I had loving foster parents, I kept it a secret at school. When it eventually got out, I was severely bullied for years, ended up self-harming and, when I was 15, I tried to take my own life. Luckily, I didn’t succeed.
In my late teens, I met my now-husband Alex, who is in the Royal Air Force. Unbeknown to me, his parents had started fostering when he was five, taking in more than 210 children. We clicked straight away.
In 2011, the same year I graduated from university, Alex and I applied to be foster carers. I was 21 – the minimum age for applicants – but it was my dream to care for other vulnerable kids. Around eight months later, following lots of background checks, we were approved.
We were so excited when, aged 22 and 23, we welcomed a beautiful five-year-old girl into our home, in the military’s marriage quarters. She was an emergency placement, so came to us with basically nothing. She loved picking out her own toothbrush, slippers, pyjamas and a teddy.
That first night was surreal: I thought, “Wow, I’ve actually got a child in the house.” Over the next nine months, our foster daughter became my “mini-me”. We were sad when she went to live with her auntie – but happy to see her going to a positive home.
Since then, Alex and I have cared for two sets of brothers. The first were aged just two and ten months, and both behind developmentally – which is sadly quite common for children in care.
It was so rewarding to see them progress and reach milestones during their year with us. The second set are now 13 and ten, and have been with us for six years on a long-term placement.
Their birth parents initially thought that we were too young and inexperienced to look after them, but they have since changed their minds. Alex and I now have three kids of our own, too.
With five boisterous boys, the house is full of noise and energy, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.
'They will forever stay in your heart'
HAIRDRESSER Ellen and her bathroom warehouse worker husband Ashley, 32, live in Yorkshire. They have fostered three children in two years and have their own ten-month-old daughter, Isabelle. Ellen, 28, says:
I ALWAYS dreamed of being a mum myself. My mother is a childminder, so I grew up surrounded by kids. But I didn’t want to childmind – I wanted to keep them for longer than that.
When I was 21, I met Ashley through friends and we really hit it off. We bought a three-bed home together in September 2016, but it felt so empty and quiet. I instantly thought, “We need some kids”.
We weren’t quite ready for our own children, so I began thinking: “Why don’t we borrow some youngsters in need?” Fortunately, Ashley said: “Let’s have a go!” In November 2017, a month after our wedding, we were accepted as foster carers with Tact. We were just 26 and 29, but we were delighted.
Three months later, a ten-year-old lad with autism came into our home. We didn’t know much about the condition and were very nervous – but he fitted in instantly. Some autistic children don’t talk, but we couldn’t get him to stop – he even spoke in his sleep.
Our “little pudding” knew exactly how to get his own way. He called me “Ellen” in a strop, “Mum” when he wanted something, and “Mummy” in the shops when he really wanted something. We took him out for pizza, to Cubs and even to Ibiza for two weeks – where he had his “best holiday ever”.
He loved dancing with everyone, and kept saying: “I don’t deserve this.” I told him,“You deserve every little bit of it”. It was heartbreaking, really. When Ashley and I had our own daughter Isabelle last July, our foster son loved being a big brother. But after joining a new school, he struggled to cope with all the changes in his life, and moved to a children’s home.
He loves it there – and we still chat to him by phone. Today, Ashley and I are fostering two siblings under ten. They’re having the time of their lives during lockdown – watching Netflix, painting, baking and playing with Isabelle. Our friends say things like: “I couldn’t do it, I wouldn’t want to give them back.”
It’s something we hear a lot. Some children stay for a short time but they will forever stay in your heart. We don’t get jealous when our friends are in nightclubs or on romantic weekends away.
We can still do all that – it just takes a bit more planning. When we go out, my mum happily babysits for us. We won’t ever stop fostering'
'We didn't see the point of waiting'
SCHOOL clubs manager SallyAnn and her husband Ryan, a road surfacer, both 25, live in the West Midlands. They have fostered seven kids in three years and have their own toddler son, Tommy. SallyAnn says:
I WAS 11 when I first became aware of fostering. At the time, my sister was in a mother-and-baby placement [a specialist type of fostering where a mum and baby stay with a foster carer for extra support], but it’s not something I thought deeply about back then.
I left home at 16 and later became a self-employed nanny, working for several foster families. It really opened my eyes to how much vulnerable kids can benefit from foster care.
At the time, I was dating Ryan, and I told him it was something I wanted to do. We’d always spoken about having children, but hadn’t talked about fostering before. I didn’t think he’d be interested, but I felt so ready and didn’t see the point of waiting until we were 30 or 40.
A few weeks later, he surprised me by saying “Why not?” We were 22 when we became Tact foster carers. Because of our age, we planned to foster children aged seven and under.
However, our first placement, in 2016, was a 15-year-old girl. With just over six years between us, we were quite nervous. Would she respect us as carers, and would we get the balance right between understanding her and parenting her? But our age gap worked wonders.
We did everything with her, from shopping and cinema trips to holidays in Tenerife and Cornwall. When I picked her up from school, she’d tell people I was her cousin.
Of course, there were a few minor challenges, but nothing that made us think we could not do it. And when Ryan and I got married in July 2017, we had her as our bridesmaid.
It was one of our biggest highs as foster carers. Our foster daughter stayed with us until she was 17, when she decided to live independently. We were sad to see her go, but you do what’s best for them.
Since then, we’ve cared for six other children, aged six to 16 – mostly, on short-term “respite” placements. I’m not majorly bothered about missing out on things like partying. You can still have a social life and go away for the weekend with friends – it just takes more planning.
We also have our own son, Tommy, born in September 2018. Don’t get me wrong, fostering is challenging at times. But when you see the difference you’re making to a child and their7 life, it’s worth it.
Could you foster?
FOSTERING a child is a job like no other. It’s a massive, life-changing commitment – but one that can be so rewarding for both the foster carers and the child they are looking after.
The application process typically takes six to eight months, with stages including a home visit, criminal record checks, social worker meetings, reference checks and extensive training.
Once approved, you can then provide a stable and loving home for children in need. The UK’s biggest fostering and adoption charity, Tact, says applicants must meet the following criteria:
- Be more than 21 years old.
- Have a spare bedroom
- Be a full-time resident in the UK or have indefinite leave to remain
- Have good spoken and written English
- Have the time and availability to dedicate yourself to fostering.
You don’t have to be in a relationship to become a foster carer.
Your marital status, sexuality, age, and whether or not you own a home, will also not impact your application.
Tact foster carers receive a maintenance allowance for the child they are caring for, which covers essentials such as food, clothing, transport and household expenses.
They also get a foster carer fee – which varies depending on circumstances. For more information, visit tactcare.org.uk.
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