Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Looking back: diary of a foster child

(c) Alan Mezzomo
Last week we heard from Niki, a foster carer who contributed to our BBC video series. As Foster Care Fortnight continues we hear from Leila Stroud, who looks back on her experience as a fostered child.

I think that my story starts in much the same place as other children in care. Young parents, both with difficult early experiences, their families did not approve, they got pregnant. When I was born, neither of my parents could look after me without causing me harm, and I was removed by the local authority and placed in foster care. I had a few foster placements, some good, some not so.

This is where my story becomes different from many other. The council began to search for a long term placement for me, and after what I like to think was much searching, they found my foster parents, my mum and dad.

Although not my birth family, they always made it clear that although I hadn't been born to them, I was meant for them. They swiftly became, and still are, my parents. Living in a long term foster placement was not without its difficulties, my foster sister (their birth daughter) and I did not always see eye to eye. She was 5 years older than me; had always done everything first, and was definitely "always right". The fact that we were not related did not stop us doing everything that sisters will do including many interesting disagreements, much 'borrowing' of all her clothes and make up and general little sister annoyance. I often wonder what it must have been like for her to have lived 7 years of your life being an only child then to one day arrive home and find yourself a big sister to this child from outside of your family, with all the social services involvement that being 'looked after' brings.

When I first arrived, apparently I would acknowledge nobody apart from my foster mum, regardless of cajoling and kindness. The bond was immediate for us and that strength of relationship is something which carried us through some really tough time along the way. Contact with birth family; fall out from my early experiences; the usual teenage things (involving much black clothes wearing and a penchant for heavy metal), dislike of one of the many social workers that came along; all these thing came and passed during my placement. But something which never changed was my parents love and commitment to me. I never doubted my place in their home, never worried that if I were naughty I would have to leave, never feared that they did not want me. Knowing all these things meant that I had the experience growing up that I should have had from the start – the experience every child should have.

As an adult, I now have contact with my birth family - my birth mother, sisters, grandparents. I enjoy these relationships, I am related to them, but as I have grown older I have realised it is much less about blood and so much more about love and caring.

For my sisters, they have not had the chances and opportunities I had. For them, the situation begins to repeat itself with their children, and this worries me. I have grown up, gone to a good school, got some decent qualifications, been to University, trained as a Social Worker, met my partner and have a family. I am happy, well adjusted and so grateful for the life and childhood that I had. My sisters? They had foster placements and time with my birth mother. For them, things aren't so simple.

I don’t even know where to start when I talk to people about what a difference the right people can make as foster carers. My parents are amazing people, and I know that there are so many other amazing people out there who could make massive differences to children and young people who have had such a poor start, so they can have all the chances and happiness they deserve.

For more information about fostering, please visit the main BAAF website. To hear more about Foster Care Fortnight, head to Fostering Network's 22 Minutes site.

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