The UK is in desperate need of foster carers, and being able to provide a safe and loving home is the main requirement.
When Antony Jones and his partner Richard Jones, from Essex, started telling people they wanted to foster, many of their friends, family and work colleagues reacted with surprise.
That wasn’t because they didn’t think the couple was serious, or because they thought the challenges of fostering would be too much. They simply didn’t know that same sex couples could be foster carers.
“Many people simply had no idea that a same sex couple could apply to be foster carers,” says Antony. “Most people were completely supportive of our decision – they were just confused about the legal situation.”
A system under pressure
Antony’s colleagues and friends are far from alone. According to recent research, 60% of Britons are unaware that same sex couples or those from the LGBT+ community are eligible to foster. Some in the LGBT+ community also worry that they will face prejudice if they apply to become foster carers.
“It’s really important that we get the message across that people who can offer love and a caring environment to a child who needs it can apply to be a foster carer, regardless of sexual orientation,” says Antony. “The number of children going into care has rocketed since the beginning of the pandemic, and the system was already under pressure. It’s likely to be much worse now.”
In fact, the number of children in need of foster care in the UK has risen by 57% during the coronavirus pandemic, creating an urgent need for foster carers. Applications are welcomed from all sections of the community. Sexuality simply isn’t an issue.
Find the right agency
Or at least it shouldn’t be. Antony admits that the first agency the couple approached left them feeling discouraged, and with the sense that “the process was not going to be made easy.” They didn’t feel supported, so they cancelled the application and found an agency they were comfortable with. When they applied to Five Rivers Child Care, a national fostering organisation and social enterprise with an office near to where they live, the result was far more positive.
“The support we received straight away from Five Rivers was amazing, frankly,” says Antony. “The process of becoming a foster carer takes months, and our social worker became part of the furniture. My advice to anyone who doesn’t feel comfortable with an agency would be to switch to another. Don’t give up. There’s plenty of good support out there.”
Anyone can foster
People from all walks of life can be considered to become foster carers as long as they are over 21. That includes single people, cohabiting couples, people from the LGBT+ community and those living in rented accommodation. You will need a spare room for each foster child.
But why choose fostering in the first place? For Antony, the decision was personal. His own niece and nephew had needed foster care for several years after a family breakdown, and the family remains grateful for the loving care the children received from a foster family.
“I saw the care they received, and the way a family opened their home to two children who needed it and looked after them as if they were their own,” he says. “That stuck with me, and I wanted to do the same for other children. We have the room, we have the love to give, so why not?”
Antony is now a full-time foster carer with Five Rivers, and the couple have cared for a number of children since being approved to foster, including a young person with additional learning needs. They are now long-term foster carers to a 15-year-old, who will stay with them until the age of 18 or until able to live independently.
Fostering can be challenging. You need to get to understand the child and they need to get to understand you. But the rewards are unlimited
Rewards of fostering “unlimited”
Antony says: “Fostering can be challenging. You need to get to understand the child and they need to get to understand you. But the rewards are unlimited.
“Imagine you have a child that feels isolated, lonely and who will barely say a word. After a while, with love and attention, they sit on the sofa watching TV with you, they chat, smile and demand to know what there is to eat in the fridge! It’s that progression that makes it all worthwhile; that sense that you’re making a difference.”
For more information on becoming a foster carer, contact Five Rivers Child Care on 0345 266 0272 or visit https://five-rivers.org/lgbt-fostering/
There is also information on becoming a foster carer on the UK Government website