Foster carers are needed. This year the country is short of some 8,000 new fostering families. Where to look? Foster care has for a considerable period been described as challenging. The real problem is that the nature of the challenge is growing – and rapidly. It only has to be considered that 65% per cent of children entering the care system are suffering trauma caused by differing types of abuse and/or neglect, to appreciate foster carers now certainly face a challenge.
Foster carers come from an incredibly wide range of backgrounds. Every agency and local authority will; in working to recruit more foster carers, promote a broadly similar message. It goes along the lines of: “we welcome applications to foster from people whether they are gay, straight, married, divorced or cohabiting. We are also keen to attract foster carers from all the communities that make up our diverse country. This is because you can foster whatever your ethnicity or cultural background”. It is all too easy to glance at such statements and take them at face value. But if you stop and think, that is quite a remarkable application ‘spec’. Could you imagine it appearing in the Britain of the nineteen sixties. Of course not, it would have caused something of a furore. Today, we can see the very existence of such a recruitment message tells us all just how far we have travelled. It demonstrates just how much society has changed – and for the better. Crucially, it also tells us something about the amazing world of fostering in this country. Can you imagine putting together a workforce so intentionally and incredibly diverse?
That society is in a rapid state of flux is shown by how the boundaries of inclusivity are having to be reframed at an astonishing rate. Indeed, the iconic rainbow flag is now being updated to include a brown stripe and a black strip. The modifications do not stop here, for it will soon – we were informed in a recent training sessions – also include a triangular element to represent transpeople. This means the world of foster care will be aiming to attract people from new and emerging groups – still in some ways being redefined. Ultimately, this means that the community of foster carers in Britain is completely unique. Why? Because it includes people from the most amazing array of backgrounds, experiences, gender types and sexual orientations – all coming together with one aim in mind. This is what is so powerful: the sharing of a simple aim amongst so many different people with such different backgrounds and experiences. This has, surely, an incredible power to unite. And the aim: to provide loving homes and security for vulnerable children. If you stop and reflect on this, our national pool of foster carers represents something very unique in Britain. It is a fantastic resource and engine for inclusivity and social change – right across the country. Prejudice and intolerance can only melt when it confronts people – whoever they are – with the shared goal of putting right the lives of the most vulnerable.
Of course it speaks volumes about the Government, which doesn’t view the community of foster carers in this way. It is an abject failure of imagination. Rather, foster carers as a group, are seen as an inevitable consequence of one of society’s major ills: the sharply rising numbers of traumatised children and youngsters being removed from dysfunctional and often abusive families. They are, despite the hollow platitudes expressed by the government seen as a necessary evil. The attitude is grudging: why on earth shouldn’t foster carers be regarded as ‘professionals’ as The Fostering Network argues? The recent foster care stocktake sponsored by the government – one suspects a rather desperate piece of choreography – triggered by a tide of disturbing headlines covering issues bound to impact on fostering. These range from the mental health of teachers, ‘off rolling’ being practised in schools, the difficulty young people in foster care can face getting support for mental health issues and the inconsistent application of ‘Staying Put’ across the country.
Even the children’s Commissioner, who wrote in the foster care stock take, now appears to be taking a noticeably less sanguine view of the state of care in this country. A government hopelessly mired in the Brexit conundrum was never likely to be in a position to notice they were so out of touch with fostering. And it shows: there have been a spate of new policy promises. Money is now being thrown at the problem. Such measures are reactive – this is a government clearly caught on the hop. If they had been genuine and proactive, the terms of reference for the foster care stock take would have been far broader. It might, as just one example, had far more both to say and direct in relation to attracting foster carers from the LGBT community.
Back to our LGBT+ awareness training day for foster care. For all of us, whatever our perceptions and experiences of the gay community, this was a welcome chance to broaden our horizons. And that happened immediately: Gone now is ‘LGBT’ it is now LGBTTQQI2SAAP. This stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, queer, questioning, intersex 2 spirits, asexual, allies and pansexual. So five minutes into the presentation we all had a significantly expanded vocabulary to take on board. Next: a skilfully composed questionnaire to complete that placed us all in the position of a gay person. We had to deal with the preconceived ideas and mild prejudices routinely confronted by gay people. And this didn’t even begin to include the other categories comprising the now much-extended acronym. But the questionnaire served its purpose well. Our thought processes were cleverly re-calibrated by the trainer in advance of what proved to be a wide ranging and thought-provoking discussion.
The point was well made – we knew it – that gay people have great deal to bring to the fostering community. This is because they have had to deal with so much stigma. This situation has improved greatly, but people in the transsexual community are; in terms of the chronology of their journey into acceptance, where gay men and women were thirty years ago. It was interesting to learn that even within such an all-embracing community, prejudice exists. The example given was of a group of feminist lesbians whose hostility to transitioning men extended to them complaining about a grant given to a charity which supports gender diverse and transgender people. And, somewhat astonishingly, we were informed the lottery-funded grant was withdrawn. So prejudice, hostility and fear, it seems, are always amongst us.
For further information on the work of this particular visit – https://www.mermaidsuk.org.uk/
This charity works to help reduce the problems of isolation for gender variant and transgender children. Their goal is to help improve self-esteem in such children. Mermaids also works to empower young people and their families to understand and access the education and health services that are available. More widely, they campaign for the recognition of gender dysphoria to build awareness in society.
What does all this tell us in foster care services. Well, from the perspective of my years lived, it is clear we are all coming to an understanding of how different and diverse human beings can be. The only issue then is how tolerant and accepting individuals and organisations are of this incontrovertible fact. This cannot be taken for granted – different religions have very different attitudes. Some countries, as was made clear in the discussion materials, still punish gay people. They can be imprisoned and far worse.
Before we become self congratulatory, it has to be said that attitudes and knowledge have been relearnt and reshaped across time and cultures. Greek ideas about male love were simply part of ‘aphrodisia’ which included both men and women. In fact the word “homosexual” may appear to be a Greek expression, but both the word and concept are modern inventions. The term “homosexual” was coined in 1869 by Karoly Maria Benkert a Hungarian physician.
The difference now is that ideas and attitudes are conveyed through the data sphere via social media. We are all linked across the globe. People are able to share a currency of ideas and form fresh opinions in a way that is unprecedented. Attitudes can be changed at lightening speed – this happens when there is a story that has the force to shock and reframe people’s thinking . Our training workshop provided a good example of this. Many have long been familiar with the work and contribution of Alan Turing to shortening the length of the Second World War. His achievements have now become well known. But his tale is in many senses a tragic one – and was retold in the workshop. He was remarkable: a mathematician, computer scientist, logician and cryptanalyst. He was also a philosopher and theoretical biologist – now widely regarded as pioneering computer science and artificial intelligence.
It was during the war that Alan Turing worked at the Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park. Here he played the central role in breaking German coded messages. His expertise was such that he is credited with shortening the war by two years thus saving fourteen million lives. Turing was prosecuted in 1952 for committing homosexual acts, Then gross indecency – as it was thought of – was a criminal offence. He accepted chemical castration treatment, but died in 1954 from cyanide poisoning. his death was judged to be suicide.
Fast forward and this month Alan Turing – a homosexual – has just been judged by BBC 2 viewers as the most “iconic” global figure of the 20th century. Not bad – especially when it is considered that to receive this accolade, he saw off Pablo Picasso, Ernest Shackleton, Nelson Mandela, David Bowie, Dr Martin Luther King Jr and Muhammad Ali.
The story of Turing is one that shows how within a few decades, attitudes can shift from vilification to near deification. Is there anyone in history, after all, that can be judged to have saved fourteen million lives? A story that should inspire everyone – especially foster carers from the LGBT+ community.
Rainbow are looking to find more foster carers from the LGBT+ community.
In Britain today there is an acute shortage of foster carers. The contribution same-sex couples can make is enormous. The Department of Education revealed that in England – between April 2014 – March 2015, 8.44% of adoptions was accounted for by same-sex couples. This figure was up from just 3.27% in 2011 – a significant rise. In England there were 450 adoptions by same-sex couples. In Scotland there were 17 and in Wales there were 30. With more foster care families from the LGBT+ community, we could end the shortage of carers. Don’t forget to fond out more about this years LGBT+ Adoption and Fostering Week –
Tor Docherty who is New Family Social chief executive stated:
“This year we’re sharing ten good reasons why LGBT people should consider adopting and fostering – but there are many, many more. We’re delighted that the proportion of same-sex couples adopting in Wales rose to an all-time high last year – but there is still much work to be done to support and encourage LGBT people to adopt and foster, wherever they are in the UK.”
For an interesting blog visit –
To foster a child or young person, you need to be over 21 and have a spare bedroom. There is a real need to find foster homes for sibling groups so they can be kept together. There are many teenagers also looking for loving, caring foster homes. Rainbow also offer opportunities to train as a therapeutic foster carer. Discover more about this specialist area of fostering at
Please call 020 8427 3355 or our National Line 0330 311 2845 for detailed information on what a professional career in foster care can offer you. Rainbow also pay a bonus of £500 if you are a foster carer and are able to refer a friend or acquaintance to become a carer. You will receive payment once you have accepted your first placement.