Foster care is an experience that the poet Lemn Sissay is all too familiar with. He is himself something of an inspiration – working tirelessly to keep fostering high up on the national debate. And this is hugely important. Fostering children is something the general public at best, has only vague and mostly outdated ideas about. People tend only to think in stereotypes. When these are positive, that is to some extent acceptable, but when negative, it’s important they are challenged. Not least because there is a serious shortage of foster carers and we need to make fostering an attractive career option. So illustrating that people who have started out in life without the benefits of a loving, stable family life, but have succeeded – often against the odds – is important.
This makes the recent list of one hundred inspirational people that Sissay has compiled valuable in that it shifts perceptions. As Sissay says –
“ I have compiled this small list of 100 people from the UK who were fostered adopted or in children’s homes. I have met most of them on my travels.”
Over the next few months we shall be profiling individuals on the list. Telling something of their stories. By showing the kinds of lives that care experienced people have gone on to lead, challenges stereotypes. It shows we are all one big family and that opportunities provided fairly for all, can make it possible for people to lead amazing lives. It’s also a demonstration of the power of influence: foster carers can see that by offering encouragement and support is no small thing. The right word encouragement, or recognition of an emerging interest, can be transformative. Foster carers really can make an astonishing difference. There will also be stories where perhaps individuals went on to enjoy great success as a reaction to the lack of support in their lives. In its own way this is as telling. Success against the odds is a hackneyed phrase, but still rings true. How many more influential and amazing lives might emerge if fostering itself is supported and valued by society. So in some ways, this is a wake-up call to the talent we might be in danger of losing.
Each of these lives is an example: a human story retold for the betterment of us all. It puts some very well-known faces before us preventing us from thinking about foster children as somehow faceless. Above all, each story is a testament to potential realised. It is an argument for equality of opportunity for all. Politicians come and go – for many of us not fast enough – but lives must be lived out. The health of society as a whole and our collective sense of well-being, depends upon the idea of fair play. It can never be right because a person is born into a dysfunctional or abusive family their life chances are dramatically reduced.
Sadly, being a foster child can still carry with it a powerful feeling of stigma for some. This can make school life harder as children struggle to overcome a sense of being different. Touching upon these lives; it is to be hoped, will give foster carers good examples to talk about with the children they look after. Nothing breeds success like success and having real life examples to talk about, can be inspirational. These people show what can be achieved – in any walk of life.
Allan Jenkins and his brother Christopher spent their early years in the care system. This meant time spent in different children’s homes in Plymouth – as well as with various foster carers. There were a few interruptions when he returned to his birth mother, but these ended when – with his brother – they were fostered permanently by a childless couple. This was in the heart of rural Devon. His foster carers, Lilian and Dudley Drabble provided him with a small patch of ground which became his garden. they also provided a packet of nasturtium seeds. Jenkins identified with the seeds which struck him as being in helpless condition denied nourishing soil. He explained:
“The helplessness of seeds appeals to Jenkins, he explains, because they satisfy his “urge to protect, to be there … like I couldn’t be for my brother Christopher when I left him alone in the children’s home”.
This early experience clearly imbued something in Allan Jenkins. Years later he has written ‘Plot 29’. This is an amalgam of memoir and a gardener’s diary. It touches upon past mental anguish relayed through the authors experiences with nature. It is clearly a work of catharsis. Jenkins still has the feelings of hurt from his disrupted childhood. The sense of loss that can never be eased. ‘Plot 29’ quickly becomes a metaphor in its recording of all the practices and rituals gardening entails. For Allan Jenkins gardening clearly provides; as he terms it, “solace”. It is a moving work – often lyrical. Jenkins writes of his concerns for the fragile young plants reporting lying awake at night so worried is he for them: “I lie awake – or sit at work – imagining the tender seedlings at the mercy of wind, rain, sun, slugs. Will they make it through infancy? With my help, maybe.”
The scars of these early experiences never really leave anyone who has been in the care system. Each story will be different: memories and associations being prompted by the smallest of things. Because of the experiences he had as a child in the fostering system, he reports of “craving hugs” but also being fearful of sudden and unexpected gestures of affection: “Just a loving brush near the back of my head and I am flooded with fear.” Emotions can be easily triggered as simply having a plate of Ferran Adria’s peas at the gastronomic mecca El Bulli in Spain reduced him to tears. Why? It simply reminded him of feeling safe for the first time as a child when as he poetically describes – “eating “garden peas freshly picked from the lap of your new mum”.
The central theme running through the book is the simple act of digging. In his hands, this becomes a powerful metaphor for searching and preparing the ground. It’s about revealing what lies hidden. Part of his “search” leads him to discover who his real father is. This is after discovering that the man he had always thought of as being his real dad had, in fact, adopted him. More digging, more upset comes to the surface. “Some truths, once seen, are seared,” Jenkins says.
Perhaps this offers the most simple and memorable explanation:
“When I am disturbed, even angry, gardening has been a therapy. When I don’t want to talk I turn to Plot 29, or to a wilder piece of land by a northern sea. There, among seeds and trees, my breathing slows; my heart rate too. My anxieties slip away.’”
For a review of the book, visit https://bit.ly/2ZvCsqW
Becoming a foster carer with Rainbow is a job like no other.
Rainbow foster carers offer caring, stable and loving homes to children who can no longer live with their families. Our goal is to give them happier, brighter futures. We know that foster caring can be challenging: training and support are what make the difference. And we are on hand twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year.
The children we find foster homes for come from very different backgrounds. They have one important thing in common: the need for stability and security. Somewhere they feel safe to call home.
Your foster care journey.
It’s a simple process – with our help and support. From your first enquiry right up to ‘Approval’ it usually takes around six to eight months. We fully understand what a huge decision it is to become a fostering family. Both for you as an individual – as well as your family. We will be there; every step of the way to support you throughout. The process is described in full detail on our page ‘Becoming a Foster Carer’ – http://rainbowfostering.co.uk/becoming-a-foster-carer/
Keep up to date with Rainbow Fostering news stories: visit http://rainbowfostering.co.uk/news/
Finally, foster carers play a vital part in the lives of vulnerable and disadvantaged children. It’s not an easy job, but can be immensely rewarding.
It is a good idea to ask yourself if the following criteria apply to you:
To learn more, call us on 020 8427 3355 or use our National Line 0330 311 2845. We would be pleased to have an exploratory, no obligation chat with you.