To highlight what our LGBT+ community bring to fostering, we interviewed Thomas, a single male foster carer, who has been with for us for the past nine months. He’s a long-standing Lambeth resident and fosters with his cat!
Thomas tells us about himself and his experience of fostering so far: “I currently run my own business doing web design which works well for fostering as I can be flexible around the needs of any child in my care. I actually applied to be a foster carer for Lambeth ten years ago but at the time decided to put this on pause as my working hours were too long.”
“I’ve been fostering for nine months now and I’m currently on my second placement. I’ve fostered a teenager who stayed with me for four months. And I’m now with a ten-year-old who arrived a week ago and it feels like he’s been with me for years already!”
We asked how he found helping a new child settle into his home and for any tips on this. “We just hit it off straight away. I’m quite lucky that he’s got a load of energy, just like me. We’ve spent a huge amount of time just going to the park together. We celebrated Chinese New Year recently and it was Pancake Day the other day. We’re also building a go kart together during half term. When you’re settling children in, I recommend you find out what they’re interested in and do those things together as a team. And, of course, introduce them to new experiences when they are ready.”
We asked whether he had any worries initially about being gay and becoming a foster carer. “Before I applied to Lambeth, I did wonder whether my sexual orientation mattered. I did some research on this and read Lambeth’s website which said they welcome everyone - and that the most important thing was your capacity to be a good carer. I decided to take Lambeth at their word and it turned out to be the right thing to do. I’ve never been treated any differently because of my sexuality.”
On choosing Lambeth to foster with, Thomas explains, “My motivation to foster is very much about supporting people and giving back to my local community. I chose to foster for Lambeth as I live here, and I wanted to go direct to the council because they’re not-for-profit. It didn’t even occur to me to go to an agency for this reason.”
We asked Thomas what he thinks of the idea of doing fostering to build a family. “This is really interesting when it comes to fostering. My prime motivation is to help the most vulnerable people and I felt that children are the obvious choice. Another aspect was also to build a type of a family. My experience of fostering has been that it fulfills this need.
“I’ve been allowed to live out a lot of my parenting dreams. You never quite become the full parent because the plan and hope is that the child will go back to their parents. You can also spend time supporting the child’s family unit, which can be very rewarding. This is why I tend to call it “parenting plus”.
We asked Thomas what he would to someone else, including LGBT+ individuals, who are thinking about fostering? “Specifically, regarding the LBGT aspect. My first placement was a teenager who had some questions around his own sexuality. Being gay helped me provide support for him and have an insight into what he was going through, so it was a real advantage.
“Also, being in a minority group, your own experience of growing up and being different, people around you treating you differently, can really help you relate to children in care who may be feeling the same. So again, this first-hand experience can really be to your advantage.
“To everyone, regardless of who you are, I’d say do your research to make sure you’re comfortable with what fostering involves. It’s not always going to be like a Hollywood movie, where you support a kid and they become wonderful over night! Once you’ve looked into it and you know what you’re getting yourself into, then go for it would be my advice.”
Thomas explains what he personally gets from being a foster carer. “I get a sense of satisfaction playing a role in my community. If we don’t help people when they are young, at their most vulnerable, then the knock-on effects for our community, and society more widely, are huge. Any role we can play in making the world better is a good thing if you ask me.
“I also learn a lot both from the formal training I get at Lambeth, and from the young people in my care. I remember hearing one of the young people the phone to their friend once. He kept saying he felt safe, that the home felt safe and the street felt safe. And this was surprising to me, to hear how much young people can go through their lives not feeling safe.
“Also when people ask what you do and you say you’re a single male foster carer, it’s always nice to see the response – they’re often surprised but it’s always very positive.”
Finally, Thomas says on the support he’s had so far “The support from Lambeth has been great. My supervising social worker has been brilliant. When I had trouble with my first placement, I found them to be invaluable. I’m still quite new so still finding my feet. I’m definitely planning make use of more of what’s available and having a mentor soon.”