By the time we became foster carers, my husband Gerry and I had been together for 10 years. We had both grown up in big, busy households where there were always lots of kids running around, and so I think we both felt children would be a part of our life together at some point. We knew a number of people who fostered and it was something we were both interested in. And so one day we plucked up the courage and gave Essex County Council a call.
This was in 2005 but even at that stage the Council had a very positive and proactive approach to attracting same sex couples into foster care. They visited us very soon after that phone call, and after a few meetings we formally joined their selection process. This took almost a year but by the time we had been accepted at panel into the fostering team in 2006, we felt we had a good idea of what to expect.
Our first year brought a range of different children and young people into our home, mostly for short term/respite placements; two young brothers, aged seven and 10, and then a brother and sister in their early teens. And then a 10 year old boy followed by a 15 year old girl. All of the them came to us without a single care that we were a Gay couple. And, in retrospect, I think I was quite self-conscious of being a Gay foster carer whilst the children really didn’t even seem to notice a difference.
One boy stayed with us for a couple of weeks and a year later we were asked if we would have him as a permanent placement. We remembered him being quiet and polite, and said "yes, of course". "But don't get your hopes up," I remember saying to Gerry. "There's no way a 12 year old boy is going to want to come a live with a couple of Gay men." But the social worker called back the next day to tell us the boy was delighted. "He really liked your attic bedroom and asked if he could have that room," she said. "And he loved your cats too. Especially Spike. He's really thrilled." He lived with us very happily for the next couple of years (Spike adored him) and eventually was able to return home to live with his own family again. But he wanted us to know that one of his happiest times was when he came on a family holiday with us to Barcelona, which included a tour of the football stadium.
And so I learned early on to not underestimate these children and young people. And indeed after 14 years of fostering, and having had more than 30 children and young people stay with us during that time (for anything from two weeks to seven years) I've realised that this generation really doesn’t differentiate between Gay or straight. They just see people and homes, and it's been a genuine privilege to have shared my home with them. Fostering can be tough and challenging, of course. But, at almost fifty years old, I can honestly say it is still the single best thing I have done with my life.
It may not be for everyone, but there is nothing wrong with making a few enquiries to find out for sure.