Challenge of foster caring laid bare

Neville Martin

Monday, 11th February 2019, 05:50 am
Updated Tuesday, 12th February 2019, 24:52 am
So You Want to Foster? by Neil Maxwell

Castledine Gardens, Sheffield, S9

Providing foster care for vulnerable and broken children and young people can be a gamechanger in turning around fragmented and dysfunctional lives. But what does it take to be a good foster carer?

A brilliant new book gives an honest “warts and all” appraisal of what it means to be a foster carer. So You Want to Foster? chronicles the 16-year fostering career of the Sheffield foster carers Neil and Adele Maxwell, and attempts to give a realistic portrayal – the upsides and the downsides – of caring for children whose lives have been overcome by circumstance.

The book describes how all human beings form attachments from birth, initially with their mother, then with their father and siblings, their wider family members and ultimately with friends, neighbours, teachers and school classmates. But attachments are not only formed with people. We form attachments to our home, to the locations we inhabit, to neighbourhoods, to the places that have meaning to us and to the events that happen there. It is these attachments to people, places and occasions that provide every one of us with our cultural and social heritage. For the majority of us it is these attachments we rely on for our identity, our self-assurance, our sense of wellbeing, our security and place of sanctuary. In the case of children taken into care, all these attachments are severed abruptly and the child finds himself or herself in a hostile world of strangers, remote from everyone, everywhere and everything they have come to rely on.

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Each child has a unique story, but whatever the circumstances surrounding the placement of a child in foster care, it’s odds-on they won’t want to be there. However much they have endured neglect or abuse in their home environment, their first instinct is to be back at home with their parents.

Despite inevitably having low self-worth, lack of a sense of belonging, plagued by the ‘odd-one-out’ syndrome and having their confidence shattered, etc, the child newly in foster care will have to deal with the impact of their disconnection. The carer’s techniques for building the child’s resilience to the inescapable pressures and challenges they will face in society – particularly in school – will be absolutely critical in supporting the child’s survival in what appears to them a hostile world.

So You Want to Foster? recounts the experiences of the Maxwell family over 16 years in fostering. It describes events which are in places heartbreakingly sad, in others hilariously funny and in some just plain weird, but if nothing else, it conclusively dispels all idealistic preconceptions about the fostering vocation with the authenticity that first-hand knowledge and experience brings. This is especially true since Adele Maxwell was herself in foster care from the age of three.

I would heartily recommend that anyone who is contemplating becoming a foster carer should take time out to read this book. The book is available on Amazon.