A lot of discussions around foster care centre on the beginning of the journey – what it’s like to enter foster care, or to become a foster parent, or advice on the same. Foster care, however, is not all about beginnings – sometimes it’s about endings.
Eventually, all foster care placements come to an “end.” As your foster child grows up, they will eventually leave care – and this can be a challenging time for everyone. We spoke to Angel, a care leaver, about her foster care journey, and the impact it has had on her life.
If you’re interested in hearing more from Angel, you can follow her foster care blog on Instagram @myjourneyincare.
What was your first placement like?
I was around eleven or twelve years old when I came into care. It has been such a long and hectic journey that it is hard to remember when it all started.
My first ever placement is one I clearly remember due to the traumatic events leading up to my being there. I remember how much I loved all the open space and the nature; these were things I was not used to as I lived in the city prior to this.
What was your personal foster experience like, and how has it helped you?
The longest care placement I have had is going on seven years. Although I no longer live with my long-term foster family, I am in touch constantly and have gained a proper family unit for the rest of my life. I definitely think that positive long-term placements provide a lot of space for growth for young people and children in the care system. Personally, I gained a loving family and some needed stability in my life. I also began to grow as a person and heal from some of the trauma that I had experienced in my life.
How does it feel when a placement ends, or you are moved to a different placement?
There are many feelings and emotions which a child experiences when they move placements and when placements end. It is as though you are experiencing that sense of loss and abandonment all over again. A child in this situation may feel as though they are not good enough or wanted, this is something that I have experienced and can lead to self-esteem issues and poor self-image. When moving placement, we experience not only the loss of another guardian or parental figure but the loss of a sense of family and a sense of self.
What advice would you give to potential foster carers?
The advice that I would give to any carer taking in any child or young person is to practice having patience and empathy. The child coming into your care has been through a lot, meaning they may need constant reassurance and support with mental health issues and emotional scarring, which at times may seem too much for you to handle, but you must push through that because the last thing that child needs is another person to give up on them. These children will need you to make them feel safe and make them feel a part of your world. Include them but allow them time to settle into this new world they were thrown into.
What’s the most important aspect of the foster carer/child relationship?
The most important thing in my opinion, in relationships between foster carers and children in care, is trust and understanding. A bond of trust must be made between the two for any progress to be made in regard to healing traumas and also in order for the placement to last long-term.
Have you encountered any misleading perceptions around care leavers?
Care leavers and those with care experience are seen as troublemakers, incapable of leading normal lives. Just because we have experienced violence and trauma does not mean that we become that violence and trauma. We are just as capable of achieving and leading normal lives as any other young person, we just have more obstacles on our journey there.
I think it is important for children in care and care leavers to know that they are strong, resilient, capable and beyond loved. We are just as important as any other human being out there.
What supports are available for care leavers?
There are supports available through the aftercare system, FOCUS Ireland, EPIC and others for care leavers. It is important for care leavers to know that they can reach out, particularly to other care leavers who understand their experience and can support each other in life.
EPIC is an organisation which works with children and young people in care and care leavers to provide support, instil a sense of connection between this community and give us a voice. I am currently working as a member of the EPIC youth council and we work hard to organise events and meetings with those in power in order to give the care experienced community a voice and create change to improve the care system.
Where can we find out more about your journey, the foster care system, and leaving care?
I have started a blog on Instagram called MyJourneyInCare where I speak about my own experience in the care system and provide information about the care system. I started this page because I felt that there was not enough representation or knowledge of the care experienced community out there, particularly on social media. I wanted to raise awareness of the care experienced community and the care system, erase the stigma of being a care leaver or young person in care and provide information, support, advice and a friendly face to those who may have gone through the same experiences. I am also hoping to encourage others to speak out about their experiences so that maybe our voices can be heard and the system can be improved and changed to provide better support to those with care experience.
If you’re interested in hearing more about Angel’s journey, make sure to follow her blog on Instagram @myjourneyincare. If you have any questions about foster care, please contact us today, and help us build brighter futures.