This guest post post is written by Emily Bradbury, who is writing on behalf of Key Assets Kentucky, a fostering agency working to find and train the right foster carers for vulnerable children in the Kentucky area.
There are many misconceptions surrounding who is able to foster, but being a single man need not hold you back from your dream of parenting as many presume. Whatever your relationship status, age, race, gender or sexuality you can be a great foster parent, as long as you have the necessary skills and a spare room in your home.
The desire to parent and care is not exclusive to women, and increasingly men may find themselves in their late 30s and 40s, still single, and feeling like they want to care for a child without rushing into a relationship for the sake of having children.
Whilst some children may benefit from the attention of a two parent family, there are others who flourish with the one-on-one attention that a single person can provide. Indeed, single parents are some of the best foster parents around, and some children can only be placed with either male or female carers.
Although it is certainly possible for a single man to be approved as a foster carer, you may be wondering whether you are the right man for the job, and whether going into foster care will make a positive difference in your life as well as a child’s.
Hearing about men who foster can help those considering whether to become a foster carer gain a clearer idea of whether this is a way of life that could work for them.
A Telegraph article, ‘Fostering crisis: the carers’ stories’ includes an account from Jim, who has fostered alone for 19 years. He cares for teenagers aged 14 plus, and says that when he was younger he travelled for the world but by his 40s
“with no children of my own, something triggered my need to nurture”.
Jim feels that in the occasional case a placement doesn’t work as the child has needed to be a part of a traditional family and yearns for a maternal figure
“One had been surrounded by three older brothers, all of whom abused him, and he needed to find a relationship with a female that was positive.”
However, his being a single man has been advantageous for some foster children
“One girl, who lived with another foster carer in an all-female house, used to come here at weekends because she needed a positive male role model.”
Jim makes sure that every child feels ‘part of the family’ and treats them with the respect and empathy they deserve. He does admit that the demands of fostering have got in the way of his relationships, but says
“I’ve let it. I’ve gained so much from these kids, I’ve tended to put them first.”
A case study from FCA, part of the Key Assets Kentucky group of fostering agencies, sees foster carer Michael describe an average day in his life. Although Michael is married, his wife works full time and he is sole foster carer, having fostered 14 children so far. He has said that choosing to foster ‘has brought with it so many rewards.’
Michael explains that his day begins like most parents with school age children; making packed lunches and dropping the children at school. He cleans and washes clothes, and gets involved with any training available at his local FCA office during the day. Events like ‘Men who foster’ are a brilliant opportunity to share experiences and build friendships with other male foster carers in the area.
Michael collects the children from school and fills in a diary with their teacher to monitor the child’s progress; this is to spot any problems before they develop fully, or to pick up and reward positive developments.
Dinner is an important time for the children to bond and learn table manners, which they might not be accustomed to. Michael finds bedtime troublesome with some children, but training from the FCA helps him to deal with and understand any difficult behaviours. Michael finds that working with a supportive foster agency and having other foster carers to turn to makes any problems he faces a lot easier to deal with.
Personal qualities needed
A foster carer needs a very definite skill set and strong personality, especially one that is choosing to go it alone.
Obviously a passion and love for children is essential, but you also need to be able to deal with and overcome difficult situations and behaviour. An easy going and adaptable personality is important, as single carer Maria Catterick points out
“You need to have a passion for children and an ability to overcome problems. Children push and push, but I’m not someone who easily loses the plot”.
Patience, empathy and understanding are all essential personality traits of a foster carer. They need to be good listeners and communicator when one-on-one with children, as well as helping them stay in contact with their family, friends and local community where appropriate.
Foster carers need to be very adaptable and open to learning the new skills needed to be a great carer. Energy and motivation to care for a demanding child to the best of their ability, whilst putting the appropriate boundaries in place to help improve children’s behaviour are important. Ultimately they should be encouraging children to grow up into well balanced and functional adults.
A strong support network is essential when fostering alone. Whilst support from friends and family members is useful, getting to know other foster carers in your area can be one of the most beneficial things you can do.
The dedication needed to be a foster carer can hinder your social life in many ways, so getting to know people in the same position as you, and staying in regular contact with your local agency office, is important to avoid feeling alone. Your local fostering community is a brilliant place to meet life-long friends, and the challenges of foster care are far outweighed by the reward of seeing the children you care for flourish into happy young adults.