November 23, 2012

IconCould you be a foster carer?

There is a shortage of foster carers in the UK, with The Telegraph reporting that 9,000 new foster homes are urgently needed. Fostering agencies are particularly keen to attract carers from the LGBT community as they represent a huge potential resource, yet are largely underrepresented as carers.  

In light of these findings, Rosie Hayes spoke to bestselling author Cathy Glass who supports LGBT fostering and gave a wonderful insight into the life of a foster carer.

Cathy is a divorced mother of three. Over the past 25 years she has cared for around 100 foster children as well as authoring 15 bestselling books which have sold over 1.4 million copies. Additionally, she provides training to other foster carers and spends up to four hours a day corresponding with her fans.  It would be easy to imagine she also wears a superhero cape and can fly to the moon, but Cathy is refreshingly down to earth.

She does, occasionally read or watch television, although finding the time to have a relationship has proved a little tricky; “It would take a very understanding person to take me on with everything going on in my life”, she jokes before adding, “I might think about having a relationship when I retire”.

Since her book Damaged, the true story of a foster child who suffered horrific abuse at the hands of a paedophile ring, was published in 2007 Cathy Glass, has become a household name.

Each of her books tell the story of a child she has fostered; the reason they came into care, the behaviours and disclosures that occur while they live with her and the resolution of the children being returned to their natural family or being adopted.

Cathy believes sexuality is irrelevant when fostering and knows a lesbian couple who have fostered successfully for 15 years. She she suggests interested carers apply to an agency that already has same sex couples on their register, as they are likely to be the most supportive.

Cathy Glass (not real name) has been a foster mother for the last 25 years. She has written 3 bestselling books about some of the children that she has looked after. Her books include, Damaged, Cut and Hidden.

Cathy writes under a pseudonym and changes all names in her books to protect the identities of her foster children, meaning none of the children featured in the books, or any of their parents, have identified themselves. Her secret identity as a bestselling author is only known to her three adult children, who “take it in their stride”. She would like to think they are proud of her, but they rarely get a chance to discuss it.

Her style comes under the genre “Inspirational memoir” (rather disparagingly nicknamed “misery lit” by the publishing industry), yet her books differ, and have large appeal, because they are written from her perspective and not the child’s. Although the subject matter is dark, Cathy manages to make each story a heart-warming read.

“I focus on the optimistic outcome of the care order” explains Cathy, “unfortunately it just isn’t possible for some children to be returned to their mothers but in some instances, like in the case of Aimee (the girl described in her book Another Forgotten Child) a child will go and live with relatives who are able to provide them with a stable and loving home”.

Cathy weaves anecdotes from her own life, and those of her three older children (one of whom she adopted following a foster placement) into each book and readers soon get a wonderful sense of her personality and the challenging yet hugely rewarding life she leads.

“I am incredibly lucky” she says, as though her successful career has just happened upon her rather than being the result of years of dedication and passion, “I am really happy with my life and the work that I do and I have a great circle of friends. The only thing I would change is I would have liked for my marriage to continue but that ended a long time ago now and there’s no use crying over spilt milk”.

Warm and open, with an unmistakeable kindness in her voice, as well as a no-nonsense attitude that reveals her inner strength, Cathy declares her favourite thing about fostering is being able to return a child to their natural mother.

“You know from the outset that fostering is very rarely a route to adoption. You are performing a role, and when you have worked alongside the parents and the child has made such good progress, it is incredibly satisfying to return that child to a parent or parents who have overcome their difficulties which are usually drink and drug related. It makes up for the pain of their departure”.

And how does she cope when a child leaves her home?

“Of course you develop attachment to the child. You wouldn’t be human if you didn’t and it is terribly sad when a child leaves your home.  Not only do you miss their physical presence but it’s the little things, likes their shoes suddenly no longer being in the hallway or their coat no longer hanging up with the other coats, which can suddenly hit you”.

She explains the feelings of loss and grief are normal after a child’s departure, and accepts that it is okay to cry and in fact a lot of foster carers do cry when the child leaves their home. Cathy always has a break between the departure and arrival of her foster children to give her and her family time to adjust.

The worst part about fostering for Cathy, are the times when there is no happy ending and a child spends most of his or her life in and out of care resulting in a series of different foster home, a sad situation she has witnessed a few times but is yet to write about.  Unless there is a residence order in force, the child’s parents or Guardian can collect the child from their foster home at any time which can be very disruptive. “It is terribly unsettling for the child, and some children have had as many as 50 different homes” says Cathy sadly.

“The local authorities try and keep the kids at the same school as it gives them stability, but you can imagine if they are in and out of care, living with different foster carers in different areas this can be difficult.”

“Some of these kids have had 20 or 30 homes and have so many behavioural and psychological difficulties by the time they reach adulthood they have to be institutionalised.”

Her experience ties in with research from Professor Judith Masson from Bristol University  that looks into the pros and cons of local authorities reaching a protective ‘agreement’ with parents to keep children in care. Professor Masson found that social workers had “a clear preference for using section 20 (the voluntary accommodation provision) rather than seeking an emergency protection order.”

Sadly, the experience of children being moved from home to home is not uncommon, and neither are the stories of physical, sexual and emotional abuse that Cathy recounts in her books.

The volume of emails she receives from people who have been victim to abuse in their childhoods has caused Cathy to believe cases reported to the police are “just the tip of the iceberg”.

“It has been a real eye opener” she says, “It made me realise so much goes on behind closed doors. When the allegations came out about Jimmy Savile I was not at all surprised. So much abuse occurs that is never uncovered”.

Her role as a foster carer is vital for abused children, who thrive in the stable and loving environment of their foster home where they are able to disclose their experiences.

Cathy’s style of caring is to listen to and understand the child, while giving them clear guidelines for acceptable behaviour. She is vehemently against parents smacking their children.

“It’s a form of abuse” she states firmly, adding “it should be outlawed”.

Cathy feels strongly that no form of physical discipline, even a slap on the wrist or a light tap on the bottom, should ever be used as punishment.

“It makes me cringe when I see a child being smacked. It is degrading for both the child and the parent; the child being humiliated and the adult clearly losing control.  Additionally, it is a really bad example to give the child. How can you tell them off for fighting in the playground when you are behaving no better yourself by hitting them?”

Cathy has coined the Three Rs technique: Request, Repeat, Reassure which she outlines her in parenting manual “Happy Kids”.

She has a slightly different method of dealing with teenagers, saying “Humour works the best in our household.”

She goes on to explain that teenagers have changes occurring in their brains that they have not experienced since they were toddlers.

“A lot is going on for them and you have to be in tune with their needs and know when they just need to be left alone. Of course, if something is really important to them then I would never laugh at them, but generally if they are having a strop, saying something funny can break the ice and bring them out of it and we can all laugh together. “

Considering her hectic daily schedule, it is hard to imagine Cathy ever being at all lazy or self-indulgent. When asked how she treats herself, she instantly replies “Chocolate” and gives a hearty chuckle. It is clear the emotional rewards she receives from both fostering and writing are huge, and she has received thousands of thank you letters from her readers who say her books have helped them come to terms with the past.

LGBT fostering and adoption week is March 4th – 10th 2013

For more information about LGBT fostering visit the New Family Social website.

 

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Rosie Hayes

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