To coincide with LGBT Fostering and Adoption Week, we share foster carer Neil Perry’s story.
There is a common misconception that people in the LGBT community aren’t eligible to become foster carers, so in celebration of LGBT Fostering and Adoption Week we’ve spoken to 42-year old
foster carer Neil Perry about his experiences as a single, gay carer and his fight to dispel this myth.
Neil’s work as a voluntary youth worker, which he did alongside his full-time role as a product designer, initially sparked his interest in working with children and young people. However, he often felt frustrated in this role, as Neil explained:
I loved working as a youth worker, however it often felt impossible to make a significant difference to the young people I was working with. My time was spent managing the behaviours of disruptive, less vulnerable young people, instead of being able to target the children that really needed help and support.
It was a close friend who planted the seed of me becoming a foster carer – she knew how strong my paternal instinct was, and how much I wanted to help children and young people.
In 2009, Neil started his fostering career as a respite carer, but it was a six-month work trip to India the following year that consolidated his plan to take it on full-time. Seeing impoverished young children with no option other than to live on the streets made Neil appreciate the work of social services in the UK, and he took his first full-time foster placement shortly after returning to the UK.
“As cliché as it may sound, I wanted to do a job that made a real difference, and I knew that foster care would give me the opportunity to help children from really challenging and underprivileged backgrounds”.
For anyone starting out as a foster carer, your first decision is whether to do so with your local authority, or with an Independent Fostering Agency (IFA).
For Neil, his choice came down to his motivations for becoming a foster carer in the first place:
I wanted to help children and young people who needed it most, and those children tend to be entrusted to IFAs rather than the local authority. I knew how tough it was to find foster carers for children from the most challenging backgrounds, and that this was where the demand was.
Fostering People was the first IFA I approached, and the agency’s child-focussed, professional attitude was a natural fit for me, as well as its Outstanding Oftsed rating. For those just starting out, don’t be afraid to call Fostering People, You’re not wasting their time and they’ll happily go through the process with you.
The process of applying to become a foster carer from start to finish takes on average six months. This has become much more efficient and streamlined in recent years, making it much easier for prospective carers.
Since 2010, Neil has fostered 41 children, with two 15-year old boys currently in his care. The average length of a fostering placement is six months, but for Fostering People this is often much longer. One of the children in Neil’s care has now been with him for eight years, and will likely stay with him until adulthood.
When asked to describe a particularly rewarding moment, Neil found it hard to pinpoint just one:
“My life is full of rewarding moments, big and small, and every single child has been an inspiration to me.
Since making the decision to foster, I honestly haven’t looked back! I absolutely love what I do and feel that it is my true vocation. Fostering has opened a new world to me and given a deep sense of meaning to my life. The children that I look after are inspirational, and they show such resilience and strength despite the adversities they often face.
Of course, this work can be very emotionally challenging and harrowing at times, however we always seem to manage to come out the other end with smiles on our faces.”
When it comes to challenges of the job, Neil is quick to highlight that the highs 100% outweigh the lows, but this doesn’t mean it’s smooth sailing:
“Don’t get me wrong, it can be extremely challenging, and at times heart breaking, but the rewards are unrivalled.
When I embarked on my fostering career several years ago, my lifestyle completely changed. I embraced these changes wholeheartedly, however it has taken several years to fully adjust and get used to my new lifestyle. I have developed a new network of friends in line with my role, and feel very happy and content with life. My social life has taken a major nose dive, however my life has taken on a much deeper sense of meaning.
One of the primary challenges I’ve faced is preparing yourself for the children disclosing information about the traumatic experiences they’ve been through. You are given training for these scenarios, but a lot of children have been through extremely tough times.
Over the years my mind set has changed towards disclosures – I no longer see them as something upsetting, instead I now view it as extremely positive that the children and young people feel safe enough to trust me to support them with their emotional difficulties.”
All in all, Neil’s first eight years as a single, gay foster carer have been overwhelmingly positive, and he’s keen to promote a career as a foster carer within the LGBT community:
I’ve spoken to so many others who didn’t know that fostering was an option for them. If I can get others on board as well as assisting the young people in my care along the way, that’s the best possible outcome. My biggest piece of advice is not to let being single or gay put you off enquiring! Speak to other foster carers, do your research and speak to Fostering People– it could be the best thing you ever do.
And on plans for the future, Neil has no plans to slow down just yet:
“When I think back to when I first applied to be a foster carer, I was worried that homophobic prejudice would stand in my way. Sexuality aside, I thought that being a single man would be a sticking point. How very wrong I was!
I can’t imagine not being a foster carer now. Yes, it’s challenging, but it’s in my bones. I’ll probably go back to respite care at some point to ease off, but probably not until I’m in my 70s!”
For more information on Fostering People, please visit https://www.fosteringpeople.co.uk/