Fostering hope

22nd November 2013 at 00:00

My husband and I have been discussing the "F" word. Our children have left home, we're still pretty fit and we feel up for a bit of excitement. I am, of course, talking about fostering.

Apparently, fostering is as widespread among my generation as reading glasses, statins and Spanx. According to the UK's Fostering Network, foster carers are most likely to be in their forties or fifties. I suspect that's because looking after a child (even someone else's) is better than the alternatives: endless hours in factory retail outlets hunting for Marks amp; Spencer seconds or going on Norwegian cruises with people who collect commemorative plates.

This greying fostering profile comes as no surprise to me. Since my own children have flown the nest I've felt a bit lost and abandoned - like a prematurely discarded toothpaste tube that still has some paste left to squeeze. I miss the comforting structures of parenthood.

As a parent, my week was ransomed to routines: Monday, rugby training; Tuesday, orchestra; Wednesday, driving back to school to look for a boot and a cello. I even miss making tuna pasta bake which, alongside post-partum haemorrhaging and baby showers, has to be one of the uglier by-products of conception.

The main advantage of parenthood is that it leaves you with no time for introspection. You are so busy dashing backwards and forwards to AE because someone has stuck a button up their nose or fallen off a pony or downed 10 tequila slammers that you have little time to reflect on the meaninglessness of life.

Maybe, if I'm accepted as a foster carer, I can go back to reading about Postman Pat, who is too busy looking for his black-and-white cat to suffer from existential angst. The way I feel at the moment, that's nearly a good enough reason to start.

But I'm also driven by altruistic urges. Looked-after children do not do well in schools. Last year, only 14.6 per cent of these young people achieved five good GCSEs, compared with 51 per cent of other children. Apparently, highlighting their names in our registers then letting destiny run its course has done little to narrow this gap.

And, while these children underachieve academically (almost a quarter of them get no qualifications at all), they are over-represented in the youth justice system. When we trumpet our A* successes, these are the skeletons we overlook.

So I've sent out a few fact-finding emails. Perhaps I'll be lucky. I do know that earlier this year, the Fostering Network said there was an urgent need for 9,000 new carers in the UK. My own children think I'd be great: I make a passable pasta bake and there's still some unsqueezed toothpaste in my tube. Moreover, I'd get the chance to do at home what we struggle to do in school - give these young people a decent chance at life.

Beverley Briggs is a secondary school teacher from County Durham, England.

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