Joe is in their forties, non-binary and gay. They got into fostering thanks to their partner who they became a support carer for three and a half years ago. ‘At first, I was doubtful that I would be any good, but I discovered that I was much more competent than I thought. I found that I really loved being a foster carer so I went through the approval process myself.’
Joe has experience fostering young LGBTQ+ people and for them, this is a chance too to learn, grow and reflect. ‘I have learnt just how much things have changed since I was their age and how much things will keep changing. Terminology exists now that didn’t exist 30 years ago, there are words to describe different identities now. Back then, there were only really insults.’
Fostering has given Joe an opportunity to reexamine their own upbringing and challenge the beliefs they were raised with. And to ‘heal from some of the internalised homophobia and gender-phobia I have carried,’ Joe says. However, the most beautiful thing about fostering for Joe is the feeling that children feel accepted in their care.
Make your home a safe space
Not all LGBTQ+ children in care can be placed with LGBTQ+ carers, but every child – be they out already or finding themselves – need to live in a home where they feel safe to discuss gender identity and sexual orientation. Sarah, who started to foster five years ago with her partner, says it’s important that children feel that their identity is nothing out of the ordinary.
‘Most foster carers will accept if a child is LGBTQ+, and that is great, but we need to take this a step further. Diversity has to be a regular topic of discussion to create a safe space. It’s important to let the child know “You can be what you want to be and I still love you” but are you showing them what the options are? Or do they have to go out and find them?’
Llew, who decided to change careers during the pandemic and became a foster carer recently, says it’s of utmost importance to ‘let your positive thoughts on the LGBTQ+ community be known at home so the young person feels supported even before they come to terms with their own identity. Allow them to know you will accept them for who they are so when they are ready to come out it will make it so much easier for them.’
Although good training on caring for LGBTQ+ young people is available for foster carers, it’s also about working on yourself, says Joe. ‘Meeting the needs of LGBTQ+ young people is not an adaption or skill you acquire. It is something that happens naturally when you question and challenge heteronormative assumptions which are the default in our society.
‘More is being done to help foster carers reflect on difference and diversity each year but there is a very long way to go before it is recognised that heterosexuality and binary gender are not the norms from which anything else is a deviation.’
This is particularly important because if LGBTQ+ children can’t be themselves at home they ‘learn to compartmentalise and hide that part of themselves to survive’, says Joe. And this can be very harmful, especially these days, where – due to the pandemic – the home environment is often all young people have got.
‘For a child who is not out at home, or is trying to find their identity, the pandemic can be very challenging. The pandemic might have pushed them back into one big closet. And life in the closet can be grim,’ explains Walt – a single foster carer from London.
Recruiting from the LGBTQ+ community
Fostering was something Walt had considered for years, but he was worried he would not get approved. ‘Many people, including myself, might have the space to foster, but feel their background would not get them past panel. They feel that their history might not look favourable and they will end up not getting approved.’
For Sarah this is a common issue. She and her partner wanted to foster for a long time too but never dared to apply. The hesitancy among the LGBTQ+ community, she says, stems from the treatment many in the community have experienced in the past: ‘Many LGBTQ+ people who would now be ready to foster because they have settled down, had really bad experiences with public bodies and social services back in the days.’
Sarah and her partner were approached at a Pride event where their service had a stand. ‘The fact that they came to us, were on our turf, showed us that we are welcome and that things have changed indeed.’ Sarah would recommend that services actively reach out more: ‘More foster carers are needed. Many people will be afraid to come to you but there is a large pool of people who want children in their lives, who want to help, and who have so much to give.’
Taking active steps
For Joe, Sarah, Llew and Walt supporting a child on their journey is all about showing that you are acceptant of who they are. This requires keeping an open mind and discussing a world you yourself might not be familiar with.
Walt suggests to be curious and learn with the young people. ‘Take them to Pride festivals, immerse yourself in the culture and community together. The LGBTQ+ community is very diverse, very fun, very colourful and very welcoming. Let them show you what you are missing out on. And don’t be afraid to ask questions. Let your young person be authentic and support them.’
Previously published on the Fostering Network website.