In need of attention

What do the birth children of parents who
foster make of their new brothers and sisters? Terry Philpot
reports on an area that is sometimes neglected by organisations
that provide fostering support.

Tom is 16 and has a no-nonsense approach to
being the birth child of foster carers. He says: “I think of myself
as a carer … but I think that if they [the foster child] steal or
break things they should be made to pay.”

expresses a common view held by children whose parents foster –
that they are also carers, alongside their parents. But that is
certainly not the way they are regarded, for the most part, by
statutory services. In the largely invisible service that is
fostering, these children are perhaps more invisible than

Tom is
a vocal member of Children who Foster, which came into being in
North Tyneside in 1995. The previous year at a National Foster Care
Association (now Fostering Network) conference children of foster
carers had said how dissatisfied they were at their lack of
preparation for, and participation in, fostering. Children who
Foster meets to talk about the situation in which members find
themselves. They also go on outings together as friends. They have
produced a video in which they role-play matters like welcoming and
saying goodbye to the foster child, confidentiality, contact, work
and play, safe caring, and sharing. Local authorities, voluntary
agencies and other groups have purchased the video. The group also
produces a newsletter which goes to all foster carers in North

when foster carers have fully discussed their intention to foster
with their own children, and have their full agreement, the
consequences are often not appreciated. One study showed that a
third of children said that they had been consulted or had
discussed this with outside agencies (ie, a social worker). Parents
of three-quarters of them had said that a fostered child was coming
to stay, but only 35 per cent were told that they had a role to
play – and many of them felt that involvement related to how they
should behave. Three-quarters of the interviewees said it would be
helpful if someone explained to them why children behave as they

is much anxiety about sharing – three-quarters of the children said
this was a problem. In 1996, over the course of three workshops
with these children, the then National Foster Care Association
found that this was the issue about which they were most vehement.
Frequently, they were most concerned about sharing their room with
the foster child.2

Children are positive but there
are problems when they feel the foster child does not like them,
when untruths are told about them, and when rudeness is shown to
their parents. Visits from the birth parents as well as those by
the social worker also cause problems.3 They did not
think that social workers were interested in them and said that
they never called unless their parents asked them to do so. In a
survey by the NFCA, two-thirds of the children said that their
views were never taken into account by social workers. Indeed,
“family placement workers fared best but children’s social workers
were, on the whole, seen as the enemy or not seen at

children can feel excluded or that they are getting less of their
parents’ time than they otherwise might have. Some carers cease to
foster because of the effect it has on their children – and the
presence of the carers’ own children can be a cause of breakdowns
of foster placements.5 They find regular meetings with
other children helpful and they especially appreciate being able
discuss matters with someone outside of the family.

children have sometimes been told by their parents or social
workers that fostering would be like having “a brother or sister”.
Cari told me bluntly: “You know why your parents do it – it’s a
job.” She added: “They do it because it’s a job and if they
wouldn’t then the child wouldn’t get the care.”

Another child said: “You can’t
pick and choose, you can’t be particular and have a portfolio and
say ‘I think I like that one but not that one.’ You have to take
the rough with the smooth.”

children named positive aspects of fostering as: “You get to meet
new friends and meet new people” and “money”. “We got a brother out
of it”, said a brother and sister who now have a four-year-old
brother originally placed with them for fostering, and then adopted
by the parents.

young person named a negative aspect as “when someone starts to
boss you around”. Lisa loved the twin babies cared for in her home,
but referred to an earlier placement by saying: “When we have a
baby I feel pushed aside and when my friends come round they want
to see the baby.” But the same girl also said: “I feel quite
important because I am always looking after the babies and feeding

of the children said that foster children would speak to them about
things which they could not discuss with the foster carers but “you
can’t talk to them [the foster child] as you can a sister.”
However, one said: “They confide in you and not your parents, so
you are like a parent.”

the children of foster parents fare is partly dependent on how old
they are when fostering begins. Tom said: “When you are little you
are more tolerant and if you start then, you just grow up with

Victoria Preston, a social worker
who is the child of foster carers, has written: “The emotional or
psychological risks are more complex. The concept of fostering to
the carers’ natural children is quite confusing, it contradicts
their own experience and what they have been told about families
and relationships. It is not surprising, therefore, that they see
it as a threat.”6 On the other hand all of the 10 to
whom I spoke regarded their living situations as

Children who foster can face a
number of problems. For example, they can be introduced to illegal
or other practices of which they had hitherto no knowledge, or be
accused of abuse or be abused. But Preston also says that “the
risks faced by natural children can be decreased if communication,
the key element to a family fostering successfully, is promoted.
Openness and honesty enable natural children to understand and cope
with fostering. This environment would enable natural children to
discuss their concerns with their parents”.

children of foster carers do want more information about foster
children but they also understand what has to be confidential. They
could be given some general information about fostered children,
why they are fostered, and why they sometimes behave as they do.
They could be told how agencies work, where social workers come
from, what their remit is, and what the relationship of the
fostered child is to the social worker and the local authority, and
what their parents’ relationship is to both.

Not to
listen to and support the children of foster carers can only give
them the impression that they are less valued than the children who
share their homes. And that makes the fostering task all the

1P Doorbar, “The children of
foster carers”, in A Wheal (ed), The RHP Companion to Foster
, Russell House Publishing, 1999

2National Foster Care
Association, “Sons and daughters of foster carers”, unpublished
notes of workshops held in London and Glasgow, April 1996 and
Belfast, June 1996

3P Doorbar, as

4C Talbot, “Sons and daughters of
carers”, paper to the International Foster Care Organisation
conference, Vancouver, 1997

5D Berridge, H Clever, Foster
Home Breakdown
, Blackwell, 1987

6V F Preston, “Who’s at Risk?
Issues Central to Natural Children in Foster Families,” unpublished
BA thesis, University of Sheffield, 1993

– Terry Philpot is writing a
report on the state of fostering for Fostering

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