Rainbow Families: Foster Parenting
Foster parenting is not for everyone but the gay men and lesbians who choose this path say it is a life-changing and rewarding experience. Here, James shares his story about being a foster parent to his son Robert. Part three of a four-part series on same-sex parenting. By Rachel Cook.
James had always known he wanted to be a parent. It was actually an article on foster parenting in this magazine that not only made him realise that gay men and lesbians are eligible to become foster carers but that this was a better option for him than becoming a biological parent.
“I thought about being a biological dad but there are a lot of kids out there who need people like me,” James says.
The road to becoming a foster parent can take up to twelve months. The screening process is strict and the level of training required by law can be intense.
After an initial phone conversation with a foster care agency, potential carers are then invited to an information session. Then the applicant will go through a series of assessment interviews. During the interviews agency workers will take you through the realities that come with being a foster parent.
Among those realities is that most children who are in care have been removed from their families because their parents were not able to care for them, many have experienced abuse or neglect. James says it can be confronting to realise what conditions some of these children have come from.
“You talk about grief, you talk about trauma, it can be pretty heavy” James says, “then after the assessment interviews you also have training and that’s when you really get into the nitty gritty of what sorts of things you will be dealing with.”
The final step after the assessment interviews is for your application to be presented to an accreditation panel. While James says the process can be gruelling he also points out the necessity to be as prepared as possible before taking on a foster child. This is a process that both the carer and agencies take seriously, as when it comes to placing a child the suitability of child and foster parent is paramount.
“They try and match you as closely as possible with a child,” James says.
James waited six months before he was matched with Robert. In the interest of the child and carer agencies will take into account any preferences from both sides.
For James his only preference was that “they were out of diapers and walking and talking”. It’s now been four months since Robert was placed with James and in that time a lot has changed.
“I’m seeing behavioural changes in him from when he first got here,” James says. “In the beginning he would just shut down. He would literally stop responding to anything that I would say, but now he will start talking through it and he has never done that before.
“Even his behaviour at school has changed. He had some challenges to begin with and some behavioural problems at school, but he’s now made a conscious effort to be good at school and he has stuck to that every single day since he said that.”
James is a permanent carer of Robert, which means Robert is with James until he is 18 unless his biological family make a court appeal. However, the court is stringent in determining these decisions and takes numerous factors into account such as to what extent have their circumstances changed that they are now in a position to properly care for their child and also how long the child has been with their foster parent and to what depth is that relationship. Depending on the age of the child they would also consider what the child’s wishes were.
In the case of James and Robert, although it is “highly unlikely” Robert would ever live with his biological parents again he does still have regular supervised visits with them.
“It’s for the child’s benefit to maintain contact with their biological family,” James says. “They need to know where they came from and sometimes it might just be the parents but sometimes it’s with extended family too.
“Robert and I talk about the fact that he has his biological family, but we have a family as well so he has two families and he really likes the idea that he has two families.”
While James says it has been challenging to deal with Robert’s past trauma and to help him realise he’s in a better place, he also says it is “the best thing” he has ever done.
“To begin with I think at the back of his mind he [Robert] thought this is not going to work but now I think this is the first time in a long time that he has felt safe,” James says.
“It’s also about seeing him change and seeing him grow and hopefully realising that he now has the chance to be the man he should be.”
“But the most rewarding thing I have experienced with him was one day he turned around and he gave me a hug and he said, ‘I love you as much as if you were my real father’, and I almost burst into tears.
“That’s when I knew we were ok.”
FACTS ABOUT FOSTER CARE
• It is legal for gay men and lesbians to be foster carers throughout Australia.
• There are different levels of foster care, from full time permanent care to weekend relief.
• The difference between a permanent care order and adoption is that with adoption the child’s birth certificate changes and the child takes on a name of an active parent, with a permanent care order the child retains their original birth certificate.
• Carers receive a tax-free fortnightly reimbursement from the Department of Human Services. The amount of this reimbursement is dependent on the age of the child and the complexities of the care needs.
• Foster carers numbers are shrinking while the demand for carers is growing.