More and more people in their 20s and early 30s are becoming foster carers. Here, younger Guardian readers explain why
Growing up in a fostering family, Natalie Wainwright always planned to become a foster parent. But she didn’t think she’d be doing it in her 20s.
Wainwright, who lives in Sussex, is at 23 one of the UK’s youngest foster carers – well below the average age of 45 to 54. After working full-time as a teacher for a year, she chose to go part-time, believing she could have more of an impact as a foster carer as she felt drawn towards looking after vulnerable children.
Wainwright says people are often surprised at her decision, thinking she should favour the relative freedom of her early 20s over looking after children. But she says she still enjoys meeting friends, listening to music and reading books on the beach – only now she’s doing this with her seven-year-old foster child.
“I sometimes wonder about what I would be doing if I wasn’t fostering, but missing out is not a worry for me,” she says. “There are so many experiences I’ve had because I’m fostering.”
Concern over her age has mainly come from older generations. “It’s been older people questioning my decision,” she says. “More people appreciated it of my generation. I think millennials are quite open in general; they’re not sticking to how things have always been done.”
Wainwright is one of a growing number of millennials choosing to foster or adopt children.
She was driven to do this as growing up in a household with looked-after children, she “came to understand very quickly that children in the care system have stories characterised by pain”.
She adds: “It was difficult to grapple with these things as a child, trying to understand the behaviour of the new sibling I had gained. But I realise now that those experiences cultivated a deeper sense of empathy and resilience in me.”
Connie Robertson-Gurie, 27, was driven by altruistic reasons to become a foster parent at the age of 24, after her eyes were opened to the challenges facing vulnerable children when volunteering abroad for a charity during her gap year. On returning, she and her partner realised “what a dire state we were already in at home”, with more than 70,000 children in care in England and Wales.
“The [care] system is broken,” Robertson-Gurie says. “People have now realised that we need to do something a little bit sooner and we need to be helping these children as children, rather than repair them as broken adults.”
For Robertson-Gurie, it’s up to young adults to do something. Foster care in the UK is facing a “looming crisis” because of a lack of government funding and support, the charity Fostering Network warned earlier this year. The sector is already facing a deficit of more than 8,000 carers, meaning children and young people can be put in “risky” and inappropriate accommodation.
A spokesperson for the charity called for increased recruitment of foster carers from all sections of society to reflect the children and young people coming into care in need of a foster family. Some 164 respondents to a Fostering Network survey in 2018 were between the ages of 18 and 34, compared with 106 in 2016.
Tact, the UK’s largest fostering and adoption charity, has seen a three-fold increase in millennials applying to foster this year, from 10 approved in the 23 to mid-30s age group in 2018, to 36 applicants undergoing assessment now.
“Our younger foster carers tell us that they see fostering as a tangible way of giving back to their community and making a positive difference. Tact has long recognised the skills and abilities that younger adults can bring to fostering,” says chief executive Andy Elvin.
“One couple who began fostering with Tact at just 22 had a teenager as their first placement, and they all agreed it worked really great because the smaller age gap meant they could relate well to each other, and that created a more trusting and open channel of communication.”
Age and perceived inexperience don’t have to hold people back. Legally, people over the age of 18 can become foster carers, and while the assessment process is understandably rigorous, people can consider fostering as long as they are in stable accommodation with a spare room, and enough financial security.
“I was honest with my social worker about how I felt inexperienced,” Wainwright adds, “but she said in some ways it’s better I hadn’t been a parent because a lot of the time people have to relearn a way of parenting, because it’s a different, more therapeutic approach.”
Krish Kandiah, a foster carer who runs the fostering and adoption charity Home for Good, has called for a “radically different approach” to recruitment. He wants people of all ages and demographics to consider it, in order to reflect the varying needs and culture of looked-after children.
When the Guardian asked readers if they had considered adoption or fostering as a millennial, Rebecca, 23, told us she was driven by ethical and environmental concerns to foster or adopt over having birth children. “I have always wanted to become an adoptive parent – [my family] fostered my sister when she was a few months old, and adopted her when she was two.
“Over the last few years I have begun to educate myself on the ecological climate crisis that we are facing, and have made a number of changes in my own life to reflect that – going vegan, package-free, giving up fast fashion.
“I’m not sure if I can reconcile that with the knowledge that I would be bringing an extra human into the world who would consume resources, and also that I would be bringing a child into the world who will have to deal with the consequences of our over-consumption.”
Robertson-Gurie adds: “The world is changing and we need more now in terms of the younger generation stepping up. Millennials think we’re eco-warriors and can change the world. We like to think we’re doing our bit to repair what the generation before us has left behind, and [fostering] gives you the perfect opportunity to do that. We have the future in our hands. We can make a change and I think that’s the most appealing part about fostering.”
News & Jobs
News stories and job vacancies from our member agencies, the fostering sector and the world of child protection and safeguarding as a whole.
Browse News Archives