Fostering: Why I decided to become a foster carer aged 22

Natalie Wainwright shares her experience as a foster carer and explains why she got into fostering at just 22 years old.

Natalie Wainwright got into fostering aged 22

I became a foster carer when I was 22, single and at the beginning of my teaching career. It seemed like a crazy time to make a decision like this, but I also knew that it was absolutely the right thing for me to do.

My decision to foster came from an accumulation of different experiences and events, all of which broke my heart, challenged me and stirred in me a motivation to bring about change.

Experience of fostering

I was 10 years old when my parents became foster carers. They opened the doors of our home wide and welcomed in multiple children at a time, all from different backgrounds and of various ages. It quickly became clear to me that these children had stories characterised by pain, and were dealing with significant trauma.

I witnessed first hand the struggles they faced as they were torn away from their families and forced to deal with strong emotions of fear, shame, rejection, anger (and many more), whilst trying to settle in an unfamiliar family and contend with the effects of whatever caused them to be brought into care.

As I began to understand some of the daily battles these children faced and built relationships with them, I developed a sense of solidarity. Of course, there were challenges and times I got hurt growing up in a fostering family, but the experience cultivated in me a deeper sense of empathy and resilience. I developed a conviction that I had to do what I could to relieve some of the trauma vulnerable children face.

Helping children

Although I knew from a young age that fostering was something I wanted to do, I never imagined that my fostering journey would begin at 22 years old. It was experiences in my late teens and early twenties that created in me an urgency to do something about the injustice vulnerable children face.

I went on some overseas trips to Uganda and Kenya and spent time with children and families living in extremely difficult circumstances. As I built relationships with these families and gained insight into their hardships, my heart was so deeply challenged by the question: what am I doing to relieve the suffering of vulnerable children and families in this world?

I returned from Kenya with this question heavily on my heart and dived straight into my first year of teaching. That was such a crazy, busy year and I have to admit that the workload and new responsibilities caused me to put this thought on the back burner for a little while.

At the end of my NQT year, I stepped back and realised that the busyness had caused me to change some of my priorities. I reflected on this for a long time and decided that I wanted vulnerable children to be my first priority. I was aware that I could play a significant role in vulnerable children’s lives as their teacher, but I felt there was more that needed to be done. It was at this point that I decided to begin to the fostering assessment process.

Getting into fostering

As I went through the assessment process, many fears and doubts flooded my mind: am I too young? Am I crazy for choosing single parenting? Will this end my social life? Will it negatively affect my dating life? Will the goodbyes break me beyond what I can bear? As I told people about my intentions to become a foster carer, many were supportive but some didn’t understand why I would choose this path at 22.

Wrestling with these questions and receiving all these opinions made this time very confusing for me. It took a lot of thinking, praying and reflecting before I realised that I had to trust that I knew what was right for me. My experiences so far and the burden on my heart for the vulnerable had led me to this place and I had to decide between giving in to the fear of the unknown or courageously stepping into it. At this point, I threw myself in wholeheartedly, and I’m so glad I did.

Why I love being a foster carer

I’ve now been fostering for just over two years, and I can honestly say it has been the best and most worthwhile thing I have ever done. Two beautiful children have taken refuge in my home in that time, and I have had to pinch myself every day at the thought that I get to be the one who shows up for them, roots for them, celebrates them and watches them blossom in spite of every obstacle.

I have learnt that no matter the child’s story, loving them can turn things around for them (slowly, sometimes, but surely). I’ve seen them change their damaged perceptions of themselves, others and the world around them and learn to trust again. It is an absolute honour to be able to step into their lives and impact the trajectory. Of course, there have been challenges and it feels very vulnerable to love a child so much whilst knowing that they will leave my care one day. The goodbyes are without a doubt the toughest part and there is no way around the heartache. But I would rather involve myself in the trauma, mess and heartache of fostering than step back and turn my eyes from these children for fear of getting hurt.

My advice for potential foster carers

To others who may be thinking about fostering, I would say trust what your heart is telling you. The timing may seem inconvenient, your family dynamics may seem unconventional, you may feel unqualified and there will be a lot of unknowns. I related to all these things, have but I knew I had to trust that this path was meant for me.

Looking back at that list of doubts, I realise that, no, I wasn’t too young; I was eager to take on a new challenge and ready to learn. No, I wasn’t crazy for choosing single parenting; I had a support network around me and would never feel I was doing this alone. No, it didn’t end my social life; my social life looks a little different now but I have gained so many new friends and maintained precious friendships too. No, it didn’t have a negative effect on my dating life; I am now dating the most wonderful man who loves the heart behind fostering too. Yes, the goodbyes do break me, but that is, in my opinion, a small price to pay for the potential of helping a child to find hope. I could have missed all the beautiful moments of fostering for the fear of the painful goodbyes, but I am so glad I didn’t.

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