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LGBTQ+ Foster Carers Podcast: Why Fostering Is So Rewarding

At Five Rivers we find it important to dispel the misconceptions around LGBTQ+ fostering as we believe that anyone who truly wants to turn children’s lives around would make a great foster carer, which includes those from LGBTQ+ communities.

We recently partnered with Some Families, the UK’s first LGBTQ+ parenting podcast series, to share Annabelle and Sally’s fostering journey. We hope the podcast will help to dispel myths, raise awareness and encourage potential LGBTQ+ foster carers to find out more about how rewarding fostering is.

Annabelle and Sally’s Story

LGBTQ foster carers
Annabelle was approached to be interviewed after speaking about the misconceptions around LGBTQ+ fostering earlier this year. A foster carer from Wiltshire, Annabelle and her partner Sally have been fostering with us since 2013. During this time they have provided a loving, safe home for 10 young people. They are currently long-term foster carers to three siblings who they are hoping to adopt later this year.

You can read more about her story here.


Being a LGBTQ+ Foster Carer & Why It’s So Rewarding

Hosts Lotte Jeffs and Stu Oakley quizzed Annabelle about her experience of being a foster carer. We hear how they started their journey and how a significant part of their decision to foster with us was based on the training and 24 hour support they’re given. Annabelle shares her insight into how early trauma can impact children and gives practical examples of the parenting approaches they’re supported to use to care for the children they look after.

Annabelle touches on some of the myths around fostering and how keen she is to dispel them to encourage more people to give fostering a go. We hear about how their three children arrived, a touching account of how they made their house and home for them and how their extended family have become such an important part of their children’s lives.

Annabelle also sheds light on how being a same-sex couple has never hindered their fostering journey but has, in some cases, helped them to offer a more suitable home. She gives an example of a young person whose early life experiences meant they were better placed with women.

Fostering with Five Rivers

It’s estimated that up to a third of LGBTQ+ people think they will face insurmountable hurdles because of their sexual orientation and do not pursue a fostering career. At Five Rivers Child Care, sexual orientation will never be a barrier to fostering. We have a significant number of LGBTQ+ carers within our service. The Five Rivers fostering family is made up of carers from all walks of life, including people from the LGBTQ+ community. We are proud of the inclusive and diverse nature of our support groups as we believe this adds to the richness of discussion and helps create a culture where we can all learn from each other. We are also proud to work with New Family Social, who help agencies to develop their services to be as LGBTQ+ inclusive and friendly as possible.

“Our situation is so rewarding, we can’t now imagine our life without these children in them.”

“The three children we have, we have an incredible bond with.”

Annabelle’s story is heart-warming; her passion, empathy and commitment is palpable. We would like to thank Annabelle and Sally for sharing their story to raise awareness of LGBTQ+ fostering.

We’re privileged to work with so many amazing carers who make all the difference to turn children’s lives around. We need to recruit more foster carers so if you’re interested and want to find out more, please get in touch today to start your journey:

The number of children needing foster care has risen by 44% during the Coronavirus pandemic, meaning there’s a greater need, now more than ever, for foster carers. If you’d like to find out more about fostering with Five Rivers Child Care, book a call with our fostering team. Whether you’re just starting out or are an experienced foster carer, you can apply to foster online.


Text Transcript

Stu Oakley: Hello, listener. Welcome to Some Families. I am Stu Oakley, a dad of three…

Lotte Jeffs: And I am Lotte Jeffs, a mum of a little girl who is about to turn two, and we’re here to talk about all sorts of LGBTQ+ parenting issues, and to invite some parents, who are parents by all sorts of different means, to talk to us about their experiences.

Stu: And if you are new, a very, very warm welcome to you, but if you’re an old timer, it’s lovely to see you. So, Lotte, how have you been this week?

Lotte: I just feel like weeks are merging into weeks, and I… I don’t know if I know who I am anymore. It’s funny not having the normal signifiers of my daily life around me; I’m a mum, at home, and I’ve not left my local area for three months. How are you?

Stu: I am very good. I completely hear you, days just fall into one. We escaped to the beach, this week, as the lockdown rules did get relaxed slightly, but even a day out of the house could not take away from the fact that the kids are just so intense sometimes, and I think they’re getting to the age now, especially as my middle son is now two and a half, and his elder sister is four, they just destroy the house. Like, the amount of things they have broken, over the past few weeks, or… it’s just… it just becomes just… just a normal, everyday thing now, and I think that’s something maybe I’ve got to get used to, from here until they’re in their teenage years, and maybe beyond. But, you know, new pairs of lovely sunglasses I’ve bought for them, or pieces of photography we have on the wall, or appliances, you name it, they smash it, they break it. But I’m not going to complain, because, this week, we are speaking to someone who is used to the ups and downs. I’m really excited that we get to speak to a foster carer, and so we spoke to Annabelle Avis, who is a foster carer that lives in Swindon.

Lotte: We spoke to Annabelle, who, along with her wife, Sally, have been fostering since 2013, and they have had ten children in their care, during that time, all different ages, all different backgrounds, life experiences, personalities. I mean, can you imagine what it takes?

Stu: We got a really good sense of what life must be like as a foster carer, and life as an LGBTQ+ foster carer, when we spoke to Annabelle. So we really hope you enjoy.

– – – – –

Lotte: Talk to us about what it’s like being in lockdown at the moment with them.

Annabelle: It’s definitely interesting, more than normal, but we’ve actually got… we’ve found we’ve got quite a nice mix of the school work, and the family time, and the exercise and the activities. So, so far, nobody is complaining about being bored, which is great; everybody’s managed to, you know, stay in one piece, so we’re going to call it a win.

Lotte: How many kids do you have living with you, at the moment, and…

Annabelle: Three.

Lotte: …what are their ages?

Annabelle: So the oldest is 15, and we have two younger siblings, who are 10 and 9.

Stu: And how long have they been with you?

Annabelle: So the eldest is just coming up for five years now, and the younger two are three and a half years.

Lotte: Let’s rewind, and start back at the… at the beginning. Maybe we could even start with how and when you met your wife, and the first conversations you had about parenting.

Annabelle: We used to work together, a long time ago, got back in contact in 2011. She was at a residential school for children and young people with autism. A few conversations later, and we, sort of, talked about the fact that it’s something that I would like to do, so I ended up applying for the same job that she was doing, and I went to work at the same school. And then the rest, as they say, is history. We really, really enjoyed what we did, at the residential school, but we found that we had more to give, and even though some of the children at the school were there for 52 weeks of the year, they never went home, and they didn’t have… some of them didn’t have a huge amount of visitors, so we felt that maybe we could do it in our home, and be able to give that little bit more. So that’s, kind of… it sort of snowballed quite quickly, from there, but that’s how we first had the conversation that we could have children in our home, and do similar to what we do at the school, but maybe do it better.

Stu: Was there ever a conversation between you and your wife about having children of your own, via any form of means, such as adoption, or even donor conception or surrogacy?

Annabelle: Yeah, we did have the conversation. My wife was… she was very clear that, if we wanted to have a baby, that was fine, but I was going to be the one that had to carry it. We had the conversation that we felt there were enough children out there that probably needed a loving home, and that, actually, the position we were in was that we could do that; there were enough children that needed it, so we just started to look at the adoption and the fostering, rather than, I think, having our own, at that point.

Lotte: What was the first step?

Annabelle: So we did a lot of… we tried to do a lot of research. So we were doing a lot of research on the internet, and we did look at adoption – we were looking at what was going to be best – but we felt… what was coming through, from the internet, and what we felt a lot, was around the training that you get with fostering. And we felt that, you know, adoption and fostering, the children have so many needs, and so many differences, that we were kind of wondering how prepared we would be; we were quite well skilled in the autism area, but we were wondering how well skilled we would be with other difficulties. So we decided that, actually, rather than just going with adoption, and feel like we didn’t know enough, we went down the fostering route, we knew there was a lot of training, and support and help. We ended going with an independent fostering agency, that we felt gave a really good amount of support and training to the… to the carers in our area, and they rung us, Five Rivers agency were the first ones to ring us, and it just… that was it. Everything they said cemented what we thought, we felt it was the right thing for us to do, and we just ran with it.

Stu: So how long was the process, then, from applying to the agencies, to then being fully approved as foster carers?

Annabelle: The process of application was about six, and then there was a couple of months, after getting through approval, we had a couple of respite placements, before we went to a full-time placement. So it was about eight months, from beginning to end, so plenty of time to get our heads around it, and be prepared enough for when the first child arrived.

Lotte: How does that compare to adoption, Stu? Is that about the same timeline?

Stu: I think that it sounds quite similar. You know, the training process you go through is fairly rigorous. I’m curious to know what kind of training processes you go through.

Annabelle: We’re very lucky to have a training capacity in our agency that, basically, within reason, most things we ask for, we get. So if there’s a specific need comes up, that hasn’t arose before, we can generally put it forward as a good idea. But yeah, a lot around the trauma, that’s one of the more significant training we do. We do a lot of PACE training, like therapeutic training, and things, which always helps; a lot of things that enable us, and give us the skills that we need, to do the role that we do.

Lotte: Have you found that that kind of training, and all those things you’ve learnt, have helped you as people, and in your relationship, as much as it’s helped you as foster parents?

Annabelle: Definitely, yes. I often feel… I often feel that other parents don’t get this; other parents don’t have this help, and support, and this 24-hour person on the end of a phone, that can help us with, when a really difficult situation arises that no one’s expecting. You know? Everybody gets them, but we have people that help us, and not everybody has that, do they?

Stu: Without putting you on the spot, Annabelle, could you explain what PACE is?

Annabelle: So it’s all about therapeutic parenting. So we’re talking about turning everything around, so that you… we don’t get in those standoffs, and those difficult situations, where, “I’ve said you’re going to do something, and we’re not moving until you do,” it’s about turning it around, and… it’s about playful, one of them is playful, and the curiosity of trying to figure out why the child is doing what they’re doing, and trying to get to a point where we can make sure that we don’t come to this situation again. It’s very different to normal parenting, therapeutic parenting; it just turns everything around, and we find it’s… it’s much more mindful, it doesn’t get into the heated discussions, and the, “I’ve said you must, so you must.” It gives us a different view on things, so that we can deal with the strange and bizarre situations in a different way, I guess.

Lotte: Do you think that the very fact that you’re not the parents, you’re the foster parents of these kids, creates a bit of emotional distance that means it’s easier to do that kind of very mindful and thoughtful parenting, rather than reacting emotionally to things?

Annabelle: Yeah, I suppose it must do, in a sense. I mean, you know, when we’ve had children with us for five years, you know, the bond is very good. And it’s probably different for everybody, depending on how long you’ve had the child, and what kind of connection you have with them, but we are… we are very fortunate that, the three children we have, we have an incredible bond with, because they’re all staying with us, and we don’t have to worry about them leaving, or others coming, and it just… we’re just a family unit, and that makes it easier for us.

Stu: Yeah. So could you talk a little about your family unit, being a same-sex couple, and potentially how that’s affected, or not affected, your role as a foster carer?

Annabelle: Everything I do, everybody always asks, has it ever hindered us? You know? Does it ever get in the way? And our honest answer is it’s never, never hindered us, at all. If anything, it’s actually given us a leg up on other people. We had a situation, at the beginning, when our first placement, our first child that came to us full time, she didn’t want to live with a man. She had really bad relationships, and she didn’t want to. And we were up against… there was another couple, a male and female couple up against us, and, obviously, we were felt as the better match, because she wanted to live with women, and not a man. So, in some circumstances, I think we are… we were given the better circumstance, so we… we got the child. So it made life easier, and I think the other couple didn’t have the same situation we did. So I think there’s different children, different situations, and I think we can actually sometimes be the right match, in a same-sex couple, which is… is better, I guess.

Lotte: I suppose there’s a number of LGBTQ kids that need fostering. Have you experienced of taking gay and bi, trans kids into your home?

Annabelle: None, up ‘til now, and we won’t be for a few years, because we’re full now, for the next three years. We have got other carers in our local area, that have often reached out to us, if they have an issue, or some… they want some support, or just somebody to speak to, so it kind of works around, even if it’s not in our home.

Stu: That’s really… that’s really nice, that you’ve got that support network…

Annabelle: Yes.

Stu: …that they can lean on you, and you can lean on them. And are there many other LGBTQ+ foster carers in your area, that you know of?

Annabelle: With our agency, we’ve got three sets in Swindon, in our area. There are many more, further afield, but yeah, three in our area, which is… which is quite nice.

Lotte: And when the kids first come to you, do they… what do they know about you, before they move in? What’s the process?

Annabelle: So, ideally, on a proper move, they are given, like, a welcome booklet, with our photo in, and a picture of our dogs, and our house. It’s supposed to be done where we meet the children. So, with one child that was here, we did get to meet them, several times, and we got to know them before they moved in, and it was lovely. And then, with the younger siblings that we had, it was classed as an emergency; it was phone call at lunchtime, “Can you have them?” there by teatime. There’s no time for photos, so it was just a, “Here they are,” and you’re just straight in.

Lotte: Are any of them surprised that you’re two women, married to each other? Does that… is that, kind of, a question that comes up from the kids?

Annabelle: It’s never come up yet. It’s more their friends. So we’ve had a couple of the playground questions of, “But aren’t you married?” “Yes, we’re married,” and you know the… sort of, the quizzical look, and then they just go, “Okay,” and skip off to play. So… but our children, themselves, haven’t… they haven’t questioned it, they just accept it is what it is. And one of the children will often say that she’s going to marry a woman, and we make a point of saying that, you know, “You marry whoever you want to marry,” but they’ve already got it in their heads that they can marry whoever… you know, a man or a woman. So I think that’s a nice thing.

Stu: And how do you divide up the, kind of, work with the children between you? Do you find that you’ve got defined roles?

Annabelle: [Laughs]. We kind of have. I do the pink jobs, and Sally tends to do the blue jobs. I do personal care, I’m doing all the schoolwork, at the moment; Sally tends to do gardening, and sort of does the outside jobs, I would call it, with them. The… you know, pumping up the bike tyres, and… so we have… just our normal roles, how we are. I do the more motherly stuff, so it kind of… it just works for us.

Stu: Do they… what do the children call you? Your eldest sometimes refers to you as mum; how do they refer to your wife, as well?

Annabelle: So we tend to be Mum One and Mum Two.

Stu: Numerical mums.

Annabelle: Yeah. [Laughs].

Stu: [Laughs]. How did you decide who was going to be One and who was going to be Two?

Annabelle: They came up with it. So I think it… we based it more on the maternal side, that I tend to do the mothering stuff, so that’s how they’ve gone with it.

Stu: When it comes to children moving on from your house, and it’s something I am particularly interested in, as an adoptive parent, I feel must be such a huge challenge, is the time you have to say goodbye to them.

Annabelle: I think the difference with fostering is that the ones that have left us have… one wanted to leave, so I think that was a very different situation. She was at a point where she just wanted… she kept running away, to go home, she really wanted to be at home, and we were quite far from home, so the decision was made that she needed to be closer to home, really, for her safety. So it was what she wanted, so that kind of made the decision a little bit easier. And the other one was easier, in the sense that we knew he wasn’t staying long term. He was always going home, we were always trying to get him back home, that was the goal, so we worked well to do that. So, actually, it was a happy ending, to… in fact, for both of them, it was a happy ending, because they both got what they wanted, at the end of the day. So it makes our jobs a little bit easier, if they’re on board, and it’s what they want; I’m sure moving a child that doesn’t want to be moved is, you know, a whole another ball game. But we haven’t… touch wood, we haven’t got to that point, and had to do that, at all, yet.

Stu: And have you ever had children in your care that have gone on to adoption?

Annabelle: No, we haven’t.

Stu: Oh, okay.

Annabelle: No, but we’re looking at adopting our younger two siblings; we’re hoping to do it later this year, we’re just starting the process. So, again…

Lotte: Ah…

Annabelle: …it’s not a quick process.

Lotte: …congratulations. Did that just feel like a natural thing that happened for you? Or?

Annabelle: Because of their ages, it just… it just felt like the right decision. It’s what they want, and it’s what we want, and the family…

Lotte: So they’re the young ones?

Annabelle: Yes. Yeah. And we got the family on board; the family are happy with the decision, as well. So everyone’s happy with it, so it just feels like the most natural way to go, so we’ve just got to get through all the red tape now.

Lotte: Do you think anything will feel different for you, emotionally?

Annabelle: I don’t think so. I think we’re fully… as fully invested as we can be, at this moment, but… who knows. I… I suppose, having that piece of paper… they’re desperate to change their names, they want the name change, is what they… what they would like. So yeah, maybe seeing it on paper. We’re fully invested, and it’s what we really want, and we feel like it… we’re already there; we’ve got to just go through the red tape, I guess, to make it official. But we did tell them we would have a… you know, a huge celebration, when it’s official, and make it a big party, and do it properly, so we will get to celebrate it.

Lotte: And how do you and your wife’s families feel about you being foster carers?

Annabelle: My parents are fully thrown into it. They’re… they are grandma and grandad. They take their role very seriously, and they… the children are treated the same as all of the other children in the family. It’s really nice that they are fully integrated. Again, because they’re staying with us long term, they’ve been able to have that connection from the beginning, and not know that the children are coming and going. And I think that makes it different for our extended family, as well, to know that these ones are… they didn’t treat the ones that were only staying short term differently, but I think they’ve got the bond with the ones that are staying long term, that they can actually have that connection, as grandma and grandad.

Stu: Somebody who’s listening to this may be going through the adoption process. I think, for a lot of adoptive parents, there is a great sense of anxiety around the process of introductions, and…

Annabelle: Yeah.

Stu: …going into a foster carer’s home, and basically moving in, and slowly taking over the care of the children themselves, and it’s a very daunting process. Is there a bit of advice, from the training you’ve had, or from the foster network you speak to, that you would give to those adoptive parents who might be about to face that situation?

Annabelle: We’ve seen… one of our close friends did it, as a carer, and we went through the whole process. So, you know, we watched it very closely, with the new parents coming in, and meeting the children, and then stepping it up a gear, and doing meetings at their house. And it was really nice to see them go on to their forever home. I guess the only advice I would have was that, you know, often the foster carers are just as nervous as the adoptive parents, because, you know, everybody wants it to work out, we all want it to work, and it’s working together to make it work, isn’t it?

[Advert Break 17.34-18.38].

Annabelle: …I guess.

Stu: So if somebody is listening to this, and they’re thinking about becoming a foster parent, or they’ve always been in the back of their mind, that they wanted to be a foster parent, are there any myths out there, that you think are not true, and that you’d like to see broken down, about foster carers?

Annabelle: Yeah. I mean, we were told… at the… initially, we were told to expect… expect to have our windows smashed. You know? Expect to have our doors broken; expect to have our homes disrupted. And, you know, for some people, that is true, for some situations, things like that do happen, but actually, for the majority of people we know, and in our group, everybody has got what I would call very normal family lives. You know? Apart from the… if you want to look at the trauma-related issues, or the attachment issues that children have, everything else is very normal. You know? I’ve never had a window smashed – I touch wood, when I say it – we’ve never had our house smashed up. You know? We’ve got what I would call a normal family unit. And I think people don’t feel like that happens, in fostering; people think it’s all the… all the bad stuff, all the negatives that you hear. Which, you know, they do go on, but if it’s the right match, if the child is the right match for you, then it’s different. And I think people don’t… I’ve seen carers come in, and have the wrong match, so it doesn’t work out very well, and then they get disheartened and lose hope, but, actually, a year down the line, with the right match, they suddenly start to see what we see, and that, actually, we can make a difference.

Lotte: Can you talk a bit more about the matching process? Is it the same as it is with adoption, where you’re able to choose the children who are right for you and your family?

Annabelle: Yeah, so 99% of the time, so we’ll get… we get a referral, it’ll come through saying which area is looking for foster carers, and it’ll give a description of the child, and the needs, it might say if they need to stay at their local school, so you can look at the geographical logistics of getting them where they need to be, and then you can put yourself forward, and say, “Yes, I think this is a good match.” But what often happens, unfortunately, is that it becomes more of an emergency, and it’s sometimes a phone call, “There’s a child needs placing today,” and the information you get then is very, very sparse. But most carers I know don’t turn the children away, we take them in anyway, and then the information filters through, a little bit further down the line. We are supposed to choose the right matches for us. And social workers will often say… our supervising social workers will often say, “I think this is the right match for your family, as well,” because they know us well; but sometimes it is just a case of a child needs a home, or a bed for the night, and…

Lotte: Mm.

Annabelle: …you take them in, and see what happens.

Stu: Have you ever had, or known of others that have experienced challenges from the birth family having issues with the foster carers? Not that, necessarily, under the circumstances they’re in, that they have a say, but I was just interested in knowing if there has been anything that has arisen.

Annabelle: Only one. In all of our history, and everybody I know, only one situation, and I think that was down to religious reasons. And it didn’t… it didn’t massively affect us, we were just let know that it was a problem, and we needed to tread carefully, so we did, and it was fine. It didn’t really turn into anything, so that wasn’t a problem. But I think… it wasn’t… it didn’t seem to be a personal issue, it was more about the religion, I think, than anything.

Stu: That’s such a positive to hear…

Annabelle: Yeah.

Stu: …because I think part of the reason we want to do this podcast is to breakdown myths or questions that people may have, that, you know… that, if someone’s wanting to be a foster carer, and they’re worried about prejudice out there…

Annabelle: Yeah.

Stu: …it sounds like, whilst there is some out there, it doesn’t sound like there is a huge deal of it. So…

Annabelle: Yeah.

Stu: …that’s very… that’s heart-warming to hear.

Lotte: Yeah. What is the first day like, when you have a new child in your house?

Annabelle: It’s all very exciting. Everyone’s always a bit nervous, and we always find the children are very hyper, because, obviously, it’s a new setting. But we do everything we can. So we have a very special little cupboard, with multiple quilt covers in, and we always have spare toothbrushes. We have it set up, so when… so the two children, the two younger siblings that came, the call was at lunchtime, they were there at teatime, but they both had a bed made up, with… I want to say one was Lego men, I think, and one was My Little Pony, so something specific to them, that they came in to a bed made, with their own quilt, a teddy on it, they had their own toothbrush, and, you know, the things they don’t… the things they don’t come with, we make sure that they’ve got, at the first instance. And it was a late-night shopping trip to Asda, because we had to quickly supply some clothes, and some pyjamas, and some other bits. So it was about making it special for them. So we love that…

Lotte: Mm.

Annabelle: …that first day, where we’re, “These are your things, this is your room, this is your stuff,” and it makes it more special for them, and then, when we start to buy them the things that they need, it’s making sure we get the things that they like. And it might be… I think it was, like, Batman pants, at one point, somebody loved Batman pants, so we went out of our way to make sure we bought Batman pants. So… and we always talk about, like, how they would like the room, what colours, what decorating, and sometimes it might be as simple as just sticking up a poster, because that’s quick and easy, and just making it theirs. And we normally do that within the first few days; I think that’s one of the most important bits, so making them feel like it’s their home, and settling them in. And then that’s just… that’s the icebreaker for us, really. Once they’ve got their own teddy, their own room, their own quilt set, and their own posters on the wall, it feels like… it starts to feel like home for them.

Lotte: Oh, it’s so sweet. I just can imagine being that kid, and just… maybe it’s even, like, the first time they’ve ever been given those sort of choices…

Annabelle: Possibly.

Lotte: …and how…

Annabelle: Those children that I’m talking about had four moves in one week. They were moved four times in one week.

Lotte: Oh…

Annabelle: They didn’t get to stay anywhere more than one or two nights. So, when they came to us, I think they just expected to move again, the next day. It was the norm, to just arrive…

Lotte: That’s sad.

Annabelle: …sleep, move.

Lotte: Yeah.

Annabelle: So it was nice to break that, and say, “Actually, no, you’re not moving tomorrow, and this is your room, and this is your stuff, and we will be…”

Lotte: Mhmm.

Annabelle: “…taking you to school, and we will be picking you up,” and…

Lotte: Yeah.

Annabelle: …just, kind of…

Lotte: And what do you find are some of the, kind of, biggest challenges, in those first few weeks, with the kids, and behaviour?

Annabelle: It’s… it’s not so bad in the… we always have a honeymoon. We have a lovely honeymoon period, some are longer than others, so that’s always quite nice. The biggest challenge for us will often be the logistics of school runs, clubs, so it might be I’ve got to be at three schools in the space of 20 minutes, and it’s… so I have to… it takes me a couple of weeks to get into the routine, and figure out the best place to be, drop people off, pick up, and work out routes. So we’re quite… we’ve got very good at it. So if we was to be looking at a referral, to bring a child in now, I would have to be looking at, “Can I manage that school run, in amongst the ones I’ve already got now?” So it’s the logistics of running a household, which I guess every parent has to do, but you suddenly have to change your routine, like, in a second; the whole routine has to change tomorrow morning. And it can be quite daunting, I guess, but we do it, we get on with it, we figure out a new route, we figure out our new routine, and our best way of dropping everybody off, where they need to be, and we just do it.

Lotte: How do you and your wife relax, and, like, look after yourselves, and your own relationships?

Annabelle: So we like to have… we don’t… we don’t use the term “respite” with the children, we never have. They like to have sleepovers with family, and we use that. So we’ve got lots of friends and family that help us, and we have… they go to the same people each time. So, maybe every couple of months, they’ll go for a weekend sleepover. And they love going for their sleepovers. They like having… where there’s three children in the home, obviously, one-on-one time can be a little bit challenging, so they love going and having sleepovers, and having that one-on-one time, away from each other. Especially the siblings, they love having a night or two away from each other. So we find that a really big help, to just make sure that we get the odd date night in, or going to the gym, and, you know, going to the spa, and doing the things that we like to do, without having to worry about the children, because we know they’re in good hands, when they’re with our family and friends. So that really helps.

Lotte: We have a character on our show called Aunt Sally, who is no reflection on your wife…

Annabelle: [Laughs].

Lotte: …she just happens to have the same name. She is basically the person that asks the most rude, inappropriate, borderline homophobic, ignorant kind of comments, that makes you feel really frustrated, angry, annoyed. Do you have any Aunt Sally moments that you could share with us?

Annabelle: D’you know what? Unfortunately, I don’t. [Laughs]. I say unfortunately, but that’s probably a good thing, that… everybody always asks, like, but we just haven’t had any situations arise. We’re just so lucky that everybody we know just accepts us for who we are, and supports what we do, and it just… it just seems so… and I think that’s why the kids are okay with it. It just becomes… it’s just… just normal. It’s so normal for us, and it’s normal for the kids, and it just… I don’t know. I don’t know what I’ll do, if anything ever arises, because it’s never been an issue before in my life. So we are very fortunate, that I haven’t had to come across anything.

Lotte: When you meet new people, say, at schools, or at clubs, and stuff, do you say, “I’m their foster parent”? Or do you say, “I’m their parent”?

Annabelle: We used foster… at the moment, we use “foster parent”. That’s… the eldest will often refer to us as “mum” to friends, because she prefers it that way. So we’re trying to take on what the kids want. So the younger ones want the adoption, before we say it, so they’re very much foster carer for now… or foster parent for now, and will be parent. So they want that clear… one is now; when the official paperwork goes through, it’s the other. So we’ve stuck with it for now, so… um. But I think, you know, foster parent is still a… a great title to have.

Stu: Indeed. Especially when you’re doing such a smashing job that you both are doing.

Lotte: That’s amazing. Like, to just be primed for parenting. Like, as I know it, it’s like a gradual thing, that you’re growing with the child…

Annabelle: Yeah, no. [Laughs].

Lotte: …and you’re learning along the way. But it’s, like, you could literally have a baby, a teenager, and each of those phases of a child’s life comes complete with its own challenges. Right? I’m just… impressed, basically, that you know how to do that.

Annabelle: We’re lucky to have the support. So I know… we’ve got a local group, of our carers, and if I was to put a message out saying, “We’ve got a baby coming tonight. Has anyone got any stuff?” I can guarantee you, stuff would be flooding our way. So, you know, we’re really lucky to have that mix of carers, as well, and other people that have had babies, got babies, and have extra. So I know there was… a couple of cots were moved around our group recently, and some highchairs, and things. So it does happen, you know, that people just help each other. It’s… we’re all in the same boat; we can all get any child, at any time, so we have to be prepared.

Stu: And will you ever stop?

Annabelle: We’ve talked about it. So, when our youngest will be 18, Sally will be close to retirement age, not that she’ll admit it, but we have talked about whether we would want to stop, at that point. We’re happy… but we’ve said that, actually, a lot of people still do this in retirement. It’s one of those roles that you can do as much or as little as you want. So even if we were just doing respite, to help people, and doing short-term breaks, or bridging placements, to help children find the right adopters, and things, then it might be something that we can do. So I don’t… I… it’s not on the cards yet, and I can’t see it being on the cards for quite some time, so… and, for the moment, our options are… are keeping firmly open.

Lotte: Aw, brilliant. And do you have any advice for other LGBTQ+ people thinking about fostering?

Annabelle: Just go for it. It is that simple. I just… we just try and tell people to just… just take the plunge. Because it’s one of those things that, once you do it, you don’t look back. And it is very rewarding. Our situation is so rewarding that we can’t now imagine our lives without these children in them, and if we hadn’t taken that plunge, I don’t actually know where we’d be, or what we’d be doing. You know? The situation would be very different. So it is a case of, you know, just do it. It is, literally, just do it.

– – – – –

Lotte: Ah, I found myself getting a little bit emotional, surprisingly, there, talking to Annabelle, Stu. It really touched me, just thinking about being the child, and going into their home for the first time, and maybe it’s, like, the middle of the night, and you’ve just gone from one chaotic situation to another. And then there’s this room for you, with a bed, with a little My Little Pony quilt, and a teddy on your bed, just for you, and your toothbrush, and, like, just how meaningful and comforting that must be for these children. And just feeling so sad for the kids for being in that situation, but also so grateful that people like Annabelle and her wife exist, to take care of them.

Stu: I think it’s people like them, that have just… are so supportive, and mean so much to these kids that do come into care, and they go through so much trauma, and they go through such a huge ordeal, and… and, I mean… and it continues. You know? As I said, a lot of the children that are in foster then go on to adoption. Our foster carers, for our children, they always said the hardest thing that they ever had to see was, sometimes, the children going back to the birth families, when they knew in their hearts, knowing the birth family, and knowing the child, that that was not the right circumstances for them, and they knew it was going to be a repetitive situation. And the things that they see, and the things that they have to deal with, and the unknown, as well, like she was talking about their daily routine could be completely different, from one day to the next…

Lotte: Mm.

Stu: …depending on a call that they get in the middle of the night. Which…

Lotte: Yeah.

Stu: …is incredible.

Lotte: Again, I’m just bowled over by other people’s resilience in parenting, and just that attitude that we had, with the Atwal-Brice family, as well, of just, like, “Well, you just do it, don’t you?”

Stu: Mm.

Lotte: You just get on and do it. I mean, yes, of course, there’s moments where it’s, like, incredibly hard, but just that spirit of… and that energy…

Stu: Mm.

Lotte: …I, kind of, recognised from the Atwal-Brice family, as well, and just… I am so in awe of it, and I guess I wonder if I’ve got it in me.

Stu: My husband’s always wanted to foster…

Lotte: Really?

Stu: …and… yeah. And, actually, he wanted to foster… we had the conversation about fostering before we went into the conversation about adopting. But it was interesting, what Annabelle said, because it’s almost the opposite of what my husband and I did, is that she felt that they wanted to… they wanted to get the… the more training they could get, through fostering, to then be able to look after a child, whereas they didn’t feel they’d get that with adoption. Whereas my point of view was always… I’m totally up for fostering, and I would consider it, in the future, although, having seen what our foster parents have gone through, with our children, and the emotional trauma, almost, that they’ve felt, I… I… that’s where my selfishness comes into it, that I don’t think I could say goodbye to a child that I’ve had, especially an infant. So it’s definitely something I want to look at, in the future, and I’d love to work with somebody like the Albert Kennedy Trust, in the future, who help emergency home teens that have been kicked out of home for LGBTQ-related issues. I think that’s something I’d really be up for in the future. But, right now, with the children, and the ages that they are, it’s not something we’re exploring. I thought it was interesting, what Annabelle said about the PACE parenting, as well, and actually how all parents should have that, and it’s not something that’s widely…

Lotte: Yeah…

Stu: …I think, shared…

Lotte: …it’s funny, isn’t it? You get NCT classes, which teaches you how to deal with the first few days, of birth, and the pregnancy, and that sort of thing. But, like, hello? What about the rest of it?

Stu: If you’re an adoptive parent, you know the word PACE, but if you’re not, I would recommend having a look at some of the books and articles related to PACE.

Lotte: Yeah, I’m definitely going to check that out.

Stu: It stands for Playfulness, Acceptance, Curiosity, and Empathy, and about how you can have those four pillars of parenting in any situation.

Lotte: Oh, that sounds great. Yeah. What did you think about Annabelle’s use of language, and talking about them being a normal family?

Stu: Well, you know what I think about the word “normal”, Lotte. But I think everybody has their own definition of normal, and normal is whatever works for the person in that situation. And, quite frankly, when you’re dealing with children in a care system, and who are dealing with various trauma issues, a sense of normality is so, so important for them, and so I completely understand why, for them…

Lotte: Mm.

Stu: …normal is such a key thing.

Lotte: Yet again, I’ve learnt so much from this podcast, and from just talking to you, Stu, and finding out your experience of adoption, and from all of our amazing guests that we’ve had on. It’s been another great episode.

Stu: It has, and I’ve been really looking forward to speaking to a foster carer. So thank you, Annabelle, for joining us. And if you are thinking about fostering, or if you want to know any more information, we’ve whacked loads of information, of links, etc., into our show notes this week, so you can have a look, and see if there’s anything there that takes your fancy. But I think that’s time for us to wrap it up, Lotte.

Lotte: Yeah, nice to see you, Stu. We’ll see you same time, same place next week.

Stu: I’ll see you around on Zoom, Lotte.

Lotte: Bye!

Stu: Bye!


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