A speech was written by EPIC Youth Council member, Emily Hanbidge, for Tusla’s National Fostering Week.
This annual public awareness campaign was launched by Lord Mayor of Dublin, Daithí de Róiste, in the Mansion House on Monday 16 October. Its purpose is to encourage people from all walks of life and all communities across Ireland to consider fostering to provide a loving and stable home environment for vulnerable children and young people. In her speech, Emily share’s her experience of foster care and encourages people to “take that leap of faith and foster a child.”
My name is Emily, and I am a member of the EPIC, Empowering People in Care Youth Council. I would like to thank Tusla for inviting me here today to share my story of my positive experience in foster care.
I joined the EPIC Youth Council because I wanted to play my part in helping foster children find their voices, and to help end the stigma that can affect some foster children. Some people seem to think that if you are a foster child that you are damaged goods, which is so not the case. In fact, it’s the polar opposite.
Foster kids are brave to a fault, they are seriously resilient and compassionate. A lot of foster children go into fields that require caring for others, such as teachers, therapists, and social workers, among other professions. I have a million other positive words I could use for foster children.
Because of people that foster, who choose to give a great child a fresh start, and who enable them to be the best they can be, it is my experience that children in foster care thrive and succeed when given the opportunity. All a foster child needs is love, patience, compassion, understanding, and to feel seen and heard. And here is a perfect example of what being in a foster family can do for a child.
I was fostered for the first time between the ages of 1 and 2, into Babara and Alfie’s care. Then I returned to my natural family. When I was 6, I went back into the care of Barbara and Alfie again. I will always remember going into care at 6 years old.
It was the 26th of May. Christina, my social worker, took my big bright blue bag and popped it into the car. Then I had to say goodbye to my family. They were all crying. I didn’t fully understand why. Then I got into the car and the worst song was being played as we went down the road. It was “You Raise Me Up” by Josh Groban. A terrible song for what was happening in that moment. Then we got to my foster parents’ house.
I remember being petrified, uneasy and upset. Barbara, aka Mammy, was standing at the door waving. I stayed behind my social worker as we approached. Mam was trying to say hi, but I was deadly quiet, and anyone that knows me knows I’m far from quiet! We went through the hallway to the sitting room. There was a sofa to my left, 2 armchairs, and another couch where my siblings, all their friends, and Alfie were sitting.
We walked straight by them into the kitchen, and mam persuaded me to go and see Lady our Labrador. Then mam called me in to have dinner and all 9 of my siblings were sitting down already. She had made roast chicken. I will never forget it. It was the first meal I had had in about a week. It was fabulous and the start of many good things to come.
I was in foster care for about a month when mam was clearing out the hot-press. She came across a tiger teddy and handed it to me saying “I kept this. It was yours when you were here last time.”
In that moment I had a massive sense of belonging. Now, it wasn’t always easy in our home. No home is ever always easy. But it is my home even now, and it was, and is, still a pretty amazing place.
So, I guess what I’m trying to say is that fostering kids is one of the best things you will ever do because you literally change someone’s life for the better, and you get so much from it from what my mam says. She often talks about her experience, and how much she learned about the resilience and compassion a foster child has, and how much she learned to love through fostering.
We know that children who can’t live with their natural families do best in loving foster homes. Research shows that children raised in a family unit, either foster care or relative care, thrive, and achieve the best outcomes.
I was fostered, and I got a good home with stable parents. I was the first person in my natural family to do a Junior Cert and Leaving Cert. I’m working full time and got accepted to college. I have held down a stable job for 3 years and I rent in Dublin. I volunteer with a number of organisations, and I genuinely try and help anyone at any point I can.
In comparison, I have a sister who is very similar to me, and who is 21. Unlike me, she was raised in residential care. She did her Junior Cert and then dropped out of Youth Reach. She moved into a flat on her own. It was a tip, and she couldn’t manage her money enough to pay her bills. This is because living in institutional care doesn’t give you the life skills that a foster family does. She ended up homeless on people’s couches. So, let’s do our part and make sure no child is left behind the way my sister was.
I hope my story helps you to see why it’s so important for people to take that leap of faith and foster a child. Your kindness will literally save lives and create a better world. Like my foster mother says, you will grow as a person if you take this step.