The thing that got us into fostering was taking in some foreign students one year.
We had a Russian girl, then a Japanese boy, an Italian girl, then two Spanish girls.
Other half had been working at the local college when the cry went out for more homes for the students who came to study English.
We were nervous at first.
Who would we get?
Would they be happy with our house?
We figured they'd come from well-to-do homes if they could afford months of study and accomodation fees.
We also figured that because they came from well off homes they'd have their heads screwed on. Nothing could have been further from the truth.
We had to deal with; an unwanted pregnancy where the girl couldn't tell her extremely Catholic parents so we had to sort things for her, a student with chronic loneliness and another who had the opposite of home-sickness; she couldn't bear the thought of going home once she'd found some peace - of being away from her father.
The cream of the crop was a firebrand girl, most popular student in the college with girls and boys, and no moral compass at all; a tea-leaf, a man eater. Used to drink a bottle of vodka before heading out on a Friday night, got brought home one night by the police. Her dad's money came from what she called a night club in Estonia, but it turned out it was a casino/brothel.
We enjoyed a full house, the students amused our children round the table, but it was a challenge to our parenting skills.
Then we remembered that when we married and planned our lives together (on the back of an envelope), we'd talked about fostering one day. It couldn't be harder than what we were doing, so I did some digging and Blue Sky's name kept coming up.
I made the phone call, liked the woman I spoke to, and before I knew it we were being visited and chatted to. That's all, just chatted to, once a month. It was cosy and rather enjoyable; they were interested in our lives, our childhoods, our chidren and our wider families, warts and all. They didn't make notes or anything as I remember; they must have written things up afterwards.
The process took about six months. I've often wondered why; they could have done it in a fortnight with a session every other day. I'm going to ask one day (there always seems so many other things to talk about once you're signed up). I'm guessing they need to get to know you over a period of time, and ensure you have stickability.
The part of the process that stays in my mind is the period around what's called "Panel'. It's the final stage of the process of becoming a foster parent. You go before a bunch of people each of whom have various connections to Blue Sky and fostering generally. They ask a few questions, they usually have a good idea of the answers if they'd had a look at your file. It's very friendly, but still calls for a deep breathe.
They've already sent someone round to do a Risk Assessment. Our man asked us to get rid of the glass topped coffee table (didn't like it anyway, took it to the charity shop) and to put a safety net over the garden water feature (chicken wire did it).
It's a period where you feel like Neil Armstrong strapped into Apollo on the ground waiting for the whole kiboodle to start. How did we feel? I don't know about other half, but I felt like I was eight and it was Christmas Eve. I knew there'd be some surprises under the tree but that what was to come would be warm, memorable, nourishing, exciting, chaotic and slightly life-changing.
If you foster too, I expect you'll remember that feeling of sitting on the tarmac listening to the countdown.
If you are thinking about it, do it.
It's one small step for a man, but a giant leap for some poor kids out there.