Pre-adoptive Foster Care
To provide care for babies who have been placed for adoption. This may involve attendance at a maternity hospital and the subsequent care of the child until they are 18 months
|Support a young child to move onto a permanent family home|
“The night before the adoptive parents arrive, I could have a restless night wondering what they’ll be like and will they be a good match for this gorgeous baby. But then when I see how they are with the baby… it’s lovely. It’s so surreal… very emotional… very, very emotional.”
So says Kathryn, from Raheny, in Dublin, who, together with her husband Ken, have opened their home and their hearts, becoming pre-adoptive carers to new-born babies whose mums need some time and breathing space to decide what's best for their baby.
For 12 years, Kathryn and Ken have been providing a loving, stable environment for infants whose birth mothers have not been in the position to do so. Typically, the couple would care for a child for anywhere between seven and 10 months while a step-by-step selection process for adoptive parents takes place in the background.
Once that process is complete, a carefully synchronised handover occurs from carer to adoptive parent; it is a time that is charged with emotion.
“There’s always a fear that things might not run smoothly” says Ken of the transition process. “But it’s so wonderful to see the happiness of the adoptive parents when they get to meet the child… It’s like a dream come true for a couple.
“You can’t begin to imagine what they may have been through, and now, finally are about to become parents. It is also good to know that the birth mother has had an input in the selection of the adoptive parents.”
It’s an emotional journey nonetheless for Kathryn and Ken, who naturally grow attached to their little charges. In one unusual case, they cared for a child for almost two years.
“We did have a huge bond with her. It was difficult letting her go – she was a real character,” says Ken. “In that case, when it came up to the seventh month and it looked like the care would have to continue, it was suggested that she could move on to other carers, but we said we’d prefer that she stayed with us until her long-term future was sorted.”
But support was there from Tusla with regular visits and calls from social workers to make sure everything was okay for the couple. The same support process applies to every case.
“The social worker is always at the end of the phone and always available. There’s a social worker for the baby, another for the mum, and one for the pre-adoptive parents, all giving support,” he adds.
There is financial support, too, with a weekly allowance of €325 per child to provide a good standard of care for each child being cared for – not that money is a motivation when it comes to care.
When the babies do move on there is a sense of loss, says Kathryn. “There’s a sadness when you’re packing everything away… the sterilisers, the cot… but then a call will come, and you’ll start again if you’re ready.”
And when that call does come, Kathryn and Ken are ready to respond to help the babies.
Says Kathryn: “They are a vulnerable little bundle that needs looking after. Once you clap eyes on them, you’re instantly in love. When I meet the birth mother first, usually at the hospital, I tell them: I love your baby already and I will take great care of him or her.”
“We love them when they are here with us. We know they are not going to be our babies,” adds Ken. “We’re doing this for the sake of the child. It’s not about us – the child is at the centre of everything.”
As pre-adoptive carers, the couple treat the babies as if they were their own.
Once the adoptive parents have been chosen, a two-week transition and familiarisation process begins. The first week is based in the foster carers’ home and the second week is based in the adoptive parents’ home.
“After the baby moves, there are three further visits to the adoptive parents’ home, each a fortnight apart. This lets the baby know that we are still around,” he adds.
It’s a sensitively done, choreographed process, monitored by Tusla social workers who liaise with each party involved along the way – but then that’s no surprise when the very future of a baby is at stake.
Kathryn and Ken are easy-going people, low key and very modest about the amazing role they have taken on – to nurture the most helpless and innocent in society. Not only that, but as they do so they are keeping a meticulous record for the future and the time when the child is an adult who wants to know of their upbringing.
“We take photos, keep records – the weight of the baby, developmental checks, milestones and hand them over as a record when the child is leaving us,” says Ken.
The couple, who have three children of their own, first started pre-adoptive fostering in 2009 when they were in their late 40s, and their children were teenagers. Since then, they have helped raise 10 babies… most of whom they still have contact with and whose adoptive parents they now count as friends.
“It’s like an extended family,” says Kathryn. “We get photos and updates of the children as the years go by, or they’ll come and visit. The present list has grown over the years – there’ll be cards and gifts, and they’ll come to our house at Christmas.
“My parents think they’re getting extra grandkids when we bring them over to visit,” she adds.
Surely there must be some downsides though?
“Sleepless nights,” laughs Kathryn. “But they’re so gorgeous… our babies… so cute that even though they might have you awake three times a night, you wake up the next morning, get a smile and all is good.”
Ken does have one regret – but it’s one that highlights the calibre of this great couple.
“We held off doing it for a while – we weren’t sure the time was right. But in hindsight, maybe we should have done it sooner. There never really is a ‘right’ time to do these things,” he says.
The couple say they will continue as pre-adoptive foster carers for a few more years before putting the steriliser away for good. When they do call it a day, though, a big hole will need to be filled.
The bottom line is that Tusla needs more people like Kathryn and Ken to step up and care for the little lives out there who can’t care for themselves.
“People often say to us ‘aren’t you great’ – we’d rather say we’re not great, but fostering is a great thing to do and is very rewarding.”
A great thing, yes – but a hugely important one, too.
Kathryn and Ken are two of almost 4,000 foster carers from all walks of life who provide loving homes to more than 5,200 children.
To find out more about becoming a foster carer, see fostering.ie, call freephone 1800 226 771, email email@example.com