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The Vital Role Of Men In Foster Care

The success of the Foster Care system relies on a community of essential individuals. Both men and women. Men participate as foster carers jointly with their partner, as single carers, and as carers in same sex relationships. These foster carers will often be the first positive male role model in the life of a child or young person. While the importance of men within the Foster Care system is clear, traditionally it has been more challenging for men to enter and remain in this role.male foster carer and two kids playing

The Role of Men and Women in Foster Care
Child care has long been viewed as the remit of women. Historically, economically, socially, men are the workers and women are the child care providers. As society evolves and gender roles shift significantly, it’s still often felt the role of ‘parent’ is assumed to be that of a women. Even in the cases when men are joint foster carers with their partners, they report to feeling slightly overlooked in the process. Viewed as the secondary parent, with the primary caregiver being the female in the relationship.

Challenges Faced
Men who would like to foster and adopt have told of responses from friends and family who don’t recognise or understand why they would want to become a carer. They perhaps don’t recognise the impact it can make or accept the benefits of a man being emotionally invested in the wellbeing of a child or young person in the care system. In some cases men have reported feeling uncomfortable making an application in case people assume they are doing it for the wrong reasons. What’s more, they report literature relating to the foster care and adoption process being geared on the whole towards women. It’s no surprise, then, that many feel their role is viewed as unnecessary.

This is fundamentally wrong. The role of men in the Foster Care system is essential. While it may at times feel overlooked, the significance of having a caring, honest, trustworthy man in the life of a child or young person is invaluable.

Who Can Foster?
It is important to underline that applying to foster is open to all individuals. Regardless of sex, age, marital status, sexual orientation, race, religious beliefs, foster care is a vocation for any individual (or partnership) who feels driven and dedicated to making an improvement in the life, the wellbeing, and the future prospects of a child or young person.

Foster carer Richard Dougherty, with over thirteen years’ experience working with HSC Northern Ireland Foster Care, encourages everyone to consider fostering:
“Don’t rule yourself out. There are many myths around fostering, but I would ask everyone to consider it. People from all walks of life can and do foster. There are challenges, but they are usually small and can be overcome with support from your supervising social worker, and there are great ongoing training opportunities. Don’t let the challenges put you off; it is the most rewarding thing you could do –  to give a child a brighter future.”

Immeasurable Benefit
Children and young people in the Foster Care system have often experienced abuse, or neglect. A high number will have come from homes without a positive male role model and since many adults in the school system are women, they may not have a single positive male role model in their lives. A male foster carer offering a stable, secure home with positive and warm communication could be the first step to recover from negative behaviour in a child’s past. Male foster carers will help to challenge the negative image many children and young people may hold of men they have experienced in their lives to date. In changing this image, they can help them to make better decisions when managing future relationships as they grow up.

The presence of a positive male role model in a child or young person’s life allows them to establish appropriate trust and safety in regards to men. Living with a male foster carer can also shape the way children and young people view the male role in society. Showing them positive involvement in domestic and emotional challenges sets a strong example of how men can and should contribute.

Equally by engaging in leisure activities with children in foster care, reports show that the foster placement itself is more likely to succeed. This sharing of experiences can help build self-esteem and resilience in young people and positively impact how they integrate in schools and society as a whole.

“I like to explore different hobbies that the young people may have. I have a wide range of hobbies and interests that I can share with young people try and develop their own interests as much as I can. I like to attend as much training as possible and there are always training courses available. I like to learn new directions and approaches to deal with the ever-changing world that we are living in and the different complex issues that young people may present with. In the past, I have facilitated some courses. myself, one of them being the Role Of Men In Foster Care which was aimed towards males who quite often are under represented at training courses.”
Pat, who together with his wife has been a foster carer for over 18 years


The Vital Role of Men in Foster Care
It is clear that while gender roles are shifting, more work can be done to properly welcome and encourage the participation of men in the Foster Care system recognising the vital role they play in transforming the lives of children and young people. As the numbers of children in the care system increases year on year in Northern Ireland, it is important that we support them, finding them stable and secure homes for however long they need them. Whether they are welcomed into the home of a single male foster carer, or that of a married couple, the presence of positive role models in the live of this child is key and will continue to yield benefits throughout their lives.