Sunday, June 20, 2010

MCV - “Home is where the heart is” by Andrew Shaw

This is a lovely piece on Gay men as foster carers, an area that gets very little press in Australia.  It is wonderful to hear a wonderful story like this.

Do gay men make good foster carers? Andrew Shaw talks to a teenager who’s found a loving and supportive home.

Two developments recently raised the profile of foster caring in our state. The first concerns those in our community interested in applying to care for a child. The Guidelines for Recruiting and Supporting Gay and Lesbian Carers was produced by the 17-year-old Victorian Foster Care Recruitment Project – and the news is good. In a nutshell: there are not enough foster carers out there and recruiters are being urged to “re-think the family”. According to the guidelines, Victoria needs 1,000 foster carers – approximately twice as many as there are now – and gays and lesbians fit the bill perfectly.

The guidelines dispel many myths and falsehoods about homosexuals. For example, ‘Gay men are more likely to abuse children’. The guidelines assert that credible scientific evidence proves this to be untrue. ‘Gay men and lesbians don’t have stable relationships and cannot provide a nurturing home’ – family process rather than structure is what determines outcomes, according to the guidelines. Most of us have heard these ‘child abuse’ and ‘unstable lifestyle’ prejudices before, but it is notable that foster care agencies are now being encouraged actively to look at gay men and women as foster carers.

The second recent development bringing foster care to national media attention is the release of an Ombudsman Victoria report into ‘out of home’ care. Children and young people at risk of abuse or neglect can be placed in out of home care by child protection services for varying amounts of time. According to the Ombudsman report, in 2008-09 just under 8,000 Victorian children experienced an out of home care placement. The report states emphatically that there are not enough foster carers and children in the system are at risk from physical and sexual abuse.

The report found that “while small-scale group accommodation units (called ‘residential care units’) are still utilised out of necessity, they are generally not the preferred placement model for children. The system has progressively become more reliant on full-time volunteers who care for children in their own homes.”

On the face of it these two developments – the Ombudsman flagging the need for more foster carers, and the release of guidelines for recruiting gays and lesbians as carers – complement each other. But what is the experience of a child brought up by a gay man? Will he miss the input of his original family? Will he turn out gay? To find answers to these and other questions I got in contact with staff at the Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare, who put me in touch with a teenager living in foster care.

Jayden (pictured) turns 18 in August. He’s doing his VCE this year, is into basketball and has lived with Steve and Brendan – his dads – since he was a child. Actually, he says he doesn’t call them ‘dad’ to their faces, but if people ask him about his family, he says, yes, he calls them his dads.

“What I remember was that I got taken away from my parents very, very young, when I was under five and put into care with other carers,” Jayden says, remembering his first care experience. “When I first met Steve and Brendan was way down the track, when I was like nine or eight.”

Steve was single when he started caring for Jayden, Brendan came on the scene later. “He was just a really nice guy,” Jayden says of his first impression of Steve. “I didn’t know anything about his sexuality or anything, and if someone had told me I wouldn’t have known what they meant.” Jayden’s hope at the time was simple. He was looking for “a safe place where I could grow up and try to have a normal life.” At the time he was moving around from carer to carer and saw in Steve the possibility of stability. Although he says he was not abused in any of the residential care accommodation he was put into – where children stay together under the supervision of care-takers – Jayden says residential care “wasn’t a very nice place”.

When Steve explained to Jayden that he was gay, Jayden says he did not believe him. “I thought he must be joking. I think I was ten or eleven. At that age people have a sort of stereotype of a homosexual person. Then my real parents told me what the situation was and I’m like, ‘OK, that’s cool.’”

Did it change his feelings towards Steve? “Not a bit. Since you’ve grown such an attachment to a person, something like that really doesn’t change anything. As with any normal person, we had to take time to get used to each other. Even now, like, we act like a normal family, we fight sometimes, but at the end of the day we still love each other.”

According to Jayden, it took about a year for him to feel that his placement with Steve was more than just another brief stay. “I met his family and they pretty much took me in as their family. This was around Christmas time. We went on holidays together and, yeah, it was in the back of my mind that we were definitely a family. He was the one that I was going to be calling dad.”

Jayden has his sights set on a career as a P.E. teacher or a police officer, but his dream is to play basketball. He plays for his school, as well as the Collingwood team in the Victorian Junior Basketball League. He wants to get into college basketball in the US, which would involve videoing himself playing then sending the tape to recruiters Stateside.

He says Steve and Brendan are supportive of his basketball, taking him to practice, and such, but have cautioned him about having a back-up plan. “They don’t want me to put all my eggs in one basket. Because if I don’t make it to college, they want me to have something over here.”

It is at this point that the topic of Jayden’s parents comes up for the first time. I ask him if, like Steve and Brendan, his mother and father also give him advice. “I get advice from them,” he replies. “Whether I listen to them or not is another story.” He listens to Steve and Brendan, he says, rather than his parents. I ask why. “I guess my parents don’t really have much to show for their own advice that they’re trying to give out, whereas Steve and Brendan do. The least I can follow in my parents footsteps the better for me. They’re both not working and haven’t done the best by me.”

I tell Jayden this would sound a bit harsh to some – what does he say to people who question why he doesn’t listen to his mum and dad? “I know exactly why,” he says. “But people have to be put in my position to see what my mum and dad have made out of my life. I know [why people] are saying they’re my parents and I should listen to them. But they haven’t been exactly the best role models for me.” In the long run, he says, the authorities made the right decision removing him from his parents’ care.

Jayden says his sexuality has not been influenced by having gay dads. “Well, I’m pretty sure that I’m not gay,” he laughs. “I can guarantee that I’m not gay.

“It’s a weird sort of question,” he says when I insist that some people think he is more likely to be gay because of Steve and Brendan’s influence. “I don’t know where they get that stuff from.”

Does he see his relationship with Steve and Brendan continuing after he grows into independence and no longer needs care in the formal, social-worker sense of that word. Jayden’s response is immediate: “They will be the ones standing next to me at my wedding. They’ll be at my wedding, they’ll be my parents at the wedding.”

For more information on foster care or becoming a carer, call Foster Care on 1800 013 088 or visit

Thanks to the staff at Berry Street for their assistance in the production of this article.

[Source: Original Article]

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