‘You just need to be willing to open your home, and ride the rough with the smooth’

During the pandemic, the number of children in foster care has increased dramatically. One couple explains why they foster and how it impacts their family in both positive and negative ways.

Fostering isn’t easy. Even though it may seem like a walk in a park, it can still be taxing. Toys are thrown. Words get spoken. Feelings get hurt. However, the reverse is also true. Scowls melt into smiles. Tears give place to laughter. 

Whether it’s a good day or a bad day, parents-of-two Nic and Chris Kimmance try to always keep in mind why they foster. There’s no stock answer. For Chris, a speech therapist, it’s partly about recreating an upbringing in a busy household (she grew up the youngest of six sisters). For Nic, a church leader, it’s about recognising that there’s “enough love in the household to share around”. 

Both accept that their answers sound a “bit cliched”, as Nic puts it, but they know that fostering works for them. That’s fortunate because it is not for the fainthearted. Take the last year, when the Kimmances welcomed a seven-year old boy under their roof. As well as having a “personality that would win over the heart of anyone”, Chris also admits that he “brings his challenges”. 

One of these is going to school. He has been unable to attend school due to his home life. Here, the couple’s youngest, 10-year-old Lucy, has stepped in, helping her new housemate with his maths (each correct answer gains him an M&M’s sweet). Their other daughter, Maddy, 12, is teaching him to swim in the family’s inflatable pool. Having another child show him the ropes is “less threatening”, says Nic, a former primary school teacher. 

However, they are responsible for the parenting of their children, and not the agency. DiagramaClearly demonstrated during the rigorous selection process. The couple approach it very much as a team, insists Chris, who describes herself and her husband as “best friends”. But she also concedes that they have to “re-jig” their lives to stay connected to one another (such as coordinating their days off). 

This tag-team strategy offers surprising benefits. For a mother of two daughters and sibling to five sisters, parenting a boy for the first time has left Chris nonplussed at times. He hangs from the banister, for example. (Chris: “Is that normal?” Nic: “He’s just being a boy”.) Or the time when he flipped over his bike handlebars (Chris: “My heart stopped”. Nic: “I’ll just teach him how to use his rear brakes”.)

They insist that the good times outweigh the bad. Sam Bush

Both men insist that the good times far outweigh any bad. Chris takes particular pleasure in the “small wins”. She cherishes the “small wins” and hopes they will last a lifetime. One example of this is when the seven-year-old learned to write his name. 

Other times, it’s the simple act of the children being “really loved and celebrated”, albeit just for a week or two sometimes. Fixing the “brokenness” that a life in the care system can bring is particularly motivating for Nic: “One of the things for us was… what if we were able to do something early on in their story and actually create a safe place for some children to belong?” 

Fostering children is a great way to have a positive impact on your own children. This is a less-known upside. Make no mistake: it’s hugely disruptive. It was essential that both their daughters were involved in the early consultation process and on board with this idea. Yet, for them to see that not all children have the same start in life serves as an invaluable “eye opener”, according to Nic. 

Fixing the ‘brokenness’ that a life in the care system can bring is particularly motivating

So, with demand for foster parents increasing as a consequence of the Covid pandemic – Barnado’s reported demand being up 44 per cent in 2020 – what advice do the Kimmances have for people who are thinking about giving it a go? 

First, get informed. Talk to friends, search online, ask your fostering or adoption agency the hard questions (for example: ‘What if I’m no good at it?’ ‘What if I don’t like the child?’). Second, don’t swallow the “myth” that foster parents are somehow saints. They’re not. Even if you’re going through difficult times personally, it can be a blessing. 

As Nic concludes: “You don’t need to be special or to be behaviour experts, you just need to be willing to open your home up and to ride the rough with the smooth.”

Main image: Sam Bush