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I’m glad my parents fostered

sian baptiste_11_06_12Sian Baptiste is an only child but she grew up surrounded by foster children. and now, looking back, she says it was so enjoyable, she wouldn’t have had it any other way.

A business manager at Talawa Fostering, Sian Baptiste, 38, lives in north London and is married to Denys, 42, a jazz musician. They have two children, Solana, 10 and Gabriel, seven. As a child, Sian shared her home with foster children as both her grandmother and mother were foster carers. Here, she tells at home about her experiences…

‘Growing up, my mum, Jan, and I lived with my grandmother, Edna, for quite a while. My grandmother fostered for over 40 years, until she was in her 70s. It began with her looking after children of family friends, sometimes for months at a time. Then she became an official foster carer for Hackney Council. All my memories of growing up in my grandmother’s house are about a house full of children.

‘I’m an only child but people say I don’t act like one. I think that’s because I grew up in this extended fostering family. I can’t remember a time when there weren’t four, five or even six children in the household, so because of that, I never felt resentful of the foster children.’

A sense of togetherness

‘Fostering was a really exciting thing for me. It meant more children around and, most of the time, it was fun – we’d simply get up to mischief! The foster children I became closest to were Sophie, who came to live with us when she was about 11, and Evelyn, who was around the same age. I was nine when they arrived. What made our relationship work so well was our closeness in age. We did everything together – from walking to school and washing the dishes to going on holiday. ‘It was no different to having sisters of my own. There was a sense of camaraderie between us. If one of us was in trouble, we’d all go down to be told off! ‘I do recall a time before Sophie and Evelyn arrived when it was just a lot quieter, though not necessarily in a good way! Very occasionally, when we were living together, I remember wanting five minutes’ peace or some space to get away. But I think that’s no different when you have your own siblings.’

Lasting relationships

‘Both Sophie and Evelyn stayed with my grandmother until well into adulthood. Sophie was there until she moved out and had her first baby who’s 13 now. That’s what’s amazing. That’s when it really works. Children get to the age where they can choose to leave or stay and, fortunately for us, they chose to stay.

‘Sophie and Evelyn are more like family than some of my blood relatives – they’re at every Christmas gathering and every other special occasion. They’re my siblings really, but we refer to each other now as cousins. They both have children now, so their children, and mine, are also like cousins.’

A learning experience

‘There were other foster children who tried to get me into trouble and, at times, I was exposed to behaviour that wasn’t appropriate for my age; a five-year-old who had the language of a wayward 18-year-old, for instance; teenagers involved with drink, drugs and gangs and we had a couple of girls whose behaviour was highly sexualised. That certainly had an impact on the boys in the household at that time.

‘And it made me more aware of things I’d been sheltered from. You get a sense of real life and it was quite an exposure for me, as a teenager. It probably did make me wise up to some of the things that, if I hadn’t had fostering in my family, I might not even be wise to today!’

Having an understanding

‘Some pupils at my children’s school swear and use violent behaviour, and growing up with foster children has given me an insight of where that might come from. From a very early age, I realised that you have to have an understanding of what people might have been through and how that might have shaped who they are. That’s been invaluable to me in adult life. Rather than just write someone off as a certain type of person, it’s helped me to work out why people do the things they do. It’s a real reason, and motivation, for what I do in my career now.

‘With every new foster placement, I was always given details about why granny or mum were caring for them. Sometimes I’d be given information so I didn’t say anything that could be really hurtful.

‘For example, if a child or their parent had mental health problems, mum and gran wouldn’t want me to say, “Oh, you’re mad,” or “You’re crazy,” because it could have been very damaging to that child.

‘Because of the way things were explained, I felt like I was helping to give these children a family, opportunities and love. Even at a young age, I felt like I was giving something back to children less fortunate than me.’

A family for life

‘I’m incredibly glad that my family fostered. I think it’s important to realise that it’s not a mum or a grandma who fosters but a whole family. We fostered as a family and I’m proud we did. To see someone come into your family, having been physically or emotionally abused or neglected, and watch as they grow into a beautiful young man or woman, gives such a sense of family pride and achievement. It’s amazing. It takes a special kind of person to take on other people’s children and nurture, love and develop them.

‘With Sophie and Evelyn, it doesn’t feel like they were foster children. They were part of our family. They came into our family at a certain time and they never left. Everyone’s there for them in a crisis. ‘We’ve shared many times together – good, bad, happy and sad – as well as those big events: the births, deaths, marriages, everything. We’re just a wonderful family unit.’

Thanks to: Talawa Fostering Services: 020 8367 6555

This article was first published in at home with Lorraine Kelly in April 2012. [Read the digital edition here]

Photograph: Kwame Lestrade

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