“When they brought the children they were very small. One was 5 1/2 months old and the other younger than 1 1/2 year; still babies. Workers from the Welfare Office and Hope for Children stayed with us for a while to see how we’re doing and help us. Eventually, the door closed behind them and we were alone; us and our foster children. Our life has changed forever since then,” a couple told Phileleftheros in describing their experience of foster parenting.
“We had to go through red tape; we gave an interview, we were evaluated, and government workers paid us a home visit several times. Without prior warning, they told us that fostering may be required for two very young siblings,” said the father who wished to remain anonymous.
“Our phone rang and they told us that in three days the children would be here. We immediately started planning and we prepared a room for them.”
It was strange and beautiful at first, he said. “We were trying to wrap our heads around what we were experiencing,” he explained adding that it has been two years since that day.
“We had decided to become foster parents because for a long time we were trying to have our own children but to no avail. We even thought of adopting but that was a very difficult and nerve-wracking process; the wait was too long and would entail a protracted struggle. That’s why we thought of fostering, which would allow us to care for some children while getting a taste of parenthood. It was an easy decision to make,” he said.
Along the way, the couple managed to have a biological child too.
“Now, we wake up in the morning having three children to care for,” he said joyfully, but also spoke of the bitter aspect of this reality.
“We know, it’s always at the back of our minds that something may change; that they may need to leave. You learn to live with that thought. You sometimes even learn to forget about it. You bond, and it will be hard if they need to go back to their biological family, but their wellbeing is what’s most important,” he said.
There are so many beautiful memories from the fostering process, he went on. “When they introduced us to the children they used our first names that they were meant to call us by. But at some point the child approached me and called me ‘dad’,” he recounted, visibly emotional.
“The value and the weight of that word is so different when it comes from your foster child. Our entire worldview has changed. Your life changes for the better. You realise that anything else you have ever experienced was meaningless. But it does have its challenges. Especially when you know that they may go away before you raise them. But I would, without a doubt, encourage someone to become a foster parent, especially families who already have children.”
People around me have changed their views on fostering
“I was a volunteer at the Larnaca state institution for children and I saw things that raised my awareness. In October 2018 I decided to apply to become a foster mother, and about six months later, in April 2019, I welcomed my foster child,” said Agathi Nicolaou, mentioning that many evaluations and support procedures took place prior to the event in collaboration with the Welfare Office and Hope for Children.
“I started off by offering a 15-year-old girl a place to stay. I remember how emotional the first day she stayed over was for both me and her.
“I soon realised that providing accommodation for her would not be enough to offer everything that I wanted for her, so I moved ahead with fostering,” she added.
She recalls fondly the day her fostering application was approved.
“It was June when I decided to take the next step. She was going to go to Lyceum (upper secondary school) after the summer and I could see she was facing many problems. But she didn’t know I had taken this decision; she thought she would stay with me for the summer and then go back to the institution. But on September 3, 2019, when we visited the welfare office together they announced to her that we were going to live together. It’s hard to describe the feeling. The child burst into tears, she was so happy.
“There are so many beautiful moments in our daily life,” she went on, “and there is so much progress in her learning. She was really behind in school as well as socially. I remember being shocked that she didn’t know the order of the days of the week and the order of the months. She had never heard of Disneyland, which my two-year-old nephews did. These were signs that made me worry for her. In three years she would go out into the world and she would have a problem.
“I then made a bet with myself. All this needed to change and I would offer as much knowledge and experience as I could to my child. We started off in September with a child that barely made it through Gymnasium (lower secondary school) and managed to bring her school marks to 14 or 15 (out of 20) in her first year of Lyceum. I am very proud of her.”
Apart from the change in her and the child, fostering also changed her close contacts.
“I am so pleased that some people close to me who did not agree with adoption or fostering have changed their minds. This happened because they got to experience our relationship. We need to change our mindsets. Families need to open their arms to children and give them a future.”
A great need for foster families in Cyprus
“Children who join foster families have experienced very ugly situations and carry with them a heavy load that often reflects in their behaviour,” said Hope for Children’s head coordinator for the fostering programme Efi Vassilaki.
“They have experienced some form of abuse, the loss of their biological family or poverty. In some cases the level of neglect is so severe that they don’t know they need to bathe or how to brush their teeth,” she explained.
Fostering, she added, is not an easy path, but it is one worth crossing because the destination is wonderful. “What never ceases to amaze me is the enormous change I see in the children. They bloom in a family.”
There is a great need for foster families in Cyprus, the organisation has said, “because there aren’t always relatives to care for the children, and even if there are they don’t always want to get involved.”
For more information on the fostering programme, prospective parents can call 1466, the association said.
Read more: Foster families needed for 500 children