Darren Sharpe, a foster carer from Kent, UK, together with his partner James, has helped improve the lives of 20 children through Heath Farm Fostering.
From short-term emergency care over a few nights, to long-term placements, the pair decided to register as foster carers in 2012 – despite having little experience of children.
Darren explained how his perspective as a gay man has enabled him to be a better carer to the kids he looks after.
‘Being a gay man, you do think it might be an issue when you apply, but it almost seemed to be quite positively embraced when we started fostering,’ he said.
‘I feel a lot of the kids suffer with feelings of rejection and not fitting in, or not being quite sure who they are.
‘That’s something myself and James both relate to: trying to hide something, growing up and having this extra thing on your mind that other people don’t have, we’ve been quite able to identify what the kids are going through because we’ve been through stuff too.’
Remarkably, complete strangers often make comments when they see the couple going about their day-to-day lives with their foster children – but they’re not the types of comments you might expect.
‘I’ve been amazed when I’ve been out and about,’ Darren said.
‘That’s what I was really worried about: people we’ve met through foster care organisations are educated and intelligent, but sometimes when you’re out and about you worry you might get a negative reaction.
‘People have made comments, but they’ve been the nicest comments. People stop and say ‘You’re doing such a good thing’, and we’ve never had any animosity.’
It’s perhaps no wonder Darren is an advocate for the positive impact of foster caring – not only on the children’s lives, but also on his own.
With thousands of children in need of short and long-term care, he’s keen to encourage more carers to think about how they could help.
‘You don’t need to rush into fostering; we considered if for about three years before we signed up,’ he said.
He had the following advice for anyone looking to take the plunge: ‘Try and be reflective and speak to family and friends around what your strengths are and what you’d be good at.
‘Go into as many agencies as you need to and meet people, speak to other carers and get a general feel,’ he added. ‘When you find the right place and the time is right you’ll know.
‘After all, it is an important decision – you’re opening up your house to complete strangers!’
Although the pair signed up in order to help children who needed care, Darren was keen to highlight the profound benefits he and his partner have felt as a result of becoming foster carers.
‘It’s completely turned our lives upside down in the most positive of ways,’ he said.
‘Obviously we give a lot and put a lot into it, but it is rewarding and it has been hugely enriching for us as a family.’