Five years ago I was enjoying the single life, working as a teacher, living with friends in central London. Weekends were filled with cocktails, shopping and church. Life was good but my heart longed for more.

Add six months of dating and a surprise invite to spend Christmas in L.A. with soon-to-be-in-laws. Sitting in the warmth of a San Diego firepit, admiring the sparkle of my new ring, we’re dreaming; both products of broken homes, we talk about our desire to create a home where family is central.

We speak of childhood desires to adopt, to share the welcome and healing love we found in the arms of our heavenly parent. We talk about the young people we have met and worked with; the fear, rejection and pain that lies beneath their ‘challenging behaviour’. We imagine our family, blended with birth, adopted and fostered children. Our faith increases and our love deepens through our conversation.

Fast-forward seven months, I’m admiring my freshly-tanned skin. I load my honeymoon snaps on to Facebook and wait for the likes to roll in. I return to a fresh start, new relationship status, new flat and new job. Still teaching, I begin an ill-advised four-hour commute to a secure training centre. This is a ‘dream job’ and I am committed.

The first day I reunite with a previous student. The last time I saw him he was ‘home’ sleeping on a urine stained mattress, wearing seven stolen watches which he hoped he could use to pay off his drug debt. Knowing the majority of children here have committed crimes of rape, arson or murder, I don’t read his file. Instead I hug him and join his game of pool. Turns out he likes it here, they have fresh sheets, hot chocolate. He is 14.

I hug another child. She’s 16. She’s beautiful, kind, intelligent, violent, damaged and desperate for a home. Like most here she has been ‘in care’ since infancy. She’s served her sentence but can’t leave, there’s nowhere for her to go, no one who wants her. Social services secure a room for her in a B&B, she asks if she can live with me. She knows I’m training to be a foster carer.

It took one Google search and an interest form to get started.

We are approved quickly. We accept the first call, an 11-year-old boy. He pushes boundaries, it’s difficult, he’s violent, we’re pregnant.

18 months later, the phone rings. They’re in a police car. Can we take all four of them?! I say yes as our nine-month-old, Heidi, cries to be put down, she’s just learnt to crawl. Now she walks and there’s two of those four, the others are round the corner with another carer. They’re our family, we’re their home. We don’t know when or if they will leave.

Sometimes I question if the cost is too high? For either us, or Heidi. I recall the eyes of the children that no one was willing to sacrifice for. I know that these two won’t carry that vacant stare and I am so grateful I filled in that interest form.

There are children desperate for homes, there are many of you sitting around firepits – either real or proverbial – will you include these children in your dreams?

Written by Pat Copeland

Patricia Copeland is a qualified teacher and has worked in some of the most challenging educational settings in the UK. She became a foster carer aged 26 with her husband James and is currently caring for a 7 and 5 year old alongside their 17 month old birth-daughter and cocker spaniel puppy, Hugo. When she has a moment to herself she loves catching up with friends for coffee.

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