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A same sex foster couple from the Welsh Valleys has helped a gay child in their care feel comfortable with his sexuality.
Martin Irving , 18, has spoken movingly about how living with Gary and Adrian in Tonyrefail, helped him feel accepted.
“I went into care straight from the hospital after I was born,” said Martin. After some spells with his birth family, at the age of nine, he went back into care for the rest of his childhood. When he came out as gay at the age of 14, he felt the time was right to move on from the foster family who had been caring for him.
“I felt I couldn’t be myself, I used to be very quiet,” he recalled.
New foster parents were found for Martin, and it went better than he could have imagined.
“Eventually, and very fortunately, I was placed with TACT (The Adolescent and Children’s Trust) foster carers Gary and Adrian, a same sex couple, when I was 15. I still remember the first day, how they greeted me at their home in Tonyrefail, and showed me to my bright orange bedroom and as we had our first meal together I felt immediately relaxed.
“Only a few days later, my school’s head of year rang to tell my carers how he couldn’t believe the positive change in me. The fact that I was able to express myself has made life a lot easier for me. Now I consider myself to be an open, positive, easy-going person.
“Gary and Adrian don’t treat me as a child in care, but as a member of the family. At Gary’s birthday party we took a family photo of us and all Gary’s and Adrian’s current and former foster children. It felt great to be part of such a big, happy family.”
According to Gary, who used to work in IT, there was an almost immediate change in Martin. He said: “He has been with us for three years at Easter – it would have been 2015 that he came to us.
“We didn’t know an awful lot about him before he arrived. But he knew we were gay and he could ask us questions. It was very helpful for him.
“He had already come out in school and was able to say he was living with people who understood. His head of year rang us a few weeks after and said he could ‘not believe the difference in this boy’. The sun was shining out of him. You can’t change your sexuality.”
According to Gary, he has not come across any prejudice since he and his partner Adrian started fostering.
“I am 58 and I have never had any problems,” he said. “We don’t dress in high heels. It is not pushed in anybody’s face.”
However, they did think seriously about how being a gay couple could affect any child in their care at school.
Gary said: “It was one of the big worries when we were doing it because we didn’t know any gay couples fostering in Wales. Moving to a different area the last thing we want is for the child to be bullied.
“We were concerned that a child would come to us and they may receive grief at school but it has never happened. I think part of that is that same sex couples are shown more in the media.
“We have been fostering for eight years. It started when we lived next door to a couple who were fostering. The children used to come and use our pool and you could not tell that some of the children were fostered. We thought about it for many years because we can’t have a child of our own. The process can take a long time. It can take nine months.
“It is an invasive process but it has to be because these children have specific needs and the last thing you want to do is cause more hardship. That is why they train you in fostering skills.”
Now 18, Martin is ready to move on to the next stage of his life but will not be leaving his new family just yet.
He said: “Some of my most treasured memories with Gary and Adrian are attending my school prom together and shopping for my suit beforehand. I was the only one at the prom wearing a purple suit. They also supported me during school awards, when I received an award in art for my sculptures. My best friend and I won the same award together because the judges couldn’t decide who deserved it the most. It was a nice day and I was glad I could share it with my family.
“I am attending a catering college at the moment and still have four years ahead of me. I really love cooking and often cook together with Gary and Adrian in the house. I turned 18 recently, and although I can now move on into independent living, I have decided to stay with Gary and Adrian under the ‘When I am Ready’ scheme which in Wales gives young people the right to stay with their foster families beyond the age of 18.
“Therefore leaving care was really just another normal day for me. My decision to stay was influenced by their former foster child, who voluntarily left care before turning 18, but now regrets it very much as he really misses living with Gary and Adrian. We get along very well as he still has a key to the house and often pops in for a chat and a cup of tea.
“I hope to stay with my foster carers until I turn 25. They listen to me, respect me and help me in life. With them, I can be myself.”
By Will Hayward
10 March 2018