On a crisp, sunny winter’s afternoon on the South Devon Coast, we’re catching up with Ariadne, an incredible lady whose life was to change with a knock at the door, when she was faced with an almost impossible decision.
“…the social workers knocking at the door, saying ‘if you don’t have the children, they’ll be placed into care.” They only gave me a day to decide!”
I’m greeted by Ariadne with a big smile, vibrant dress-sense and a chuckling laugh. So, Ariadne, tell me a little bit about yourself, how did you come into fostering, was it something you’d always wanted to do?
No, I had never thought of fostering before. I had three children by the age of 19, wild I know! And although I absolutely loved being a mum, I always thought that once they had grown up, that would be the time I could pursue some of my own dreams, the ones that I had put on hold to be a full-time mum. Although, as you know, life doesn’t always work out the way you envisage and as my children were getting to the age where I was starting to have a little more freedom, my youngest being 13 at the time, I ended up helping somebody I know out with childcare as they were struggling with their drug addiction. Little did I know that those sporadic bouts of babysitting would result in the social workers knocking at the door, saying ‘if you don’t have the children, they’ll be placed into care.’ They only gave me a day to decide!
Wow, that sounds like a really tough choice to make. How long from making that decision were the children in your care? And you’re mentioning ‘children’, how many were there and what were there ages?
That same day! They arrived with the bare minimum too! And it was a while before I was even given adequate money to them. But yes, it was a really hard choice. I knew it was a decision that could potentially change my life, three children alone can be hard, let alone seven, especially who have been taken away from their parents. But being of the nature I am, and knowing that if they did go into care that they’d most likely be split up due to their ages, how could I say no? It was only supposed to be for a year at first, and there were four of them aged, 7 months old, 22 months old, 5 years old and a 7 years old.
I can’t imagine how hard that must have been, four children under the age as seven as well as three of your own teenage children too. Did you feel supported through the process?
Well it started off as fostering, and during that time you had social workers involved, so you had a certain amount of support, but I found it all quite invasive. I like to live an alternative lifestyle so I didn’t tick all the boxes to be a foster carer, so was pushed into being a special guardian, so I wasn’t supported at all after that, except by my own children.
So you say you were pushed into it, were you warned at all that the support would go? Did they prepare you for that?
I didn’t feel prepared at all. It seemed silly to me that I didn’t tick the boxes for fostering, but was deemed OK to have even more power and less support as their legal guardian, which seemed somewhat non-sensical. As the months turned into years and now almost 17 years on, the youngest two still in my care, I don’t think I was at all prepared, warned or supported the way I could have been. No one really warned me of the psychological issues the children may face and there has definitely never been any support for this, so it’s been hard. And as I’ve been their main constant in their lives, I’m the one they take things out on, so it really can be all consuming, mentally and emotionally. It’s can be challenging to find the headspace for anything else. Each of them seems to have handled the situation differently, so each require different responses. But I feel overwhelmed with their issues, and at times helpless, because no matter who you try and reach out to for help, counsellors, doctors, therapists, there are always so many barriers, waiting lists and inadequate support, and more than often it feels its all a little too late.
So with that being said, although having the social workers involved seemed invasive, do you think if that had continued, you and the children would have been better supported over the years?
I think they may have been able to offer up different types of support and helped get things moving quicker, but then again, I know a lot of it comes down to finance. I’m also not sure if I would have liked to live all these years with involvement from social workers, I don’t think the kids would have either, as I know they just wanted to be ‘normal’ kids and they didn’t like the stigma of being in ‘care’.
I don’t think many people could or would do what you have! And you still seem to have such a bright and happy spirit. So now that they’re getting that bit older what would you like to do with your life? And what difficulties do you think you’ll face, after having dedicated your life to raising children?
Well the difficulties I face now, having focused on kids for years and with everyday life, would be finding a job I would enjoy and be good at. I just feel I’ve had no time to find out who I am or what I want to do, I feel like I have nothing to offer, so work wise I feel very limited. I think I’d struggle feeling confident in any role, so perhaps I’d like to work for myself and maybe pursue some of my creative endeavours that I’ve always only ever been able to dream of.
You’re obviously an incredible woman with great tenacity and oodles of selflessness and I really do wish you all of the best and look forward to seeing the fruitions of your creative pursuits. I hope you take the time to follow your dreams and that your confidence begins to blossom as it is now definitely your time to shine and I believe you have so much to offer. I can’t help to think how wonderful the world would be if there were more people like you.