Not a foster family, but a family home. ‘Of course you hold the children closer and closer to your heart’

As the daughter of parents with a foster child, Femke Swart-Baas knows the pitfalls of foster families. “It’s often in the reciprocity,” she says. “What you give, you expect in return. And it doesn’t always work.”

But for Femke, a trained educational consultant, and her husband Johannes Swart, a professional dancer, a dream is coming true now that they are expanding their family with daughters Danae (12), Beau-Isia (10) and Naely (9) of four to six teenagers who can no longer live at home. The difference is that they are not foster parents, but ‘family home parents’ for Damian (14) and Celine (16). Family homes are businesses run by parents, couples or friends. The couple is expecting two more young people before January.

“A foster child becomes family,” says Johannes at the bar in their dining kitchen overlooking the spacious courtyard in Duiven, the house’s central square. “It goes to uncles and aunts’ birthdays, on holidays and often even has the same surname. Not with us. We can therefore adopt a less emotional attitude and look more professionally at what questions a child has. One weekend a month we have ‘off’ and the child goes to his own family and we don’t spend the summer holidays together. We all know that from each other in advance.”

More favorable than an institution

Family homes are on the rise, although no one knows exactly how many there are in the Netherlands. In 2020, there were more than 500 independent family homes where, on average, 4-5 children live outside their home. The family environment is usually more favorable for them than an institution. The foster parents are supported by a foster care institution and sometimes a franchisor such as familiehuis.com, to which Femke and Johannes are affiliated. Gezinshuis.com currently helps 202 family couples with all financial issues and care. Johannes believes that the growth in family homes is connected to the compensation, which is much higher for family homes than for foster families. “Our initial process was also more intensive: it took two years to go through all the tests and find a suitable house.”

Now they live in the fields around Duiven in a large house with meadow, barn and garden with trampoline and climbing house. Entrepreneur Johannes, who also has a dance school with Femke, sees all sorts of possibilities ‘from a mini-camping to a party room’ on the site “but now we focus first on the family home”, he laughs. Their faith also plays an important role for him in the foundation of the house. In recent years, they have regularly accommodated children from their own network.

As real ‘family house parents’, Damian (14) was their first child in September. After his family could no longer care for him, shelter was sought near Arnhem. “We first had matching conversations for two months with the guardian, the behavioral expert, the biological family and finally Damian himself,” says Femke. “Then he came to sleep with us on a trial basis to see if it felt right.”

‘Just be yourself’

The first day Damian arrived, he immediately said at the front door: “This is my home now”, says Johannes. “He wants to know everything, asks all day. For him, it is the first time he lives outside his family. We get on well with our eldest but sometimes clash with the other two. “Why did we ever become a family home!” they call. We talk about it at family meetings. Everyone gets speaking time. It is very refreshing.”

Celine (16), who came from the Philippines four years ago and spent last year in a shelter, requires a different approach, says Femke. “For example, we have a rule that mobile phones are not allowed upstairs. But Celine needed it so much to keep in touch with her mother and brothers in other family homes that we’re okay with it now. Damian and our own daughters think it’s unfair. Then we have to explain to them that each child requires their own parenting methods.”

Femke reports to the care staff every week how the children are doing. “We have two goals: to help the child build his own identity and to restore the network with the biological family. For example, when Celine’s grandfather recently died in the Philippines, we invited her mother and brothers to come and live. The night before the funeral they all spent on the sofa bed and then watched together. It was important to them. She is slowly coming out of her shell.”

The credo of the family’s house parents is to seek maximum rapprochement with the children while at the same time maintaining their distance. “But of course you keep children closer and closer to your heart,” says Femke. “When Celine came back on the last train after a day in Rotterdam, I didn’t have a moment’s rest in the evening.” If it’s up to Femke and Johannes, they have a long future with Celine and Damian. “There must be homes for nursing homes for two young adults. If they are older, they can go there too. We hope to keep them with us until they are 21.”

Also read:

Growing up in an adoptive or foster family: ‘That’s not your ‘real’ sister, is it?’

You don’t have to be brother and sister, you can become them too– this is how the book As Brothers and Sisters shows. It also gives a forgotten group the opportunity to speak: the biological children in adoptive or foster families who have their own problems.

Foster parents: ‘A foster child also brings joy and adventure’

Now that new foster parents are desperately needed, Ellen Feller and Moon Helling share their experiences. ‘Start well-rested and well-prepared’.

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