A Family Affair: Fostering brought out the best in us

Iain Macdonald and Ken Thomas are gay and were among the first men to foster children from Haringey Council and the Albert Kennedy Memorial Trust, a gay fostering agency. They did that for eight years while living in north London. Iain, 46, a Christian minister, and Ken, a 57-year-old retired academic, live in Devon


From my late twenties I was aware that I would like to have children, and as my relationship with Iain became established I also found myself getting positively broody. But I pushed the idea to the back of my mind because I knew there was nothing I could do about having a child naturally.

It was Iain who suggested fostering, and we were certainly among the very first gay couples to be given children. We were checked out very thoroughly, but I don't think any more than other potential fosterers. We didn't ask specifically for boys who had decided they were gay but some came to us because they had said that they wanted gay carers. I do think they felt they could trust us and turn to us for support in a way that they wouldn't have with heterosexual foster parents.

We were very aware of public hostility to gay fosterers when we began nine years ago. I remember one newspaper that said: "Imagine if you and your wife were killed in a car crash, your children might be given to gay people..."

Within our circle people had feelings about it. No one actually said they didn't want to be our friends any longer, but heterosexual friends just stopped inviting us or they invited us without the children. Some, we felt, didn't want their children to ask questions. Our gay friends didn't say anything outright but it was plain they couldn't stand it. For them we were too much of a family. We lost a lot of friends at that time, but we also made some new ones.

I sometimes wonder if Iain and I would have done it if we had realised quite how hard it would be. It was much, much more demanding and challenging and, frankly, exhausting, than we had ever imagined. I remember thinking, at times, that this wasn't what I had in mind. I had a very idealistic notion of how it would be. I'm an academic and I visualised quiet hours helping with homework. In fact it was computer games, checking they weren't experimenting with aerosol abuse, or supplying the police with photos when they were late home at night.

We said we wanted older children because we felt better equipped to deal with them, but we hadn't thought about how much emotional baggage they would bring. Take Lee, who was 16 when he came to us from a home with a violent father and a mother who couldn't cope. Then there was Reuben, who had been brought up by his single mother but moved out when his stepfather threatened to kill him. It's not difficult to imagine what a lot they had to struggle with.

But we have a very strong relationship and none of this affected us fundamentally. We've moved to Devon and stopped fostering now but the boys both visit regularly and they came to the funeral of Iain's mother, which caused a few raised eyebrows but made us very happy. We're having that "empty nest" feeling just now, and we may foster again when we're a bit more settled.


It had never occurred to me to consider children, but was very keen. The idea of gays fostering had hit the news with a video that Haringey made to recruit male carers, and there was much talk about loony-left councils. I heard about this and about the Albert nedy Memorial Trust which seeks homes for gay youngsters. We felt we should be eligible. We had been together for 20 years, had a secure relationship and a comfortable home.

I felt great doubts about doing it, but I made a commitment to taking on children with because I felt confident we could cope and that we had something to offer children in need. We got our first child at the end of 1990. He turned up in the middle of the night for emergency shelter and ended up staying two years. Then there was Lee, who had huge difficulties - but one day I overheard him saying to a visitor: "I always wanted a dad who would treat me well and I was lucky, I found two. and Iain have given me all the good things in life."

We had to impose rules and be very clear about what was acceptable, and there were edgy times, like the occasion when got very angry and the boy we had with us said he was going to phone his social worker and make allegations. We realised this could be even more problematic because we are gay.

There were additional strains on our relationship with my being away during the weekdays, studying for the ministry in Oxford, leaving , effectively, as a single parent. I would come home at weekends and be critical because things had happened that I wouldn't necessarily have allowed. There were some rows, but I also understood that frequently had to make snap decisions at a moment of crisis and it just wasn't practical to ring me every time to check.

Before going to Oxford I was very involved with the local church, and the great advantage to that was meeting parents, although most didn't acknowledge our domestic set-up. But they did chat about children as any parent might. You know, the "oh, my kids were much worse than that" kind of talk.

Being a gay parent obviously made my sexuality very high profile, and that has not helped my wish to become a minister. I got a wonderful reference when I wanted to be accepted for training at Mansfield College, Oxford, saying it was recognised that I had a calling. But the implication was that God had got it wrong. Now that I have finished my training I have been able to get a placement as a minister.

We never insisted the children should come to church so I was very touched when, a few days before I had to conduct a service for assessment during my training, Lee, who had never been to church said suddenly: "I think we should all go as a family."

That brought tears to my eyes. Oh yes, having children has been a watershed in our lives.

Arts and Entertainment
Stewart Lee (Gavin Evans)


Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
Yaphett Kotto with Julius W Harris and Jane Seymour in 1973 Bond movie Live and Let Die

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own