Peter finds refuge in a gay family: A charity is appealing for homosexual couples to foster troubled teenagers. Matthew Brace met one such youth and his carers, who made a new life possible for the south London boy

Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online
Four years ago Peter Jones's life looked bleak: he was a teenager coming to terms with homosexuality without supportive parents or a stable home. Now he has a full-time job, shares a flat and carries a mobile telephone.

Neglected by his parents as a child, he suffered further rejection from a couple who adopted him but were unable to accept his homosexuality.

However, at 18, he has come through the ordeal thanks to the help of a charity which finds temporary homes for displaced gay youngsters with older lesbians and homosexual men.

Peter was helped by the 'supportive lodging' project run by the Albert Kennedy Trust, which has found placements for at least 30 gay teenagers, most of them boys, in London during the past two years. This week they appealed for more lesbian and gay carers to expand the service and double the number of placements by 1996.

The charity says it runs thorough checks on potential carers, using a screening process which is 'extremely intensive and rigorous, as it would be for any heterosexual fostering or lodging service'. It includes interviews with social workers and police record checks and takes at least a year from the time someone applies to be a carer until he or she is accepted.

The trust looks for financially secure carers who can provide a stable environment.

Social services and children's organisations say they back the scheme in principle but warned standards must be adhered to rigidly.

Rachel Hodgkin, principal policy officer for the National Children's Bureau charity, said: 'It's foolish to have any blanket approach to these placements. Each case must be looked at individually. There are times when a placement with a gay couple might be appropriate, because they will understand the child in a way other families would not, but others when it would be very inappropriate. We would be very concerned about any which go against the wishes of the child.

'It's a kind of discrimination to assume that all gay people are the same and will automatically like each other.'

Peter's former carers, Martin Harrington and Aamir Ahmad, a gay couple from Putney with whom he lived for 10 months as a surrogate son, say social workers find the scheme invaluable. 'Often the children come into the scheme with a history of prostitution and severe emotional problems,' Aamir said.

'By providing them with an understanding environment where sexuality is not an issue, we can help them sort out their real problems. Peter's experiences and the trust scheme have given him great resilience.'

Martin and Aamir are professional men who were able to offer Peter the run of their house as well as help and encouragement in looking for work. Aamir, 26, is a deputy buying controller for a fashion company, while Martin, 47, runs a tile shop in Weybridge.

'Both of us come from big families where there were always lots of kids about. We had never done anything like this before but it seemed like a natural part of our lives to have kids around when we got older,' said Martin. 'We know what it is like to grow up being gay, so we wanted to give a gay child a chance to develop without those pressures.'

Martin does not hide the fact that there were problems with Peter. 'Sometimes we wanted to shout and scream and hit somebody, but that wasn't going to do anything for us and certainly not for Peter, so you just take a deep breath and start again.

'When it was not going right we would think: 'Oh my God, I'm not doing very well, I'm hurting him.'

He said the main problems stemmed from the attitude Peter had developed after years of rejection: 'He has been told he is wrong and that he is abhorrent to many people. He has been denied a large part of his life for a long time. His reasoning was: 'What do you expect? I've had a shit life,' so we had to convince him it was time to move on from there.'

Martin and Aamir now have another teenager staying with them and are keen to look after more children in the future.

Before Peter came to them, he had led an unsettled life. He remembers little of his natural parents, who neglected him as a child. Social workers found him sleeping in a box behind the kitchen door of his family's house in Tooting.

Peter was adopted when he was three years old by a middle class couple in Cheam. He always felt misunderstood because of his sexuality, and left his adoptive parents for good at 14. He spent three years trying unsuccessfully to settle in London children's homes while watching his fellow teenagers drift into drugs and crime.

He was bullied at school and reacted by regularly playing truant. His first taste of real freedom came when he found out about the Trust's scheme.

'On my first night in Martin and Aamir's house it was like freedom. It wasn't that I hadn't felt freedom before, but this was a different kind. It felt safe - almost like a holiday.

Now Peter has a job with London Underground and shares a flat in Colliers Wood. He is using his experiences to try to help others.

For the past seven months he has been running a youth club in Balham and is transforming it into a larger unit to serve gay youngsters throughout south London and Surrey. He hopes for local authority funding. It will offer counselling, a referral service and information on safer sex.

'We have to do this if we want to stop gay teenagers getting exploited on the streets,' he said. He believes many gay teenagers need the help and support he got from the Trust.

'I know that if it hadn't been for this scheme, I would probably be homeless now without any prospects and no hope of getting a job. I would be alive, but I'd be a dosser.'

(Photograph omitted)

Comments