‘I embrace them like my own children’

Sara Coppens with her foster children.Image Nina Schollaardt

Sara Coppens (37) from Buitenveldert is a single mother of five children, two of whom are foster children: a brother and sister aged 4 and 7.

“I get asked every day: how do you do this? For me, the trick is: being clear about expectations for each other. I found it difficult at first with these foster children, I had to get used to their behavior. They can act in a manipulative way, which they have had to teach themselves to survive. They also sometimes tell things about their previous family situation that I do not want to expose my children to. I can understand it, and it’s getting better.

They moved here last year. First every other weekend, and now they live here permanently. This is my second time in foster care; In 2017 I had a foster daughter for four months, I lived in the United States at the time. I am attracted to foster care because I love children very much, but also because there is a real need for it. That’s in my character; if someone needs something and you have the resources, you just give it. I have room in my house and my kids like it – why wouldn’t I?

When I moved back to the Netherlands during the corona pandemic, I signed up for foster care again. I wanted to have a foster child for a longer period of time. I thought it would be tiring for my children if new children keep coming along to whom they have to get used to and bond with.

The foster children cannot return to their biological parents for the time being. They started calling me ‘ima’, which means ‘mother’ in Hebrew. They do not want to be seen as foster children, but as a legitimate part of this family. They see my biological children as brothers. The other way around: I embrace them like my own children. I think that is an important mindset as a foster parent, so that they feel that they fully belong to the family.”

Noortje Laarman and Martin Kampers with Saffira on the left, who lived with the couple for five years.Image Nina Schollaardt

Noortje Laarman (68) and Martin Kampers (69) from Landsmeer have been providing foster care for twenty years. Saffira (24) lived with them for five years from 2016.

Noortje: “When we were 48 years old, we thought: what now? We had traveled a lot, had no children and were looking for a new challenge.”

Martin: “We both worked in education, so we have a great affinity with children.”

Noortje: “We started with weekend foster care, which we found very exciting. Then we started doing crisis foster care, which was even more exciting. All the children were so different; some were very scared and could only cry, and others fell asleep as if they had lived here for years. Sometimes things don’t click and a solution is sought. But the difficult thing is: there are far too few foster parents and you cannot simply transfer children.”

Martin: “We actually didn’t plan on doing long-term foster care to keep our freedom. But Sapphira and her foster brother stayed longer – we are now very happy with that.”

Sapphira: “At one point I was allowed to change houses, but decided not to. Here, so far outside the city, I got the peace and quiet I needed. When I first came here I thought: where have I ended up? But I quickly felt at home, partly because my mother liked that I was here. With her I have the Surinamese, and here the Dutch.”

Martin: “I would have liked it if we had eaten more Surinamese food, but unfortunately she prefers stew and meatballs!”

Noortje: “When Sapphira came to live here, our biggest task was to prepare her for her exams.”

Martin: “But also listening and providing a feeling of security. After dinner we often went for a walk; what went good and bad today. Very therapeutic, actually.”

Noortje: “Haha, especially for you, Martin! Two years ago we decided to stop. We thought we would enjoy our retirement. But we were really needed, so we tried holiday foster care again. That worked out very well.”

Martin: “Other foster children sometimes sleep in Saffira’s room. Saffira doesn’t always like that – it’s still her room.”

Sapphira: “There is something behind that: when I am here, I have a feeling of security. I can always come here for anything.”

Martin: “We still have one familyapp group, go on holiday together and see each other every two weeks. I find it very pleasant.”

Sapphira: “Me, too. It took a long time to accept that I was a foster child. Now I am very happy that I ended up with a family that gave me the love, attention and time I needed. It has made me the person I am.”

Noortje: “But you’re also a strong child, aren’t you, honey.”

Olga Heijns with Gylaisa (right), of whom she was a foster parent for three months. Image Nina Schollaardt
Olga Heijns with Gylaisa (right), of whom she was a foster parent for three months.Image Nina Schollaardt

Olga Heijns (51) from Amsterdam East has been providing crisis and weekend foster care for seven years, and had Gylaisa (19) as a foster child for three months in 2021.

Gylaisa: “When I heard that I could go to a woman named ‘Olga’, I saw a woman yodelling on the couch with a cat in front of me. But that turned out to be completely untrue, we clicked from day one.”

Olga: “I think our Surinamese roots also play a role in that. We have the same habits and like the same food. For example, Gylaisa calls me ‘Mrs. Olga’, according to Surinamese custom. She was very clear in her goals and already incredibly self-reliant due to her previous family situations. As a result, she did not come in with an acute care need – that is not always usual in a crisis placement.”

Gylaisa: “My dream was to live on my own. I was allowed to stay here longer, but I didn’t want that because of previous experiences with foster care. Before I came here I lived with relatives, but things didn’t go well. Mrs. Olga helped me find a youth home where I could live with supervision as a sixteen-year-old.”

Olga: “Foster care came onto the radar when I heard the demand was so high. I have a son of my own, but always thought there would be more children in my life. I started with holiday care. It is a nice and accessible way to see if foster care suits you. My son also liked it; As an only child, he usually enjoys it when someone comes over. There have been times when things did not click with a foster child or the foster child’s parents and it was really too stressful. Fortunately, there is a lot of support from foster care organizations. Although crisis placements generally do not last longer than three months, I often stay involved longer. Like with Gylaisa; we are still part of each other’s lives.”

Gylaisa: “We are very open with each other, I tell her everything. And she also to me.”

Olga: “But you also have your own life; a home of my own, a job, and now a new love.”

Gylaisa: “I’m glad that foster care exists. There are many children like me who really need it. Despite my bad experiences with foster care, I know that there are also good foster parents like Mrs. Olga. Maybe I’ll become one later too.”

Olga: “You would be a really good one.”

Foster care in Amsterdam

There are currently approximately 850 foster families in Amsterdam, most of which fall under foster care organizations Levvel and the Timon Foundation. 150 additional foster families are needed to meet the demand. Foster care comes in different forms: for a short or longer period of time, every day or part of the week. There is also holiday or crisis foster care. Usually, foster parents are first sought within their own network. If this proves impossible, a suitable foster family will be sought from the foster care organization’s database. Foster parents receive compensation for this.

The article is in Dutch

Tags: embrace children


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