Vancouver
3 min

Helping kids in need

Victor Elkins is a foster parent

CHANGING ATTITUDES: Victor Elkins and his partner met initial resistance to the idea of gay foster parents. But their work speaks for itself and they're now finding respect from social workers. Credit: David Ellingsen

Victor Elkins gave up hope of ever having children when he came out of the closet more than a decade ago. It was a sacrifice he thought he had to make to be in a same-sex relationship. To add to his misery, his fiancée had two kids right after they broke up.

“Those could have been my kids,” he remembers thinking, “but I made this choice and I thought I had to live with it. Kids were out of the question. I put it behind me.”

Now Elkins and his partner of 15 years have decided against adoption and are three years into being foster parents instead. “We met a couple of guys who were fostering, we hung out with them, saw what they were doing and how much they enjoyed it. We thought we could help more kids by being foster parents and that we’d stick to the older children. There are a lot of them after age 10 that are kind of lost in the system. It’s almost like nobody wants them at that point.”

One of the notable effects of their involvement is changing attitudes by being an out gay couple. Elkins thinks there is still some underlying homophobia within the system, “but I can honestly say the ministry and the social workers are working hard at understanding the issues.

“We’ve only really come across one gentleman (a social worker) that kept harping on the issue when he came over to check up on the child-but after a year of having one young guy in our house he seemed to come around. Now he’s actually recommended other kids to our house. He has slowly gotten comfortable with the idea and realizes that we’re not perverts, or whatever.”

He still doesn’t want to talk about their being a same-sex couple, Elkins continues. “He would like to ignore it and dance around that issue but his comfort level with placing children with us has really improved.”

All the parents involved were receptive to their help-gay or not.

“There hasn’t been a single parent who hasn’t come around and been appreciative of what we’ve done with their children.”

Elkins doesn’t want his relationship to be an issue but sometimes the older boys have questions. “We do have to explain why we share a room-why Kevin and I sleep in the same bed, stuff like that. When the question’s been brought up, we will explain to them. We always try to tell them the truth without the intimate details.”

He points out those who oppose the legitimacy of same-sex couples will focus in on the sex act. “They forget about all the other stuff that’s involved in love-the passion, the talking, the enjoyment of just being in each other’s company. So that’s the area that we like to explain and what we like to focus on. We emphasize a lot of love and commitment and the desire we have to be with each other-and we get away from the actual, physical sex act.”

In three years they have had cared for eight boys between two years old and 13 years old. Some stayed a month. One stayed just over a year. Their ninth child will arrive this month. “For some reason the ministry still feels uncomfortable about placing girls with men, even though we’re gay,” Elkins muses.

He encourages other gay couples and singles to get involved with the BC Foster Parents Association. Over 10,000 BC children are in care or need it.

“We’re there to provide a safe environment for them with their personal and family issues,” he explains. “The goal, ultimately, is to keep the child with the parents. You work with the parents to get them some comfort levels and parenting skills. It’s like a project and you get to see the progress-that kinds of helps the transition. It does hurt when they go, but at the same time It’s a happy feeling because you’ve helped and they’re actually moving on.”

The 38-year-old is a cardiac perfusion assistant. He works in the operating room at Children’s and Women’s Hospital, running the lung/heart machine for bypass surgery and equipment for long-term life support. He and Kevin live in a house in East Vancouver.

Acknowledging the changes he’s seen in others involved in their fostering, Elkins notes, “the biggest change happens in yourself.

“Before this I led such a selfish, self-centred life. Everything was Kevin and I-whatever we did, whatever we wanted, whenever we cared. Now I realize that the stuff I had before wasn’t really important. The children have actually helped cement our relationship. With the kids you get to spend quality time with each other, too.”