|14 Oct 2021
I left LEH in 1986 after completing UV. I wanted to study sociology and psychology for A level, but in those days, they were not deemed academic enough! I originally planned to become a social worker, but having met my husband at 17, decided that Uni wasn’t for me, and so I became a nanny instead. Both of my husband’s sisters fostered, and although I had no real knowledge of fostering myself, we agreed that it was something we’d do once our biological family was complete. We married when I was 19, and had our four birth children in six and a half years.
When our youngest began school, we began our fostering career. Our plan was to offer placements to sibling groups for a maximum of two years, before either moving them back home to their birth family or on to their forever families. We were certain that adoption was not for us, and we began with our first foster placement of two sisters aged six and seven.
Six months later, I jokingly said to my Supervising Social Worker that I was looking for a new challenge, as all six children were in school full time. The following week, we were asked to take a placement of two babies aged eight months and 22 months. When I found that there were older siblings of four and eight, who were being placed elsewhere because ‘no one would take a family of four’, there was no doubt in my mind.
This began our chapter of life with 10 children aged 11 and under, split between four primary schools and two little ones at home. Looking back, I don’t know how we did it. My husband worked away a couple of nights a week. My Mum, who lived next door, was a great support with school runs, and I had an angel in the form of a cleaner, but it was exhausting. After 10 months of craziness, we faced the reality of the unsustainability of the situation. Either we needed to end one of the placements, or we needed to change how we did things. So, change we did.
My husband decided that as he had not had a gap year after his A levels, he would have one then, and in 2002, resigned from his job with a six-figure income. Our lifestyle totally changed, our children became eligible for free school meals, but we were able to parent together full time. Our faith allowed us to trust God for all we needed. We have always been provided with that, and much more.
When the placement of our four siblings fell through at introductions phase, it felt right to make them legally ours through adoption. We then went on to care for a number of children who had been abused or had particularly challenging behaviour and started specialising in large young sibling groups.
Now we have started working in tandem with families, continuing the support as the children transition back home to Mum, providing on-going assistance with behaviour management and boundaries in her own home, as well as respite every other weekend. This is a ground-breaking approach, but could lead to more children being able to stay safely with their birth family, thus reducing the number of Children Looked After, and the strain on Social Services budgets.
I sit on a fostering panel each month, approving and reviewing foster carers, and am also involved in a policy and procedures task group planning future initiatives including the one that I am trialling with our latest family.
In the past five years, we have moved 13 children to their forever families, and we still see 12 of them regularly, which is wonderful.
Next year, we will celebrate 20 years of fostering. We have been privileged to look after more than 40 children, helping them to love and be loved, giving them opportunities to live full lives. I hope that we have helped lay firm foundations for them to build not only their lives on, but also their future children’s lives on too.
Has it been challenging? Yes! Has it been rewarding? Yes! Would I do it again? Yes, despite the heartache and the tears. I often think of the ‘Starfish’ poem. In our current social landscape, where we have hundreds of thousands of young women who don’t know how to parent well because it isn’t what they experienced in their childhoods, I am reminded that even if feels like we can’t make a huge difference, sometimes it has to be enough to make a difference for the one.
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