TWO families, both with two generations of experience in fostering children, have spoken of the joy they get from welcoming children into their homes, as a Leeds-based fostering agency looks to find a place for more young people who need one.
According to The Adolescent and Children’s Trust (TACT), which on Monday will celebrate its 25th anniversary with a recruitment event in the city, more than 700 foster families are currently needed across Yorkshire.
It receives 300 referrals a month from local authorities looking to place children in temporary family homes, but so far has just 28 approved households in the region.
As well as Leeds and Wakefield, it is currently recruiting foster carers in Barnsley, Bradford, Calderdale, York, Doncaster, East Riding of Yorkshire, Hull, Kirklees, Rotherham and Sheffield.
Helen and John from Otley had been considering fostering for years, inspired by Helen’s mother, who fostered when she was a child.
But with seven children between them, the time wasn’t right until last year, when three of their older children left home, and with one older child having already flown the nest, it left just three of their children at home.
“The house started to feel a bit like an empty nest,” Helen, 43, said. “It also meant that we suddenly had two spare bedrooms, so we decided to offer them to children in care. Our older children were understanding and encouraging, and the younger ones were just excited to have new friends to play with.”
The application process, she said, was thorough and “totally prepared” the couple for the reality of fostering.
Their first placement was “short, but lovely and successful” and saw a 15-old-girl stay with the family for eight days to give her long-term foster carers a respite break during a period when they were struggling to get on.
“As it was summer holidays, we kept her entertained by taking her swimming, bowling and shopping which she enjoyed very much,” Helen said. “TACT realise it’s slightly more expensive to take care of children over the holidays so we received some extra money which was useful.”
The couple, whose 11-year-old daughter Katie has special needs, are now caring a seven-year-old boy with learning difficulties.
Helen said: “He is a very lively boy and having had three boys of my own close in age, I don’t see much difference. He has only been with us for a few weeks, but he has settled in really well and the fact that we have children close to his age definitely made it easier.
“Fostering can be hard work, but when our foster son has a good day and he is happy, it gives us a warm feeling which makes everything worthwhile.”
Knottingley couple Marie, 27, and Brayden, 29, had a good idea of what to expect with fostering, as Brayden’s parents Michelle, 47, and Christopher, 54, of Castleford, had already fostered with TACT for six years.
“Watching Michelle and Christopher make a difference made us want to do the same,” said Marie.
They were approved in April this year, and didn’t have to wait long for their first placement.
“We met her on Friday and she moved in on Monday,” said Marie. “It was a strange feeling knowing someone new is going to live with us. Until then, it was just Brayden, me and the dog as we don’t have children of our own. Suddenly a 12-year-old girl moved in.”
They have seen a wonderful transition in their first foster daughter.
Brayden said: “Before coming to us, she wasn’t doing well in school, she was often given detention. Now she is doing fantastic and she even became a mentor for younger students.”
In August, two other children came into Marie’s and Brayden’s life – a five-year-old boy and his five-month-old baby sister.
Marie said: “Our oldest foster daughter was a bit jealous to begin with, but now they get on really well and she helped them settle in with us. The five-year-old boy got a little upset shortly after they moved in. He couldn’t understand why he is staying with us and why he can’t just go home.
“Our oldest foster daughter kindly explained to him that she used to feel the same way, but now she loves it. The very next day he woke up saying ‘You were right, I love it here now.’”
Before becoming a foster carer, Michelle was a nursery nurse for 10 years, and said she saw “what a difference” great support could make.
For the last five years they’ve been caring for two sisters, now aged 11 and 13.
The couple said their biggest reward is seeing their foster children being settled and classing them “as their mum and dad”.
However, this has not been without its difficulties, and Michelle and Christopher are still having some challenging times with one of their children.
But it has been a rewarding experience for the whole family, including their daughter Holly, 24.
Michelle said: “Holly was absolutely ecstatic when we got the referral for our girls. It came on her 19th birthday and all she wanted was two sisters. She absolutely loves being a big sister and she says she will probably end up being a foster carer too.”
TACT is particularly short of foster carers who are willing to foster teenagers, and not just young children and babies.
It also gets a lot of referrals for sibling groups, so needs carer households who are willing and can accommodate more than one child.
TACT chief executive Andy Elvin said: “TACT Yorkshire has a wonderful, diverse range of foster carers. We appreciate the remarkable work they do to ensure the vulnerable children who come into their care are safe, loved and well looked after.
“However, with up to 300 more children and young people a month in desperate need of a foster family, we’re always looking for more people to step forward to open their homes and hearts, particularly to teenagers, sibling groups and parent and child placements.”
If you would like to find out more information about fostering, please call 0330 123 2250 or go to www.tactcare.org.uk.