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Meet our foster carers

Poppy

Fostering for: New to fostering

Fostering speciality: All ages

"The support from Essex County Council has been overwhelming."

Poppy, 53, would be the first to say that fostering is challenging, but she is living proof that people of any age, and those who are single, can foster successfully.

“I’ve found fostering such a rewarding experience and it’s really helped me move forward and find meaning in life. The support from Essex County Council has been overwhelming,” she said.

Rewards happen on a daily basis, but she recalls one recently that touched her heart strings. “My foster son bought me a card, specifically with roses on it as he knows I like them and wrote inside: ‘I appreciate everything that you do’.”

As her fostering role is paid, while her foster son is at school it leaves her free to help her aging parents whose health problems make them less mobile: “If I was still working full time I wouldn’t have had the time to do this,” she says.

Daryl and Alandaryl and alan, foster carers

Fostering for: 20 years

Fostering speciality: All ages

“I have never regretted becoming a foster carer, not even for a second. You are giving a child a second chance and that in itself is incredibly rewarding.”

Daryl and husband Alan have been foster carers for almost 20 years. Daryl, aged 60, first decided to become a foster carer 20 years ago after attending an information event and she and her husband Alan have since gone on to foster more than 140 children, from babies through to teenagers, changing countless young lives for the better.

Daryl said: “I have never regretted becoming a foster carer, not even for a second. You are giving a child a second chance and that in itself is incredibly rewarding. We really need the people of Essex to become more aware of the benefits of becoming a foster carer.”

Chris

Fostering for: Five years

Fostering speciality: Teenagers

“I can’t imagine life without teenagers. They keep you young and on your toes.”

Chris, 62, is a single foster carer with two grown-up children of her own who specialises in looking after teenagers.

She says: “I always wanted to foster but didn’t have a spare room until my daughter moved out. I can’t imagine life without teenagers. They keep you young and on your toes.”

Chris has always been around young people having worked in a local secondary school for 23 years in multiple different roles including teaching health and social care and as a learning mentor.

She’s been fostering through the council for five years and has two foster children. One has been with her for two and a half years.

“There has been a big difference in her since she arrived with me. She was very much a people pleaser then. Now she can express her true feelings rather than what she thinks people want to hear.

“She is doing really well at school and as her confidence has grown, she wants to do better – before she was just plodding along.”

Chris’ advice to other people who have seen their grown-up children leave home and are interested in fostering is to “go for it”.

“You have nothing to lose. Not every child will be suited to your lifestyle, but you get a lot of information about them beforehand and you have the opportunity to discuss whether they will be right for you.

“There’s lots of support and training from the County Council and a 24-hour helpline. Other foster carers are a great deal of support, too,” she added.

Pearl and Nigel pearl and nigel, foster carers

Fostering for: 11 years

Fostering speciality: Children with Special Educational Needs

"It's hard work but also very rewarding."

Pearl and Nigel have first-hand experience helping to transform the lives of children. They have five grown-up children between them and decided to foster when they were in their mid-fifties about 11 years ago.

The couple decided to look after children with disabilities and chose to offer respite care to see if they liked it. Their passion for the job took them by surprise and they soon asked to foster children on a long-term basis.

Now they look after two children with learning disabilities. Pearl said: “We love life with them. It’s hard work but also very rewarding. Things that they do you would probably take for granted with another child but for us it is quite a big deal.

“The county council gives you a lot of support and training and there are carers’ groups you can access. We think it’s the better option to foster through the council rather than an outside agency because of this support.

“It is such a rewarding career but if you are on the cusp of deciding, at least try respite or short-term care because it gives you a feel of what is right for you.”

Sylvie and Franck sylvie and franck, foster carers

Fostering for: Eight years

Fostering speciality: 5-18 years

“Whatever your background, you can become a foster carer. It is not a box-ticking exercise. There are no stereotypes. It’s just the generosity of your soul.”

Sylvie, who is married to Franck, quit teaching eight years ago to take up fostering full-time after a distressed young student walked in one Monday morning: “She was pregnant, had a black eye, and had been made homeless. I was pregnant too, at the same crossroads. But I was 33, had a career and a home. And yet I, as a teacher, couldn’t even hug her. My heart ached. I had to do more.”

Eight years later, in addition to their two children Matthieu, 14, and Theo, 11, the couple have opened their home to around 10 foster children through the council’s Fostering Service, which is seeing the number of children requiring a home growing steadily.

“It is the most demanding and most rewarding thing I’ve ever done,” Sylvie said. “When you see the children grow and blossom under your roof; when you see angry, miserable, tormented children become more balanced, happy, and achieving their full potential – it makes me feel like I’m doing the right thing.

“It also makes me feel very sad that some children are put in these circumstances. But we take them on holidays abroad, we go camping in Devon, we go shopping, to the zoo and the cinema. It can be traumatic, but they learn to make decisions for themselves. It’s beautiful to watch. The changes are amazing.”

One former foster child recently asked Sylvie to be the Godmother to their first child. “They send me pictures constantly”, she said. Another woke up at 6am to bake her a birthday cake.

“I view them as my children,” Sylvie said. “I know they don’t belong to me. I’m quite realistic. They view me as family, but I never claim to be mum.”

She added: “Whatever your background, you can become a foster carer. It is not a box-ticking exercise. There are no stereotypes. It’s just the generosity of your soul.”

Debbie and Vic

Fostering for: 20 years

Fostering speciality: Teenagers

“We love it. If you are in your 60s please don’t think you are too old. It’s easier for us to do it now.”

Debbie and Vic have two grown-up children and have fostered over 100 children over the past 20 years.

“I didn’t think I’d be fostering for this amount of time, but we are as passionate about it now as we were 20 years ago. It took us two years from thinking about fostering to posting a letter to the council, but I wish we had done it earlier,” said Debbie, 62.

“We love it. If you are in your 60s please don’t think you are too old. It’s easier for us to do it now. We have got the time and the patience, and we do it together. Anyone can foster. It’s the best thing we’ve ever done.”

Husband Victor, 65, said: “We started fostering when our daughter was 15 and more independent, so we could give more time to the children coming into our care. Looking back on it, we could have started much earlier because it turned out it wasn’t a big deal for us in the end.”

Annette and Stephen

Fostering for: Three years

Fostering speciality: Older children

“I would encourage everyone to consider fostering. Just go for it.”

Annette and Stephen have two teenage daughters of their own, but it was when Annette left her role as a primary school teaching assistant more than three years ago that they started fostering full-time.

She said: “It was just something we wanted to do for years. So many children don’t have a family, which isn’t fair. They all have a right to a home, warmth and attention.”

In addition to their teenage daughters the couple have opened their home to three foster children in total – two on a temporary basis and currently a 12-year-old.

“It was so strange meeting him – we all fell in love straightaway,” said Annette, 46. “That was it. We don’t think of him as our foster child. He’s part of us now.

“We take him swimming and out to meals. We took him to a warship and submarine in London; we saw the latest Avengers film at the cinema; we’ve been to Thorpe Park.

“He got his first passport and aeroplane adventure on holiday with us. He was so amazed to be up in the clouds. He hadn’t experienced any of these things previously.

“Now he’s transformed and is so much more confident. He had his first sleepover last weekend, which wowed us all. His change has been amazing. It’s been incredibly heart-warming to see.

“So, I would encourage everyone to consider fostering. Just go for it. We were so nervous and terrified. What might the girls think? Will they like us? How will it change our lifestyle? But it’s been absolutely amazing. We’re loving every minute.”

Darren and Karen

Fostering for: 25 years

Fostering speciality: all age ranges

“It’s very emotional to say goodbye sometimes, but those are the rewarding transformations you strive towards.”

For the past 25 years, Darren and Karen have cared for foster children through the council’s Fostering Service.

Darren, 51, and Karen, 55, a former nurse who worked with children with complex learning difficulties, decided to go into full-time fostering to help more vulnerable youngsters.

“It’s incredibly rewarding to know you’re making a huge difference to children’s lives,” Darren said. “Even though they’re not your children, you do grow to love them as your children and give them everything they need in a safe, non-judgemental home.

“You make them part of your family and look forward to the successful reunions. It’s very emotional to say goodbye sometimes, but those are the rewarding transformations you strive towards.”

Darren and Karen have two birth children and two adopted children, all aged nine to 24, in addition to their foster children.

“We have a large family but that doesn’t stop us going to London to see a show or to the beach,” Darren said. “You build them up gradually and you build trust gradually. Some might have witnessed domestic violence or abuse. Others may think there wasn’t a problem before. You have to be sensitive to their changing needs.”

Darren added: “There might be some very good people out there who have never thought about fostering but who have the skills to make a difference. It’s one of the best things in the world you can do. It’s made me such a better person.”

Jess and Dan

Number of years fostering: Under 2 years

Fostering speciality: all age ranges

“Go along to recruitment events with an open mind and listen to your gut instinct”

For the past 18 months, Jess and Dan have been respite foster carers. They have fostered six children, from toddlers to siblings, from a single night to 15 days. One child stays for a weekend every month.

They, along with seven-year-old daughter Rachel, have first-hand experience helping to transform the lives of children.

“It’s been rewarding but exhausting!” said Jess, 36, a special educational needs (SEN) teacher. “But we have no regrets. To know you’ve made a real difference is very rewarding.”

The couple chose to foster after a suggestion from friends who had just adopted. In addition, a difficult first birth for Jess resulted in them deciding against having further children.

Jess and Dan now foster through the council’s Fostering Service and they have been particularly struck by the positive effects on Rachel. “Our family has grown enormously, and it’s given her the chance to be the sibling she’s always desperately wanted to be. She’s gone from being an only child to having what she calls her foster siblings.”

Despite the short-term care, Jess and Dan always form strong emotional bonds with their foster children. Jess said: “You can’t help but get attached to them. You give everything you’ve got while you’ve got them. Some we know we’ll see again. Some we know we won’t. You do become invested in them and want the best outcomes for them.

“For anyone considering the role, you need a good heart and a willingness to open your doors. Go along to recruitment events with an open mind and listen to your gut instinct.”

Lorna and Tony

Fostering for: 14 years

Fostering speciality: Teenagers

“Each child is different. It can be hard, but it is very rewarding, too, seeing them blossom.”

Lorna, 52, has two daughters of her own, three grandchildren and lives with husband Tony. She has been fostering for 14 years after giving up a job in accounts and now specialises in looking after teenagers.

“We used to live in London and I’d always wanted to foster. When we moved to Colchester, we had a spare bedroom and I knew I would be leaving accounts to foster instead.”

She became a child minder and fostered alongside this: “Gradually, I stopped the child minding because fostering was overtaking, as planned.”

She started fostering children slightly younger than her own and as her children grew so did the age of the foster children.

Her daughters have long since left home, but her house is still full: “Now I prefer having teenagers – I like the interaction with them. I get a lot from it and they are great company. It’s nice to see them developing; growing in confidence.

“Each child is different. It can be hard, but it is very rewarding, too, seeing them blossom. It is nice being part of that.”

Jane

Fostering for: 7 years

Fostering speciality: All ages

“It is the babies that keep you up at night… Teenagers? Once you get to know them, they just want to sit and chat.”

Jane was 55, single, and a manager for Tesco when she decided to foster seven years ago. Since then she has fostered 17 children in that time.

She currently looks after three babies but enjoys the challenges of caring for teenagers.

“It is the babies that keep you up at night! I love all of them, though. They are all special. I have a baby who is 12 weeks old and her sister who is 14 months, plus a little boy who I’ve had for 18 months who is two and a half.”

Of teenagers, she said: “Once you get to know them, they just want to sit and chat.” One of her foster children came to live with her when she was 14 and left when she was 20.

“She hadn’t been to school for a year and I managed to get her back into school. She went on to do a hair and beauty course and came top of her year.”

She added one of her teenagers once said to her: ‘I didn’t know it was like this to be in a family, it’s lovely.”

Irene and Cliff

Fostering for: 40 years

Fostering speciality: All age ranges

“Some children have so much, and others come to our front door with nothing but the clothes on their backs.”

Cliff and Irene Sapsford have been fostering so long they recently collected an award from Essex County Council for clocking up 40 years. In that time, they believe they have fostered more than 90 vulnerable children.

They have two grown-up sons and are now grandparents, but Irene confesses they have lost count of the exact amount of children they have fostered.

She says she wanted to foster since being best friends with a girl from Barnardo’s when she was at school: “I don’t know where she is now, but she just stuck in my brain. Some children have so much, and others come to our front door with nothing but the clothes on their backs."

Helen and Martinhelen and martin, foster carers

Fostering for: 10 years

Fostering speciality: Teenagers

“There is huge support from Essex County Council and other foster carers, who have become good friends.”

Foster parents Helen and Martin Cornwall have one child of their own, and have been fostering for almost 10 years. They have fostered children of all ages, but these days specialise in teenagers, some of whom are asylum seekers who have traumatic stories to tell of their experiences.

Martin said: “We wanted to foster to give something back to the community. Fostering teenagers is generally a lot easier than fostering babies. Teenagers get themselves ready for school, for instance, but younger children need a lot more care.”

His advice to anyone who is thinking about fostering is this: “Do it. We’ve had a great experience. It’s so rewarding. Clearly it is not easy, looking after any child is not easy, but you don’t have to have had a child to foster.”

Kali and Shivkali and shiv, foster carers

Fostering for: 3 years

Fostering speciality: Special educational needs

“We feel every child needs a good life.”

Kali and Shiv’s two children were part of the decision process when the couple considered fostering: “We waited until they were old enough to ask them and they said ‘yes, go for it. Do it.’”

The couple are originally from Mauritius. Kali said: “We didn’t actually specify we wanted children with special educational needs, we just opened our doors to anyone,” says Kali.

Now they look after two teenage girls with special needs and have been fostering for three years. “We have seen the progress they have made since they have been with us and can’t believe how far they have come along. It is so rewarding, and we are so proud of them,” she said.

“Looking after children with special needs is not easy, but it is great to have the support of our social workers – someone we can pick up the phone and say: ‘we are kind of struggling with this, what do we do?’

“Advice ranges from telling us about a special group that we can go to for this, or read up about something, or there’s an event for that; if they can’t solve the problem directly, they’ve always pointed us in the right direction. They’ve been really good.”

Kaylie and Simon kaylie and simon, foster carers

Fostering for: 3 years

Fostering speciality: Babies and toddlers

“I believe the day I don’t get upset when a child leaves there is no point in doing this role.”

Kaylie, 30 and Simon, 32, have three children of their own aged from four to 12 and have been fostering since their youngest was a year old. “I love it!” states Kaylie, who grew up in close proximity with an aunt who fostered.

The couple specialise is looking after children up to the age of two: “Our first placement was two days old when he arrived and 15 months old when he left,” she said.

“It was awful when he went but I believe the day I don’t get upset when a child leaves there is no point in doing this role.

“You are meant to get attached. It was upsetting for our children but partly because they got to know this child’s dad well. But they coped really well and simply looked forward to the next child arriving.

“They have realised they play a big part in making a difference in the lives of the children we look after. When they come home from school they play with our current foster placement, a little girl, and bond with her while I am in mum mode. I tell them they are giving her what she has never had, siblings.”

Kaylie says: “As long as you have patience and are willing to put in the effort then you will be fine. It does get hard; they are not your children and you have to deal with their families and their problems.”

Jenny and Tim jenny and tim, foster carers

Fostering for: One year

Fostering speciality: Sibling groups and teenagers

“The process to get to this stage was a very thorough procedure, but it has to be, although it was a lot less stressful than I was expecting.”

Empty nesters Jenny, 54, a former primary school teacher, and Tim Townsend. 60, a carpenter, have four birth children, of which two have flown the nest. Now they are fostering a pre-school child.

“This little boy has been a delight, a lovely lad to have as a first placement. There may be some who come with a bit more emotional baggage, but we will deal with that when the time comes,” said Jenny.

She said: “The process to get to this stage was a very thorough procedure, but it has to be, although it was a lot less stressful than I was expecting. We also had to go on a three-day course and from there they allocated us a social worker from the recruitment team. She was fabulous.”

She said: “When you go through to the fostering panel you are able to give your age preference of foster children and we have said we would like to offer a home to sibling groups and teenagers as there is a shortage for both.

“There is every chance that this little boy will go back to his mother, and that will be upsetting for us. As a primary school teacher, you do get attached to the children in your care, but I am used to seeing them move on. When this boy leaves, we will know we have done our very best for him.”

Vicky and Jeremy vicky and jeremy, foster carers

Fostering for: Six years

Fostering speciality: Babies, pre-school and primary age

“Opening our home to vulnerable children and watching them change over time is great.”

For the past six years Vicky and Jeremy, who are in their fifties, have fostered eight children and that’s on top of having five children of their own, aged from 13 to 23.

“We had thought about fostering for a while and considered it more seriously after holidays with friends and their foster children,” said Vicky, who gave up a career in sales to become a full-time foster carer.

“Opening our home to vulnerable children and watching them change over time is great. You do love them. Whilst they’re here, they’re your children.

“We take them to London, Centre Parcs, the Norfolk Broads. These are new experiences and they learn so much.

“Some have stayed for 18 months and it is emotional to say goodbye for us all when they’re reunited or adopted. But we almost always keep in touch. They send photos of their own children, we talk on FaceTime, and we meet up.

“One child ran up to his new mum rather than me, which was hard, but I knew they were settled and happy, and that we as a family had played an important role.

“People are struggling to become foster carers due to modern commitments, but we do need more, and I urge everyone to consider it. I never thought I could, but with all the support and training, you do gradually learn. We’ve just loved the experience.”

Paul and Gerry

paul a foster carer

Fostering for: More than 10 years

Fostering specialty: Older children

“It was my birthday and she just walked up to me, gave me a hug and said she loved me.”

Paul works in the communications industry and husband Gerry is a full-time foster carer. They have seen first-hand how welcoming a child into your home and hearts can turn a young person’s life around. “One of our foster children has been with us for seven years. She’s now 17 and is at college.

“From our perspective, it’s been fantastic having a child with us for that length of time and we have been able to provide her with a stable loving home.

“We put a big emphasis on her education because we could tell she had the capacity to do really well. We are so proud of her.”

There have been many defining moments with foster children in their care, but Paul recalls one that had him wiping the tears from his eyes: “One girl didn’t like physical contact at all and there wasn’t any reason for it. I remember it was my birthday and she just walked up to me, gave me a hug and said she loved me.

“It was an incredibly emotional moment, and one of the many occasions that confirmed we’d made the right decision to foster.”

 

debbie, a foster carer

Debbie and Gary

Fostering for: Six years

Fostering specialty: Teenagers

"He just needed someone to believe in him."

Debbie and Gary had already raised their two daughters but decided their parenting days were far from over.

So, six years ago they turned to fostering. The couple mainly took on teenagers. One of them was a 12-year-old boy who had a 40% attendance record at school.

Under their care his life was transformed. Now he’s left school, is at college doing business studies and has just passed his driving test.
“He just needed someone to believe in him,” says proud Debbie, a former nursery-school teacher.

“It took lots of patience and very small steps, but we got there. We worked hard with the school and had a fantastic social worker and it made all the difference.”

 

maria and phil, foster carers

Maria and Phil

Fostering for: Seven years

Fostering specialty: Teenagers

"Foster children can make you feel so proud when they do well."

Full-time mum Maria has been looking after foster children for seven years, since the youngest of her two children was 15.

Their first foster child was an eight-year-old girl who, backed by the couple, has excelled at school.

“She is an A-star student – always above average in everything she does. I’m so proud of her. We’re lucky to have her – she’s brilliant!” says Maria.

“Foster children can make you feel so proud when they do well. If I can make a difference to one child, then I feel I have done a good job.”

Maria said: “I like teenagers. They go through a difficult stage in life and I can relate well to them. It is lovely to be able to help them. It’s important to get on their level to understand them and sympathise with them.”

She confides that their home is currently overrun with girls – three “lovely” young people all aged 14 and all fostered.

Karen and Darren

Karen and Darren talk about their experience of fostering with Essex County Council.

Fostering with children

Daniella and her husband foster with two small children, a son aged six and a daughter aged three. Hear how fostering has positively impacted their family.

Find out from other carers how fostering has changed their lives for the better.

Next > What do foster carers earn

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