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‘It was my birthday and she just walked up to me, gave me a hug and said she loved me’

Foster carer, Paul, with toddler

Tuesday 21 January 2020

For more than a decade, South Essex foster parents Paul Ilett and husband Gerry Murnane have changed the lives of children in their care and now they are urging others to give a child a home.

In 2020, up to 500 children in Essex are expected to come into care. Essex County Council needs new foster carers to help change these children’s lives.

Paul and Gerry 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.”

Paul and Gerry both come from big families and having children in their own lives seemed the logical step. Foster parents are needed on a full and part-time basis for either short or long-term placements.

They can be single, married, from a same-sex family or retired. There is also an active network of support groups that provides opportunities to meet and learn from other foster carers. Many go on to make long-term friendships.

Cllr Louise McKinlay, Cabinet member for Children and Families, said: “Fostering children and giving them a loving home dramatically changes young lives for the better.

“New homes are desperately needed on an ongoing basis so that children can have the childhood they deserve.

“All our foster carers are very well supported through local training and their own social workers and the fees paid to them enable foster carers to follow their passion and make a real difference to a young person’s life.”

Transform a child’s life, be the parent they need. See the County Council’s moving fostering video on how to become a foster carer on its website.

There you can also see 20 inspiring fostering stories. Find out about fostering, call 0800 801 530, or visit to find out about attending an event to learn more.