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“We don’t see them as special needs children – they are simply children with individual needs.”

Nichola, Toni, Aaron and Ellie with their dog

Thursday 15 October 2020

In the next 12 months, over 7,000 new foster families are needed across the UK to care for a range of children.

There is a particular need for more Essex foster carers who can provide homes for children with disabilities, as well as for older children and sibling groups.

Nicola and Tony Hanscomb from Wickford have been fostering for over a decade and currently have a 15-year-old boy with disabilities in their care.

Shortly after qualifying as foster carers Tony was made redundant and become the primary carer. His social worker spoke to him about a child who needed full-time care due to having learning difficulties and autism. Initially, Tony was apprehensive as he had no experience of looking after a child with disabilities, but he had the support of his wife Nicola, who had nursing experience across different specialisms. The couple agree that it’s the best thing they ever did.

Tony says: I quickly got used to the child and their individual needs. Plus, I have amazing support from Essex County Council. First aid courses, a caring social worker and plenty of support groups have all boosted my confidence and bolstered my experience.

Before we registered with Essex County Council, we were signed up with an independent fostering agency but transferred due to wanting more localised and bespoke training and support. This experience has proved much more positive with a better understanding of the support foster carers need and an empathy for our need to have occasional respite”.

Tony, aged 54 and Nicola, aged 49, live in the family home with their son, Aaron, aged 16, and their foster son. Their daughter Ellie, aged 19, has just left for university. Whilst Nicola has a full-time job as a chemotherapy nurse Tony, who decided to become a full-time foster career, remains at home. The whole family agree that the experience has changed their lives exponentially, having a very positive effect on everyone. Especially the couple’s two biological children.

“They appreciate the things in life most take for granted, such as food and shelter, and regard everything they have as a blessing. They understand that family comes first, and possessions are second.

All of us don’t see them as special needs children – they are simply children with individual needs.

Just like any child all they want is to feel love, support and safety. They don’t necessarily want the material things in life, but just want to live without fear”.

Foster carers can be single, married, from a same-sex family or retired. It can be undertaken on a part-time basis alongside a full-time job or offered as a full-time role, both with the full support of Essex County Council.

Cllr Louise McKinlay, Cabinet Member for Children and Families at Essex County Council, said: “Our foster carers help build better, brighter futures for hundreds of children across Essex every year. We desperately need more people, like Nicola and Tony, to foster those with both physical and learning disabilities.

Our foster carers have a wide range of previous experience from personal to professional and some of them have transferrable skills. Nobody should discount themselves if they feel they don’t have the right experience or a suitable home to accommodate someone. Give our friendly team a call if you are unsure.”

Essex County Council provide high-quality bespoke local training to all foster carers and provide ongoing support. There is also an active network of support groups providing opportunities to meet and learn from other foster carers, with many going on to make long-term friendships.

Fostering continues to influence the lives of Tony and Nicola’s children with their son now wanting to work with children who have disabilities in the future.

When talking of the child being fostered by his parents, Aaron says: “I love him like a brother. I love playing with him and looking after him. Having foster siblings has really opened my eyes and helped me see the other side of life. It’s made me realise how I can help others in life”.

Find out more about fostering by calling our friendly team on: 0800 801 530. We have online information events where you can ask any questions and speak with existing foster carers to find out more here.