The Coronavirus crisis has encouraged many people to think about the future and focused their thoughts on how they can help those outside of their immediate family.
Foster care leaver, Stuart Sheridan, is urging people to think about whether fostering could be a life-changing opportunity for their own future.
Police Constable Stuart Sheridan, aged 32, has been in the foster care system since a baby. When he was 7 years old, he was taken into care by Fran Barzoukas from Basildon.
“I distinctly remember feeling terrified when I first turned up. Fran just seemed to get it though. She made a real effort with me even though I was probably very difficult. My favourite memory was being treated to a Burger King. It’s sometimes the smallest gestures which have the biggest impact”.
Fran, now aged 65, promised Stuart’s father, before he died, that he would always stay in education. With her help Stuart clocked up a 100% attendance record and credits his upbringing for his diverse career with Essex Police.
Currently serving Castle Point and Rochford Community Policing Team Stuart says: “Fran has always guided me on what was right and wrong. When I first arrived in her care, I stole twenty pence coins from a weighing machine in ASDA. She marched me right back into the shop to give them back. So, it’s no surprise really that I ended up being a Police Officer!
I can honestly say that I don’t know where I’d be if it wasn’t for Fran. I very much regard Fran as my mum. A mother may give birth to you, but a foster mum raises you and she did that fantastically”.
In 2020, up to 500 children in Essex are expected to come into foster care and Essex County Council is urging more foster carers to help transform their lives, just like Stuart’s.
Foster Care Fortnight highlights the importance of foster carers’ work. More foster carers are needed in Essex on a full and part-time basis for either short or long-term placements, with Essex County Council offering high-quality bespoke local training.
Foster carers can be single, married, from a same-sex family or retired and there is an active network of support groups providing 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 at Essex County Council, said: “While our county and the whole world responds to the devastating effects of Coronavirus, life goes on for children and parents in crisis across Essex.
A high proportion of the children who come into foster care are over the age of ten, so we desperately need carers to help with that age group”.
Stuart meets a lot of young people in the line of duty and hopes that he can be a role model for them. His advice to any young person finding themselves in foster care is to seize every opportunity available.
“I often hear from young people in care that I don’t know what it’s like being them. Well, I do. And I know that you can’t blame your situation on how you behave. You just have to use the cards you’re dealt with and play your best game with it”.
Stuart is recommending that anyone thinking about fostering older children and young adults should just pick up the phone and enquire; they may be surprised at just how suitable they are and how much they get back in return.