What made me decide to foster? I had always had a houseful of people, whether it would be friends popping in, or my sons bringing their friends over for tea or sleepovers, there would always be hustle and bustle. I would have lots of BBQ's in the summer months or garden parties, with again lots of people including close family and extended family, all coming together and having a great time
My sons loved it, they were quite shy when they were younger and it helped to build their confidence, and certainly their social skills. The reason lots of activities took place at my home in the first 10 years of my marriage was because my first child, Claire Louise, was disabled and it was sometimes easier to have everyone over to mine than take the kids somewhere else.
Sadly, Claire passed away when she was 9 years and 4 months old. To be honest, I felt dead inside. My grief was silent because I needed to support the two boys and life carried on as usual. I eventually went back to work part-time which for me was a lifesaver. A few more years passed and I then lost my dad to cancer and my husband died 3 months later with the same disease.
I was off for 6 months and eventually felt strong enough to return to full-time work. I needed to focus on something positive. I changed my office, so it was a completely new start for me where no one knew me and I didn't have to talk about my loss until I was ready to do so. I made friends quickly, settled back into the job and started to rebuild my life.
After quite some time I saw an advert for my local authority, looking for carers to foster children and although I had never really thought about children in care, I soon turned to being on my mind all the time.
I phoned my local authority, and to be brief, was told I did not have the qualifications to foster, but the person with whom I was speaking could not tell me what they were! I ended the call and gave up on the idea.
A few months later I saw another advert for Foster Care Solutions and they were looking for carers to join their fostering service. As the idea had not left me I thought I would give it another try and go through the process which eventually lead to going to panel and being accepted as a single carer!
My family who supported me all the way through the procedures were pleased for me, if that was what I wanted, but had reservations about my safety etc, usual concerns. Especially from sons and brothers. I got through panel in the September and had my first placement at the end of October.
Fostering has been hard at times and a huge learning curve but something I am very proud of and have benefited enormously from. The knowledge that I have made a difference to so many lives is a feeling I can't explain. I still have contact with my foster children after they have left and one of my girls is now 25 and mother of 4! We are still very close and her oldest child calls me 'Nana Pat'. That is the biggest thrill for me.
What is my advice to someone thinking about Fostering? You need to be able to open your heart to a lonely, frightened, troubled, distrusting child/young person (who has possibly had very little happiness in their short lives) and teach them to trust you and to know that they will be safe and well with you, no matter what they throw at you! It can be hard to handle at times but is vital to stick with them to aid their healing process.
If you really want to do this and the thought will not leave you, don't let age stand in your way. I am a single carer and I'm 70!
My happiest memory of Fostering? The happiest memory I hold of fostering is when one of my girls asked me to be her birthing partner when she was expecting her first child. She also gave her surname as mine on the birth certificate and when I asked her why she had done this she told me 'I and my family were the only family she had ever had'. She used to call me mam and still does. I was so happy that she thought of us as her family, so much so she wanted to give her newborn daughter our name.