Kirklees foster carers stories.
Jeanette and Gary's story
For Batley couple, Jeanette and Gary Denison, 2017 is a very special year. It marks 20 years since they first became foster carers and in doing so they have helped more than 50 vulnerable children in Kirklees.
Rewind 20 years and the couple's life was a far cry from the one they lead now. As one-time pub landlords, the couple fell on hard times after Gary, who had sustained spinal injuries at work in the past, was also diagnosed with arthritis. This resulted in him being forced to give up work and they eventually ended up in a homeless unit. It was whilst living at the unit that the couple first realised the key to their future could lie in fostering.
Jeanette explains: "As pub landlords the hours were long and unsociable but at the time it was everything we could have wished for and we felt content with our lot. When this was cut short because of Gary's injuries things quickly took a turn for the worse.
"With two young children to support - our youngest was only ten months old at the time - and no income we lost the pub which was also our home. We were left with no choice but to move into a homeless unit. Those months were some of the most difficult we'd ever experienced. We'd lost everything and with no immediate solution in sight we felt desperate, like we'd hit rock bottom.
"Whilst living there we met other families in a similar situation. Some had social workers and it was during a chance conversation with one of them that we learned about the massive shortage of foster carers. This is something that stuck with me.
"Bit by bit we slowly managed to get back on our feet and were re-housed. We kept in touch with a couple of the families from the unit and we'd sometimes have their children round for sleepovers. I remember thinking how satisfying it felt being able to help someone out, even if it was just with a bit of babysitting. I then considered those words from the social worker and we asked ourselves; why not do this permanently? So we contacted Kirklees Council and things went from there."
Having overcome so much during their own lives has undoubtedly helped Jeanette and Gary see many children through difficult times.
Now aged 49 and 56, Jeanette and Gary have watched their own children grow up and are also grandparents. But this hasn't stopped them from continuing to help vulnerable children and they've looked after children of varying ages and abilities, including some with complex medical needs. As well as being long-term foster carers to one child, they also foster other children on a short-term basis.
Gary adds: "It's difficult to remember a time when our house wasn't filled with children. As well as having three of our own, we'd usually foster two. At one point we had seven children in the house! Thankfully our children have always been very supportive and our son and his wife, who themselves are parents, are considering becoming foster carers.
"One thing we've learned over the years is that, even if a child comes from the most traumatic of backgrounds, they can overcome pretty much anything if they are shown unconditional love. Even after 20 years you think you've seen it all but each child brings something new. For the most part we love it and although it isn't for everyone I would say if you're one of those people who says they've always wanted to do it, why not go ahead and enquire about it?"