Kirklees foster carer stories
Keith and Zoe
A retired police detective-turned-foster carer is backing a Kirklees Council campaign to find loving homes for 52 children in its care who will need support until they're able to live independently. A major shortage of long-term foster carers means some could face being moved around, placed out of their local area or in residential care.
52 year-old Keith Talbot from Huddersfield has decided to share his story to encourage more people to come forward and to highlight that it's never too late to help a child reap the rewards of a stable home.
Keith spent 30 years working for the police, starting out as a bobby on the beat before becoming a detective. During that time he dealt with countless crimes, with some cases resulting in children being placed into care.
Since retiring three years ago and feeling that he was 'still able to do some good', he decided to become a long-term foster carer with his wife, Zoe, who still works part-time at a local children's home. Keith is now the primary carer for a ten-year old boy.
"My time at the police taught me to be resilient which I'd say has stood me in good stead as a foster carer. Also Zoe's job means she deals with children who've come from abusive and neglected backgrounds all the time, so we never went into it blindfold."
"I used to witness children being placed into care, often at short notice, during unsociable hours and at weekends. I'd always perceived the foster carers to be like saints, or angels, even. To do what they do, essentially providing a lifeline for these children without hesitation, was so admirable and I'd always thought to myself; I'll do that one day."
"Once approved as foster carers we were matched with a nine-year old boy and the fostering team had prepared us for the fact that he had some issues. At first he'd easily become upset or angry. But we knew those behaviours were there for a reason and we could see the potential in him. We thought; how can he possibly behave reasonably or hope to do well in life if he hasn't had a permanent, loving home to go to? It's just not going to happen until he feels settled."
"Six months in and with help and understanding this has abated and everything else has followed. In fact he's shown himself to be a loving, caring individual. He now understands that he's with us for the long haul and as a result he's doing brilliantly. He's happier, doing really well at school and he smiles a lot more. He even looks healthier!"
"Zoe and I want him to have the same chances in life that our own children have had, such as university, if that's what he wants. We've got two sons aged 22 and 26. My eldest, who teaches in Madrid, flew home specially for the child's tenth birthday. My sons genuinely feel that they have a little brother and love him just the same. "
"Unlike parenting, where you know your child inside out, we're still learning about each other. Over half term we all visited my son in Madrid and I learned that here was a child who had never been on an aeroplane before or stayed in a hotel. He was so excited and it was wonderful to see him enjoying brand new experiences; something we might have taken for granted with our own kids. "
"With fostering you're part of every little milestone and each time you get to see something new happening, from learning to speak and read and building meaningful relationships, to simply smiling for photos."
"Having experienced the rewards of fostering first hand Keith is encouraging others to do the same, adding:"
"There are people who might think fostering is about looking after babies. But there are many older children out there who also need a loving family and I feel strongly that it's never too late to help a child, whatever their age. Likewise I came into fostering later in life; proof that age makes no difference."
"I hope that my story will inspire others to come forward. It's important to know that you're never on your own with fostering. Every step of the way our social workers have been really supportive and helpful. They visit regularly and they're only a phone call away if ever we need advice. We also have access to regular training which helps us to do our job to the best of our ability. "
"To take a child who's been through so much trauma and uncertainty, to then help turn their life around and give them the best possible start; how rewarding is that? Finding out more about a child every day is part of the challenge and part of the reward."
Lee and Deborah
Deborah, 32, and her husband Lee, 36, were approved as foster carers in 2012. They have four children: Connor, 13; Jordan, 11 and 6 year old twins Reece and Rhianan.
The Paga family really are keen rugby fans, they're season ticket holders with the Huddersfield Giants, Lee coaches rugby at Moldgreen ALFC, Deborah helps out with the club, all three boys play and Rhianan is a cheerleader for the Giants.
Deborah says: "We first talked about fostering when Connor and Jordan were both at school full time, but when I became pregnant with the twins we thought that would be the end to our hopes of fostering. Then, last year, we went along to a Huddersfield Giants match where foster carers were handing information out - they asked us if we'd ever considered fostering, to which I said, we didn't think we could foster as we already had four children of our own. We were surprised when they told us that there are no hard and fast rules, as long as we have the room in our home to care for another child we should give it a go.
"We thought about it for a little while and decided to go for it. We ran through some early questions over the phone and the following week a social worker visited us at home to talk to us. To our delight, despite us having four children, and renting our home we were encouraged to apply.
"Lee and I talked about it with the children and we all agreed that we wanted to become a foster family. We went on training in March this year and were approved at panel in June.
"Because we both smoked at the time, we couldn't foster children under five, so we were approved to care for children between the ages of five and 10. We were told that we can change this to care for younger children too as soon as we've stopped smoking for 12 months.
"Just a few days after being approved at panel, our social worker rang asking us to look after a nine-year-old little girl. We were all excited, anxious and worried, but as soon as she was with us we knew she would fit in perfectly with our family. She got on brilliantly with our children and despite only being with us briefly, we really missed her when she left us to return to her birth family.
"You're not on your own when you foster, we've been to foster carers support network meetings and our eldest children have even been to birth children's groups. These are great for us as we get to talk to other people that are in the same position and we can share experiences and ideas. I've booked to go on some training courses this autumn so that'll help us develop and grow as foster carers.
"If you've ever thought about fostering, I'd say, don't rule yourself out; get in touch with the fostering team a give it a go. We love it.”
37 year-old Lynsey Kinnear from Birkenshaw has been a foster carer with Kirklees Council since 2012. In doing so, she has fulfilled a life-long ambition to help give children the best possible start to life; an ambition fuelled by her father's charitable efforts during her youth.
After just six months of providing respite foster care during weekends and holidays she didn't think twice before offering two siblings the permanent foster home they so desperately needed. Lynsey is just one of many thousands of people who have opened their heart and home to children in need of a loving foster family.
Just as she was inspired by her father's charity work, Lynsey hopes that her story will encourage more people to come forward and foster.
"Growing up, I can't remember a time when my father wasn't getting involved in some kind of charity work; something he still does to this day. Perhaps one of his proudest moments was when he delivered aid to orphanages in Romania in the late 1980's and he was full of enthusiasm when showing us photos from his trip of some of the children he'd helped."
"For these children people like my dad were a lifeline yet it struck me just how much he got out of being able to help them. This sparked something in me that made me appreciate how lucky I was to have my family around me. I wanted to help too so I'd always donate my pocket money to children's charities and get involved with fundraising whenever I could."
"As the years went by this desire to help never waned and though I had a stable job as a trainer, I yearned to do more and help make a difference. Inspired by my father's experience I too spent a few weeks volunteering at a Romanian orphanage. Then one day a friend recommended I try fostering. As a single person it never occurred to me that this was ever an option. But it came as a surprise to me that there are a significant number of single people out there, with or without children of their own, who foster."
"After being approved as a foster carer I started out by offering respite care to families and other carers during weekends and school holidays. This fitted in nicely with my career and it meant I could do other things in my spare time."
"Then I was asked to provide respite care for two sisters over a period of time. From the moment we met something clicked. They were a joy to be around and the three of us quickly became close. Already in short-term care, they needed a permanent foster family, and were desperate not to be separated. Then it hit me; I wanted to be the one to give these sisters the permanent home they needed."
"During my training my social worker had predicted that I'd want to progress from respite, to long-term foster care, but I quickly dismissed this. Yet here I was imagining a future with these two wonderful girls who already felt like part of my family. This was something they wanted too – you could say we chose each other - so the wheels were soon set in motion to make it happen."
"By the time they moved in with me they'd already come a long way emotionally and developmentally thanks to the efforts of their previous foster carers. Two years on and now aged 10 and 12, the added benefits of them being part of a permanent, loving family, have been immeasurable. They'll now grow up together and keep that special bond for life. Crucially, they'll no longer have that fear that they might be separated or moved around."
"These days the girls are my main focus and we do everything together. After they came to live with me I gave up my training job. But now I train other local foster carers during their approval process which means I get to put my skills to good use. I'm also studying for a Diploma in the Children and Young People's Workforce; part of the ongoing training available from Kirklees to help support me in my role."
"During my time in Romania I never imagined the huge difference a kind word or reassuring hold of a hand could make to a child. It made no difference that the children were not mine by birth and I believe it's been the same with fostering. Being there for a child who has nobody else to turn to is what matters most. Fostering is a huge privilege and I feel so proud watching the girls grow up into happy, confident individuals and knowing that I'm a part of it all."
Janet and Kieth
Long-time foster carers, Keith and Janet, have added their voice to Kirklees' plea in the hope that more people will come forward. In the 18 years since they began fostering, the Leeds-based couple have looked after more than 30 of society's most vulnerable children, including those with disabilities, severe behavioural difficulties, and long-term medical conditions.
With four children of their own, the couple are no strangers to busy family life. But far from deterring them, it was their love of children, along with an overwhelming desire to help those in desperate need of a stable and loving home, which led them into fostering. 52 year-old Janet, who also works part-time as a nurse, explains:
"Both Keith and I have medical backgrounds and fostering seemed like an ideal way of combining the enjoyment we get from helping others with our love of having a big family."
"For us fostering quickly became part of our normal, everyday life and our own children were never phased by it. They always enjoyed having other children in the house, often helping out in any way they could. I believe this taught them some valuable life skills into adulthood, and both of my daughters have now expressed an interest in fostering and adoption in the future."
"There have of course been times when fostering has presented some real challenges but I can honestly say it is also the most enjoyable, rewarding job I've ever done. Many people assume that one of the biggest challenges with fostering, is that you can become too attached to a child, making it difficult when they go on to be adopted or reunited with their birth families. This is something I feel often holds prospective foster carers back, but for us, this has never really been an issue."
"In fact when it comes to a child moving on we actually feel happy for them. This is because we've been able to play a vital role, however big or small, in making a positive difference to that child's life at a time when they need it most. This might involve seeing them through an operation, being there to lend emotional support, or simply introducing them to everyday activities, such as going on holiday or just sitting down together for a family meal."
"One case in particular that really brought this home to us was a little girl we'd fostered at the age of two who we came back into contact with at the age of six. To our surprise not only did she remember who we were, she also remembered how we'd looked after and played with her when she was a toddler. This had quite a big impact on us as we realised that we'd helped form some of her earliest childhood memories and that we'd somehow forever be a part of her life. For this girl, remembering the love we'd shown her, even at such a young age, was like piecing together parts of a jigsaw, and it meant a lot to us.
"Focussing on positive outcomes like these, allows us to step back emotionally and keep things in perspective so that we can be ready to help the next child who needs us."
As well as being a full-time foster carer, Janet's husband Keith, also helps to support other carers via local support group, the Kirklees Fostering Network (KFN) and visits schools to raise awareness about fostering.
"Although many children come to us with some harrowing stories and are faced with their own mix of emotions, each child also brings something positive with them and enriches our lives in some way."
"We often get praised for doing a great job, but seeing what some of the children have had to overcome and how far they can go in the right environment, we believe all credit is due to them. Being there to provide the tools for them in order to do so is ultimately what makes our job as foster carers worthwhile."
Jackie, Hilary and Sarah
Like many families, sisters Jackie Coulter and Hilary Fisher, and their niece, Sarah Taylor have a lot of things in common. But the three Kirklees women share an interest that unites them further - their commitment to giving children a better start in life through foster caring.
After taking up foster caring six years ago, sisters Jackie, 46, and 52-year old Hilary, both from Mirfield, inspired their niece Sarah to follow suit three years later. The sisters are also encouraging two other family members to become foster carers; their sister Katie and Jackie's 21-year old daughter, Chloe. Hilary's son, 18-year old Mackie, also mentors children whose parents are foster carers.
Their infectious enthusiasm stems from their own positive experiences of growing up in a large, close knit family. Jackie explains:
"Hilary and I grew up with our parents and four siblings in a modest three-bedroom terraced house in Mirfield. We were a typical 1960's family. The thing that sticks with us is that despite not being well off we never really wanted for anything and importantly, we grew up in a happy and loving environment."
"This is what my husband John and I had been keen to pass on. Our interest in fostering had gone back many years, which was perhaps fuelled by the fact that John was adopted as a child. This inspired us to want to return the favour and to give as many vulnerable children as possible a better start in life. So far we've fostered four children and we get so much out of it. We've never looked back and plan to continue doing it for many years yet."
After fostering 18 children on both long and short-term placements, Hilary and her husband John, have seen the positive impact foster caring has had both on their family and the children they have looked after:
"For me, perhaps the best thing about being a foster carer is seeing children go on to be adopted or reunited with their birth parents. To witness the happy outcomes and the difference I've been able to make to a child's life, even if for a short period, makes my job all the more worthwhile."
"Both Jackie and I have formed firm bonds with many of the children we've fostered. I believe that they take this attachment with them and as a result Jackie and I have kept in touch with most of the children we've looked after."
"Particularly as Christmas approaches, I would urge people to think about a career in foster caring. Although a very family-oriented time, families often break down over the festive period. This can be particularly upsetting but being there for a child at such a crucial time, is just so humbling. Even having a present for them to unwrap on Christmas day can make all the difference in the world to them."
As well as being part of a large, extended family, the three women also have children of their own. 39 year-old Sarah, who lives in Heckmondwike with her partner Lee, 45, and 11-year old son, Lewis, describes how they have adapted to life as foster carers:
"I came into foster caring after spending 20 years working in the care industry and seeing what an amazing job my aunts were doing."
"When Lee and I began foster caring three years ago my son Lewis was eight years-old and we did consider how it would impact on him. Although he'd been used to seeing my aunts' foster children at family get-togethers, we made sure we spent time explaining to him what was involved."
"There is a lot of support out there for foster carers. As well as going to my aunts for advice, I also get a lot of support from Kirklees Council's fostering team and regularly attend a local playgroup aimed at foster carers, so I never feel like I'm on my own."
"We're currently looking after two siblings. Initially we were looking after one child but when Kirklees Council contacted us about taking on a sibling we just couldn't see them parted and the benefits to them have been clear to see. When the first sibling came to us at 11-months old, it was like having a six-month old. But with love and patience, both children have come along in leaps and bounds and for me there is nothing more rewarding."
"Lewis loves having the children in the house and they are very much part of our family. Every other weekend the family gets even bigger; Lee has three children from a previous relationship, so with up to six children in the house we really are one big happy family."
David and Heather
60 year-old David Broadhead from Dewsbury took up foster caring almost ten years ago after a back injury at work forced him to give up his career in the motor trade ten years before.
Having started out as the primary foster carer, David was soon joined by his wife Heather, 59, who decided to leave her job at a children's nursery, so they could provide full time care to a child with additional needs.
In the time they've been fostering they've opened their home up to more than 50 vulnerable children of varying ages and ability levels, including many who were placed with them under respite and emergency care. It is this care that has helped make a big difference to the lives of dozens of children at a time when they've needed it most.
Despite the inevitable challenges of providing a loving home to so many children David explains that they take it all in their stride and that they wouldn't have it any other way, saying:
"Heather and I are short-term foster carers. This means that a child can live with us, from anything from just a day or two, to a few years and we've seen many children come and go."
"Many tell us they couldn't do it and I know some carers take it hard when a child moves on. We know others who've gone on to foster a child into adulthood after their first short-term placement because that's what's felt right for them. But for us there are no tears and no regrets. We very much see ourselves as a stepping stone in the lives of these children. It's definitely a mind-set."
"Of course there are some children who make a particular impression on us and that does make it harder. I still have warm memories of one child who came to us from new born until she was two. She was one of the brightest, most intelligent children I'd ever come across; a real joy to look after and I still regard her as a granddaughter."
"As a short-term foster carer you need to be flexible. This might involve receiving a child during unsociable hours or making last-minute adjustments to help a child feel secure. We once looked after a sister and her younger brother and we couldn't understand why he wouldn't stop crying every night at bed time. It wasn't until his sister told us he was upset because he wanted to sleep with her, so we moved his cot next to her bed and he was just fine after that. Another child was thrilled that, at the age of five, he finally got to have his own bed. It's often the little things that can make a big difference to a child."
"You also need to be practical. Sometimes it's easy sometimes it's not; sometimes there are tears, sometimes there's laughter and like any typical child, there are those who'll inevitably push boundaries. But we carry on because we're there to do a job; to keep them safe and warm and to steer them in the right direction until they can move on to somewhere more permanent. It's also important to remember that these children aren't to blame and we're not there to judge."
"Yet despite this I can honestly say that we've never had any major issues and I find it extremely rewarding to have the power to enhance a child's life. We've been able to make positive changes in many children in as little as a day, which is heart-warming to see."
"Even practical things like teaching them to put their rubbish in the bin or brushing their teeth twice a day instead of twice a week. Some children have had poor speech due to neglect but soon start speaking because we've invested the time in them. You'd be surprised how easily they take things in their stride and get on with it. Particularly if they've come from a chaotic background, routine and structure make a big difference."
"Fostering works really well for our family. Although our three children have now left home and have families of their own, we see them regularly and there's never a problem with the children fitting in. At Christmas and at family gatherings they're welcomed as though they're our own children. Our older grandchildren tend to bond with them straight away and often they're sad to see them move on."
"I provide training to prospective foster carers in Kirklees and always tell them that you get many of the joys of parenting. At the moment we're looking after three siblings; a girl aged five and her two young brothers aged four and two. Every day brings a different challenge but fostering is our life now and we wouldn't want to do anything else. It's really rewarding and we would encourage people to get in touch to find out more if they think they could make a difference to a child's life."
Jane and Andrew
It's not every day that you come across people like Cleckheaton couple, Jane and Andrew Bottomley. The devoted parents of three and long-time foster carers have dedicated over 15 years to providing a loving home to some of the most vulnerable children in Kirklees and to actively endorsing foster caring.
Since 2000, 45 year-old Jane and her husband Andrew, 44, have provided long and short-term foster care via Kirklees Council for more than 50 children of varying ages and abilities, including some with complex behavioural issues. Together, they have also worked tirelessly to help existing and prospective foster carers via their support group, the Kirklees Fostering Network (KFN), by holding regular events and speaking at seminars across the country.
Add to this their family-run business, three foster children, plus two former foster children who have remained in the family home, and one could be forgiven for imagining a hectic household. But despite their busy schedules and a full house, foster mum, Jane describes theirs as a "calm and happy home". She explains:
"Many of the children we've looked after have come to us from troubled backgrounds, and have been in desperate need of some normality. Whether a child comes to us for one week, one month or one year, it's important to make that child feel settled and secure. Only then can they begin to feel more grounded and open up to you, and I've been able to see first-hand the positive impact this has had.
"When meeting prospective foster carers I often tell them that the foster caring community is a bit like one big family, so you never feel like you are on your own. We all support one another by meeting regularly and by arranging family events during the school holidays. In bringing together foster families, we can also share ideas and strive to be the best at what we do."
When he isn't busy running the family's farm-machinery business, foster dad, Andrew, spends much of his time taking the family on excursions in the camper van and stock car racing at the weekends. Described by Jane as a "natural performer", he also regularly DJs at fundraising events for the KFN and has recently established a support group for male foster carers. Andrew describes how the family has adapted over the years to meet the ever-changing needs of the children in their care. He says:
"Our own children were just 7 and 10 when we began fostering and we were ourselves a young couple. But we've always liked to keep busy and are very family-focussed, so foster caring appealed to that side of our personalities.
"From the outset we were always much like any other family, be it going on holiday, making sure homework gets done, or helping out with household chores. Our three daughters were also very hands-on with our foster children, which is something that has shaped their lives into adulthood, as they have all chosen various careers within the care profession.
"Foster caring has definitely been – and continues to be - a learning process for us all. Every child brings a new set of challenges and although there are often no quick fixes, there is a lot of support for foster families in Kirklees. It's also humbling to see the benefits that foster caring can bring and how you can play a part in helping to shape and nurture a person's future."