Changing lives in retirement

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For many, retirement is a stage of life to settle down and take things easy. For Richard Haynes, a 75-year-old from Gloucestershire, it provided an opportunity to take on another challenge: fostering. Among other things, Richard worked with youth offenders and as a Scout leader, but since 2017 he has opened his home to unaccompanied asylum seeking children and local children in need.

I retired in 1996 and took advantage of various volunteering opportunities. While working full time I was always involved in youth work and I decided to carry on once retired. I admit the things I have done are not totally altruistic but contain a significant amount of self-indulgence. In my younger, more physical days, I enjoyed adventurous hobbies and loved challenging myself. Now I am an emergency foster carer and have children arrive at my doorstep who I only have little information about. They come from different backgrounds and cultures and have different faiths and needs. And each child is an adventure.

The route to fostering

Upon retirement I started working with the Methodist church to bring homeless ex-prisoners from the Mohave desert California to a safe hostel in Los Angeles; in the UK I supervised and mentored offenders on licence from prison; and I taught carpentry to youth offenders and young people who were out of work. I also worked in refugee camps with the Dunkirk Children’s Centre which eventually paved the way to my fostering career. I became a foster carer with Gloucestershire County Council to be able to offer my spare bedroom(s) to young people who were arriving in the UK to seek asylum, some of which may have not slept in a bed for years and faced unimaginable hardships and dangers.

Coping mechanisms and happy memories

When I started my fostering journey, not everyone had my back. My girlfriend at the time left when I started the training. My current girlfriend, on the contrary, is very supportive and so are my family and friends. They are worried at times that I might be at risk but they are complimentary and know that I am persistent.

It is hard to hear about the child’s experience and yes, big boys do cry! I have welled up being angered at learning details of the cruelty and evil that exists in the world, usually hidden. To deal with it I am part of various support groups where I can share my experiences and concerns. On the other hand, there is nothing like seeing a child, who arrived very emotional – distressed, angry, and fearful – leaving after about five days, smiling and with a hug.

One of my many great fostering memories is the first Christmas after caring for six unaccompanied asylum seeking children during the year. I went to a party at Gloucestershire Action for Refugees and Asylum Seekers and met all six of them. It was a very emotional moment, seeing all of them enjoying the friendships they built in a multicultural setting. It’s amazing to see children from all over the world getting together, laughing and having fun in a relaxed environment.

Children are children

When caring for children it becomes obvious that all children have the same basic needs, regardless of where they come from. They need a place to feel safe, worthy and cared for. They need someone to listen. Unaccompanied asylum seeking children might have experienced the cruelties of war, local children may not know what it is like to be loved or may have suffered from violence and abuse. They all come with their baggage. The main difference lies in the language they speak, the culture they come from, their faith or their diet. I usually help myself with Google translate, sign language and picture dictionaries. I also prepare halal food and have a stock of clothing and toiletries ready for when a child arrives.

Working with children

Fostering has taught me a lot and it definitely keeps me young mentally. I have learnt to be flexible, and not to be surprised by anything, especially not by the background children come from. Yes, the application process to become a foster carer is annoyingly thorough, but it gave me confidence in myself, in other foster carers and in the organisation I work for. Once approved it is a real joy being part of the children’s lives.