'We are home to many' - a reflection on 30 years of fostering

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When you have looked after over 100 children during 30 years as foster carers, retiring from fostering is a significant change. Eileen and Ian became foster carers almost three decades ago, now they are in their eighties and ready to settle down. Here, the couple share their experiences and give some wise advice: ‘You can’t change things over night. Slow down and enjoy what you have.’

Ian and Eileen started fostering after three of their four birth children had left home. ‘When our oldest children moved out, we only had our 16-year-old staying. The house was rather large and we could have either downsized or taken someone in.’ Eileen and Ian decided for the latter.

A bond for life

To this day, the couple are still in touch with many of the children they have looked after. ‘We are “home” to many of them’, the couple explain. ‘We promised that our home was their home for as long as necessary and we’ve kept that promise.’

Reflecting on their lives as foster carers Ian and Eileen are proud, first and foremost, of their fostered children’s achievements. Some of their best memories are the various graduations they have been invited to. ‘A very special one was when twins we looked after graduated. They both did a PhD and became doctors.’

The challenges that can come with fostering take a backseat: ‘I can’t remember the many difficult things’, Eileen said, ‘apart from one particular goodbye. We looked after a seven-year-old boy short term from a very disadvantaged background. His nightmares were so bad, they made him physically sick because he was so frightened.’ The couple spent many nights soothing him back to sleep and after a while he began to recover. ‘It was before Christmas. He helped decorating the house, make the pudding. And then he had to leave. He was one of the few children I cried over when they left. He moved to a long-term placement, but we felt the move was the wrong decision, it had taken too long to find a home for him, and he had bonded in our family.’

Life advice and future plans

Ian and Eileen’s advice for other foster carers is: ‘Don’t take anything for granted and don’t be surprised at anything. Coming into care is very often the best move for many children. It presents them with a whole new world full of opportunities’, says Eileen. ‘When things are tough, remember, it’s just a phase they’re going through. It might be bad now, but it will probably be better next week!’

Eileen, a former primary school teacher, hopes that access to higher education for fostered children is more encouraged. ‘Sometimes children are not ambitious enough for themselves and sometimes carers do not realise how much untapped potential the children have. Just because the children haven’t managed something yet, doesn’t mean they won’t succeed in the future. We should try to never give up on them, so they don’t give up on themselves.’

Even though the couple have officially retired from fostering, children still play a prominent role in their life. ‘We have six grandchildren and two “honorary grandchildren” from youngsters we looked after. We also still have a 24-year-old living with us. He came to stay ten years ago as an asylum-seeking child. We are now his “honorary parents”. So yes, we will still be busy. Children keep you young, active and forward looking. We are ready to embrace whatever lies ahead and are grateful for our fostering career, the great people we met along the way and the opportunities it provided us with.’