The Fostering Network catches up with Ricky Weir, former Players Footballer of the Year in the Jersey Premier League and current founder and chairman of the Jersey2Africa4Football initiative.
We follow Ricky's journey from foster child to working with English Premier League footballer Victor Wanyama (pictured below), as he gives some encouraging advice for prospective carers as well as children going into or currently in care.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your experience with foster care
I was born in Glasgow in January 1963 to an unmarried Scottish mother and Nigerian father who were trainee nurses in Arbroath in 1962. My father died when my mother was three months pregnant, which, under pressure from her Catholic family, led to me being given up at birth and placed in a Barnardo’s children's home In Strathaven, south east of Glasgow.
At about six months old, I was fostered by a Scottish couple, John and Margaret Weir, who subsequently decided to adopt me in November 1964, shortly before my second birthday.
Personally, I saw my foster/adoptive parents as simply my parents, ever since I was old enough to be aware of the difference. Through them, I was lucky enough to enjoy a strong, stable, and loving upbringing no different to other children in my neighbourhood or school who were not fostered or adopted - and I am forever grateful to them for taking a chance on me.
Foster parents choose to give love and care to a child, which, sadly, depending on circumstances, is not always the case with natural parents.
With the childhood upbringing my fostering/adoptive parents gave me, I'd like to believe that they gave me a chance in life that I might not otherwise have had, and who knows where my life could have ended up?
Through the encouragement and support of my father, I gained a strong education good enough for a university place at one of Scotland's most prestigious universities. I harboured a life-long love of football, also encouraged and supported by my father who would travel the length and breadth of the country to watch me play.
My mother, perhaps more in the background, was nevertheless simply unconditional in her love, faith, and support of me - not only throughout my childhood, but also my life, and that is still true today as she approaches her 85th birthday.
Sadly, my father left me much too young, 30 years ago at the age of 55, which is my own age now. I will forever be indebted to him for shaping my life and character, especially during my childhood.
My foster/adoptive parents were not only loving, kind, and supportive, as many natural parents might be, they were also incredibly brave, taking a mixed-race child for their own back in an era where ignorance based discrimination was simply a fact of life.
Not only was I the only mixed-race child in my street and village, but also in my school, boys club, and wider community. So, to guide and parent me through my childhood as they did is a testament to how truly brave and special they were and I strongly believe this is a description worthy of foster carers active throughout the United Kingdom.
What advice would you give to parents currently seeking to become carers?
I'm not sure about advice, since all prospective foster parents have their own unique circumstances, but 150 per cent I would implore and encourage potential foster carers to at least 'test the water' and give a potentially vulnerable child a chance, love, support, and the opportunity to be part of a wider family as I was.
It is definitely not a one-way street, and as much as a child will get to experience and enjoy the benefits of being cared for by a loving couple/family the parents themselves will in turn experience many joyful aspects from an appreciative and loving child.
What advice would you give to children currently in, or about to go into, care?
Please do not give up hope and do not give up on yourself! Whatever your circumstances of finding yourself in care or about to go into care, it is seldom anything to do with yourself and more likely, arising from circumstances totally outside your control.
Please do not blame yourself, you are not alone and in these difficult moments, work hard to stay strong and believe that there can still be a life of opportunity and carers and parents who can and will love you and give you a platform to progress your life towards what you would wish it to be.
There are many, many foster children who have gone on to be happy, successful, and fulfilled in their lives and I would consider myself as one of those people, so wake up every day believing in yourself, in others and in life.
How we experience and deal with these difficult moments and periods in our younger lives make us what we can become in the future. We are positive and balanced young adults who are a good example to others and make our carers/parents proud while pursuing our dreams in life to be the best person we can be, even though our circumstances were not always favourable and we certainly weren't born with a silver spoon in our mouths.
What was the inspiration behind Jersey 2 Africa?
In many ways, it was accidental but started on the premise of wanting to help those less fortunate by finding a way of getting unwanted football kits to Africa (somewhere?).
That somewhere, through a series of fateful events and circumstances, led more specifically to one of the worst slums in Nairobi, Kenya, where the living conditions and day to day living challenges of the young people I met were beyond all comprehension and a million miles away from what we, living in the western world, simply take for granted.
There are common denominators, however, and for me that was football. I found my experiences of growing up as a young black fostered/adopted child playing football in the streets of Glasgow to not be a million miles away from these young black and often parentless children playing football in the slums of Nairobi.
This shared love of football with kids whose circumstances, clothes and shoes (or lack thereof) made my Glasgow upbringing feel like that of a prince by comparison.
I found it to be an opportunity to take my (then) 45 years’ experience in football as a kid playing in the streets, to player, coach, manager and finally Jersey’s FA President and share that wealth of experience and knowledge with African boys and girls who truly treasured and welcomed it. This was ultimately my inspiration to set up Jersey 2 Africa 4 Football and help to improve young lives in Africa through football in much the same way that my own life was improved not only through football but through the time, care and attention of my fostering and adoptive parents. So perhaps you can say that I've become a foster father to many of these young kids in Africa.