Inspirational foster carer wins top fostering award in Northern Ireland

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An inspirational foster carer from County Tyrone, who is carrying on her family tradition of fostering, was been awarded the 2015 Foster Carer of the Year award, sponsored by Centra, at The Fostering Network Northern Ireland’s Foster Carer of the Year Awards ceremony on Friday 5 June. 

Karen Sharkey, from Omagh, is the oldest of five children, and she was inspired to foster by her aunt who was a foster carer for 25 years. Karen always knew she wanted to work with children, became a childminder in her early twenties and, with her sister, became a foster carer at the age of 23. Since then Karen has looked after 15 children and continued to childmind until very recently when she decided to to dedicate her time to meet the needs of the two boys she fosters. 

Fellow foster carer and friend Susan, who nominated Karen, said: “She goes to great lengths to fully understand their conditions and will do whatever it takes for the children in her care to achieve their full potential. She gives them so much love and one to one attention. It is lovely to see them living such happy lives.”

Margaret Kelly, director of The Fostering Network Northern Ireland, said: “Growing up with foster carers in the family meant that Karen witnessed just how much fostering can change lives. We’re so pleased that she then decided to dedicate her life and her career to children who can’t live with their birth families.

“Fostering is part of the fabric of our society. It is people standing up, giving their love and opening their homes, and dedicating their lives to the betterment of others. The Fostering Network is proud to present awards to both foster carers and kinship carers, those who have given a lifetime of service to the children of Northern Ireland, and to the fostering services that support them.”

Norman Bennett, Customer  Manager at Centra NI, said: “Centra are delighted to support the Foster Carer of the Year Award. It is great to be able to recognise the work that Foster Carers do in local communities across Northern Ireland. 

“These Carers do essential work supporting children, families and communities in every town, village and city in Northern Ireland, and we at Centra, are delighted to be able to pay tribute to this truly amazing work.” 

Foster Carer of the Year                                
Karen Sharkey who fosters for the Western Health and Social Services Trust

Foster Carer of the Year, Runners up          
Mark and Jenny Gillespie who foster for independent fostering provider KinderCare NI and live in Bangor, County Down

Lifetime Achievement Award                       
Billy and Mandy Johnston who foster for the Belfast Trust and live in Bangor, County Down

Foster Carer of Distinction                           
Cathy McCarley who fosters for the Northern Trust

Foster Carer of Distinction                           
Sharon Galway who fosters for the Southern Trust 

Kinship Carer of the Year 2015                    
Brigid McKee who is a kinship foster carer with the Northern Trust

Kinship Carer of Distinction                         
Teresa McCusker who is kinship carer with the Western Trust 

Young Kinship Carer – Joint winner            
Justyna Viapartaite who is a kinship carer for the Western Trust

Young kinship Carer – Joint winner             
Louise Reilly who is a kinship carer for the South Eastern Trust

Trust Award                                                   
Award to Western Trust in recognition of the Foster Carer of the year coming from their trust 

Trust Award                                                   
Award to Northern Trust to recognise their support to Kinship Carer of the Year