Years of working with vulnerable families convinced Tony Foulkes that he wanted to offer a safe, loving home for children in care.
Approaching early retirement he persuaded wife Cathie that they should begin fostering with Barnardo’s Cymru and the couple have found it so rewarding that they are now backing the charity’s campaign (September 16 to 22) to recruit more much-needed foster parents in Wales.
During the last nine years Tony, 66, and Cathie, 60 of Abergele have welcomed five children into their homes, the first two for respite care and the others on long-term placements and say, “It’s absolutely brilliant seeing them blossom.”
The number of children in foster care in Wales has risen by more than a third to 4,700 during the last 10 years and Barnardo’s Cymru is looking for a wide range of carers to meet the growing demand.
The charity does not exclude anyone from consideration on the grounds of marital status, sexual orientation, disability or employment status. There is no upper age limit to becoming a foster carer and Barnardo’s Cymru is keen to speak to older people with life experience, whether they are parents themselves or not.
Cathie had no children of her own, although she has spent a lot of time with those of family and friends and in the Air Cadets, while Tony has four from a previous relationship. He had also worked with children with special needs and in child protection.
For Cathie and Tony fostering proved to be life changing both for the children they have fostered and for themselves.
Tony said: “We love it. We treat the children as we would our own and give them the opportunity to thrive and progress. I have seven grandchildren and they all integrate really well.
“One young man who has just left us has done amazingly well in his exams and we are so proud of him. People say we’ve done a great job, but it was he who put in the effort, we just gave him the opportunity.”
The couple have had the support of Barnardo’s Cymru throughout their time fostering and have attended many training courses and developed close links with other foster parents in North Wales who act as a support network for them.
They currently care for two children. Tony said: “They are a lovely and they keep us on our toes. We have so much fun with them. I would definitely recommend fostering to others. You don’t need to have a background like mine as much of fostering is about common sense, giving children time and attention and just enjoying it. There is support there for you and you know you are doing something good.”
Cathie, who works part-time for a local hospice, said: “I had a wonderful upbringing and I wanted to give other children that same experience.
“All children are challenging but as long as you set up routines and stick to them the children respond. Fostering is about providing a safe place for them, showing them love and giving them as much help and support as you can,
“We constantly reassure them that they can talk to us about anything, we are there for them. When they leave us but still take the time to visit or phone us to tell us they love us, that’s the reward – and they keep us young!”
Barnardo’s Cymru recruits foster parents for harder to place children. This includes older children and teenagers, sibling groups, children from black, Asian and minority ethnic minority backgrounds and disabled children.
Caroline O’Shaughnessy of Barnardo’s Cymru Adoption and Fostering Service said: “Children in care have often experienced trauma such as neglect and abuse but having a stable and loving home can make a life-changing difference to them.
“We welcome inquiries from anyone who thinks they could provide one of those homes. We provide extensive training and support that continues throughout the fostering period so if it’s something you think could be for you please get in touch.”
More information can be found at www.barnardos.org.uk/fostering or by ringing 02920 493387.