Avril and Brian have been fostering with Barnardo’s since 2004, when they started off as short-break carers.
Avril remembers the moment they decided to make a longer-term commitment to foster care:
'We had two young girls for emergency fostering, and when they left, my husband cried bucket loads. This was the turning point for us and we decided that we wanted to help children on a longer term.'
Building trust and stability
The first child the couple fostered on a long-term basis joined them when she was 12 and still lives with them today.
Having previously lived in 27 different homes, she struggled to settle in with her new foster family and feel secure. Avril says 'any time something went wrong she would pack her bags and assume that she had to move to another placement.'
However, with time, they built trust and stability – so much so that on her eighteenth birthday 'she gave us a card to apologise for all the things that had gone on and to thank us for keeping her and giving her chance after chance'.
She even nominated the couple for the Foster Carer of the Year Award in 2014, when they were recognised as runners-up.
The rewards of fostering
When talking about the rewards of fostering, Avril says: 'It’s just the small things – whenever you see their face light up or when they realise that we actually love them. When those small moments of gold come about … well, you just know you’ve been doing the right thing all along.'
Avril's advice to foster carers
Avril believes that a lot of foster children just need time and reassurance.
'My message… is always to not give up on the children. Behaviours will come across hard, but you need to give the child the time to settle in and let their issues subside and have them feel safe – they have been through a lot.'
Avril and Brian also have the support of their social worker, as well as a wider network of Barnardo’s carers in Northern Ireland. 'It’s important that carers feel like they have somewhere to turn to when things get tough, and we definitely get that from Barnardo’s. The training has been really helpful and the support groups allow us to share experiences with other carers and get advice from them.'
'Things have a way of working out'
Encouraging those considering fostering to give it a go, Avril feels that: 'If you have a spare room and you think you could give a child a sense of normal family life – it doesn’t matter if you have kids of your own – things have a way of working out.'
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