Heather and Adrian, from Antrim, have been foster carers with Barnardo’s Northern Ireland for six years.
During that time they have fostered six children, including emergency placements, short breaks and long-term fostering. They are currently fostering a 16-year-old boy, a five-year-old boy and a two-year-old girl.
They also have three children of their own: two girls who are in their twenties and a teenage son.
The decision to foster
Heather says it was Adrian who first suggested they foster – he grew up in an extended family, so was always used to having lots of children at home.
When they saw an advert for Barnardo’s foster carers, they decided to follow it up and go to the fostering information evening.
'Life has been very kind to us and our children and we thought we could give another child a home,' says Heather. 'We also grew up with Barnardo’s, raising money through the Barnardo’s Christmas tree at school and it was a name we associated with children and warmth.'
Two years after going to that first information evening, they welcomed their first foster child into their home.
Adrian says fostering has so many rewards: 'It can be challenging, but seeing the children achieve milestones in their lives like taking their first steps, or enjoying their first Christmas, or going in a plane, or when they get older getting their first part-time job and their first pay – we get to be a part of that.'
Heather says having the support from Barnardo’s has been vital: 'The team at Barnardo’s know us so well and if our key worker isn’t there everyone else knows us and the children. It’s a small team so the support is very personal. It feels like an extended family together with the other foster carers.
'There are regular support group meetings and training courses and you get to know everyone. It’s a network and we all have the same shared experience and we understand each other – it’s just good to know you’re not on your own and Barnardo’s are always there 24/7 if we need them.'
One big extended family
Heather and Adrian say their own children have welcomed the foster children into their family and look on them as little brothers and sisters:
'They just dote on the children, and our own families, aunts and uncles and grandparents are all supportive as well. They treat all the children the same when it comes to Christmas and birthdays and like any family we celebrate family events and milestones, like coming round to see the baby walking.'
If you're thinking about fostering
To anyone thinking about fostering, Heather and Adrian say they would encourage them wholeheartedly:
'Definitely look into it. It is challenging but the training and support Barnardo’s provides will help. The enjoyment you get helping a child grow and develop is so rewarding. It is bringing someone into your house who brings challenges, but also brings so many rewards and opportunities.'
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