Paul from Tunbridge Wells in Kent has worked for Barnardo's for 11 years, and he is currently a Regional Fundraising Manager covering the London and the South East region. Paul and his partner Toni fostered through Barnardo's before he started working in the fundraising team.

Our youngest child of four was eight years younger than his closest sibling and as older parents we were worried that unlike his siblings, he would not have the company of similar aged children, either in his extended family or through friend’s children. So, we thought that fostering a similar age child would be great for both our son and also a vulnerable child who needed a home. We wanted to help a child who was in need of a family on a long term basis.

At the time I wasn’t working for Barnardo’s but I had heard that the Barnardo’s fostering service provided good back up and support to both foster parents and the children being fostered.

My partner Toni and I got in touch with Barnardo’s Fostering South East and so the process began. We were interviewed by the service and asked to undertake a detailed analysis of our background including our own childhoods and how we were brought up. Our friends were also interviewed to understand how we had brought our four children up and also to look at the strength within our relationships with our children and between ourselves. It is a rigorous process but it has to be that way when you are dealing with vulnerable children and their lives. It took just over a year to complete all of the necessary interviews and checks/paperwork.

We undertook a number of respite requests before Mark* joined us in 2002 as our first long term placement.  Virtually all our placements were for three plus years and in some cases five years. Most children that we looked after were 14, 15 or 16 years old. 

Mark was eight and a half and he had ADHD as well as attachment issues. He was incredibly active and volatile. It was definitely a challenging placement and as a family it took us time to adapt but things eventually settled down and Mark became an integral part of our family. In many ways he was an extraordinarily endearing, caring and thoughtful youngster and had a really positive impact in developing our children’s awareness of others and understanding their own privilege. 

Possibly one of the biggest challenges we faced was as a result of Mark’s ADHD. He was very impulsive which resulted in altercations with people who were affronted by his behaviour as well as interactions with the police. 

The support from Barnardo’s was invaluable at this time to help us manage these situations and remaining calm became our mantra.

Each child we cared for brought their own rewards and particularly four asylum seeking Afghani youngsters, who stayed with us for two to four years and gave us a fascinating insight into their previous lives, religion and culture. In addition to Mark we had six long term placements in total.

Without doubt fostering has influenced our family for the better, Toni and I know we have helped young, vulnerable children develop into strong adults better equipped to go out into the world. Our children are aware that there are children poorer than them in many ways, and I think they have developed into adults who recognise that some children need help.
Fostering is highly rewarding but also challenging and I would encourage families who are considering fostering to give it a go. I think that strong family bonds and good friends with an abundance of patience and a sense of humour, are all essential requirements for positive placements. 

*name has been changed to protect their identity.