Sarah, 36 was working as the manager of an equestrian centre when she first thought about fostering.

“At the time I started fostering about ten years ago I thought I couldn’t have children of my own” she says, “ but I always wanted to work with children and I’d worked with vulnerable and disabled children in the equestrian centre where I worked. A friend of mine was a foster carer and I thought that would be something I really could do – to change a child’s life and offer a child a home. So I went through the process of becoming a foster carer and it took about seven months – and the first placement I had was three babies for two and a half years! They were adopted when they were about two.”

Eight years ago Sarah began to foster the three siblings who live with her still – a boy who is now 13, his sister who is 14 and their brother who is 15. All three young people are very different and have differing and complex needs.

“I’m the sort of person who needs to keep busy, so after looking after the three babies I was happy to foster the children we have now” says Sarah.

Richie, 38, and Sarah got together five years ago. “The children were 8, 9, 10 when Richard came into their lives. When he found out I was a foster carer he said ‘I take my hat off to you and what you’ve done for those kids’. He’s got a real soft side for a 6’4” rugby player! We’re so proud of what we’ve done together as a team.”

Sarah and Richie have kept all the siblings together, despite complex challenges in doing so as all the children need a lot of emotional support.

“They’d had a lot of moves in a short time before they came here” says Sarah “and they had no idea about permanency as each time they thought it was their forever home, so they are secure with us here. They are part of our family – I couldn’t imagine life without them. We love it.”

“It can be difficult at times but all kids are challenging” says Richie. “My mum was a single parent and I know she struggled with me when I was growing up. It makes it easier if they misbehave to think it’s probably nothing to how I was as a child. They have time out reading which is something I never had – they love to read but I struggled with it.

We said to each other we’d never give up on them and make them have another move – being in care is hard enough without having to move and move schools and have all that change.

“We’re quite laidback” says Sarah. “I think that’s the reason why this placement has worked. We’ve had to alter our lives a lot, but I wouldn’t change anything.”

Richie was a professional rugby league footballer who played as a prop. His 18-season career began at Bradford in 2001 and included spells with London Broncos, Leigh, Wakefield, Crusaders, Halifax and Featherstone, making more than 350 appearances for 10 clubs across Super League, the Championship and League One. He joined Hunslet for a third time ahead of the 2019, season but sustained a head injury and was forced to retire from the sport in March 2019.

“Sarah and I had been going out in our twenties but when we met up again and got back together, she was already fostering and the children were all here. It had never crossed my mind to be a foster carer before, but the strength of our relationship meant that it was best for me and for the children, because they didn’t need to have more change in their lives because I was with Sarah. We didn’t rush into things – we waited for the time to be right.

“I couldn’t just come into the home than disappear, it wouldn’t be fair on the children. So I needed to do the checks so that it was okay for me to move in and start the process to become a foster carer. It’s five years since I’ve been approved and it’s something that I really enjoy.”

Richie’s career made things easier for him when he moved in. “The children never had rugby in their lives” he says “but it’s something that they really like. And as a rugby player I got the chance to help out quite a lot during the day – for instance I could do the school runs because I was not full time towards the end of my career.

“The children made me feel really welcome into their home with Sarah. One of the children in particular found an interest in rugby and he came to the games with me and was interested in my career. He found it a bit weird when I moved teams, but he supported whichever team I was playing for and he liked the atmosphere of the games.”

The family has expanded recently as even though Sarah had thought she couldn’t have children, the couple had their own little boy two years ago, and Richie also has two children from a previous relationship and they get on well together.

Sarah and Richie are happy to talk about fostering with Barnardo’s. “I originally fostered with another agency” says Sarah “but it was the training that attracted me when we transferred to Barnardo’s - they are really supportive and you always feel that if you have an issue you can get on the phone and they are there for you.

To anyone wanting to foster I’d say the rewards from fostering are just brilliant. I’d say it’s a really challenging job, but what you get from it and the support from the social workers has just been brilliant.

And to be able to have those children at home and to have the things they didn’t have until to now – to see them smiling and laughing - it’s just so worthwhile to see how much difference we’ve made to those children’s lives. 

Richie agrees. “I’d say give it a go” he says. “It’s not something I thought I’d ever do but when I met Sarah I jumped in and I haven’t looked back. It’s a really rewarding job. If you’re in doubt just give it a go – you are never going to know if you can do it unless you try.”