Sharon and Colin have been fostering with Barnardo’s for almost 30 years.
The couple, who live in Belfast, have fostered more than 20 children, including siblings and children with disabilities.
They have provided all sorts of fostering, including short-term, long-term and emergency care.
The first steps
After a friend recommended fostering to them, the couple went to a local Barnardo’s information evening to find out more.
The event gave Colin and Sharon the opportunity to listen to other carers’ experiences, which they found reassuring and helpful. They started to believe that they, too, could foster, and would find it rewarding.
Adapting to the challenges
Throughout their many years of fostering, the couple have cared for children with a wide range of needs and behaviours. Their foster children have included young people with challenging behaviours, teenagers and those with life-limiting disabilities.
Colin says that as a foster carer '… you have to look past what you’re seeing on the exterior and find the young child.'
'We’ve had children who have had multiple carers before us and have lost their identity along the way. It’s important for us to give these young people the security they need.'
He admits that it is not always easy, 'but you simply cannot put a price on supporting a child and the difference you get to see in them.'
A special memory for Colin is from a time when the couple cared for a young person who had severe disabilities and was unable to communicate. The couple were told that she was physically unable to express any emotions.
After months of working with her, Colin and Sharon experienced her first ever smile. Colin tells us it was 'the most special moment and we truly felt like we made a difference in her life. It was such a huge step, both for us but more for her. It felt like she had got her identity back.'
'Barnardo’s is absolutely fantastic!'
Colin describes the level of support from Barnardo’s as ‘invaluable’, saying 'Barnardo’s is absolutely fantastic! Anything you need, it’s done.'
He remembers a time when one of their foster children needed surgery: 'Our social worker left the office after her day of work and came to support us at the hospital. You don’t get support like that anywhere else.'
Advice for anyone thinking about fostering
Colin says: 'You understand life so much when you foster. We’ve had friends say "I couldn’t do it, because I don’t want to get attached to the child", but that is the exact thing you need to be able to do – you need to form an attachment with the child.
'As a first step, you should go and listen to people’s stories at information events.'
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