A son whose father's experience as a foster child inspired him to help vulnerable children him is urging others to do the same.
Tim Fleming’s dad Terry was fostered by a “wonderful woman” from the age of two who gave him a stable childhood growing up with two other foster children. He credits his happy, fulfilling and successful life to the love and support she gave him as a child.
After having two children of his own, his son Tim wanted to thank Barnardo’s for giving his father a happy and stable family life and decided the best way to do that would be to help give other vulnerable children a good start in life.
Tim, 54, said: “My wife Julie and I always said we were very fortunate our parents gave us a good start in life wondered what we could do to help other people. The idea grew and grew and we thought about my dad’s experience as a Barnardo’s foster child and how his foster mum looked after him and thought we might be able to help do the same in some small way.
“We applied to Barnardo’s and following the assessment process, we were approved as short breaks carers in 2010. Through the programme, we were introduced to a little girl with additional needs who began to come to stay with us at weekends. Ten years later, she is still coming to us. We love being able to spend time with her and know it’s really special and enjoyable for her and appreciated by her family as well.”
Tim believes that the experience of supporting a vulnerable child in the family has also been good for his own children, Isabelle and Leo, who are now in their twenties.
He said: “We talked to Isabelle and Leo before we applied, and their views were considered throughout the whole process and luckily they enjoy it as much as we do. She is just part of their lives, they treat her as a sister and she adores them as well. We are on really good terms with the girl’s mum as well, we always share stories about what we’ve got up to when she’s with us and we were even invited to her wedding, which was a proud moment for our family.
“She’s a teenager now but even when she’s left the care system and we’re not able to offer short break care anymore, that love and those friendships won’t end just because she’s no longer in care. She’s part of the family now.”
Tim’s dad Terry, now 83, is well aware of the positive impact a loving family can have on a child’s life.
He said: “I was very lucky that she was my mum. I never knew any other family other than my foster parents and the two other Barnardo’s children she fostered. She was in her 50s when she began to foster me and she was absolutely tiny, only about 4ft 9 but she had so much love to give. She fostered us for the love of it, because she wanted to care and look after us.”
“We sometimes worried we would get moved on, but she always said us children would stay with her always … and we did. We were so lucky, and I know my foster brothers would have said the same.”
Terry added: “It was very different back in those days, a lot of the local people knew we were Barnardo’s boys as we had different surnames to our parents and each other. You were sometimes treated like a second-class citizen because of it.”
“But it did give you the determination to show people they were wrong and that you were as good as any of them. My mum was fantastic, she was very supportive and really pushed us to do well. I ended up taking my 11+ exams and going to a good grammar school and doing well for myself and that’s down to the love and support she gave me. Without her, who knows where I would have ended up?”
Tim and Julie are now urging other people to take the plunge to consider fostering, whether that would be full-time foster carer or as a short breaks carer like them.
Tim said: “We have never looked back. It has been a wonderful experience for the whole family. It has been a challenge at times, but the rewards are so worth it. It has been wonderful to be able to have a positive effect on her childhood and we’re so pleased we are able to be part of her life. Please, please explore being a carer if you think you can help, you really could make such a difference to another family, their child’s life and yours!”
Terry, now a grandfather of 5, is also calling for more people to find out about caring. He said: “I’m immensely proud of Tim and Julie. They have done a brilliant job over the years and it has been wonderful to see this young girl grow up and have such a lovely time with them.
“It is so rewarding; you get the love of a child and the knowledge that in some cases you can give them something or provide them with opportunities that they might not have had otherwise.
“I know I was extremely lucky my life worked out the way it did. Had I not been taken in by such a wonderful foster family who gave me everything I needed and made me feel loved and cared for, my life might have turned out very differently.
“If you think you could bring a little bit of joy and love into a child’s life then please do get in touch with Barnardo’s. You really could change a child’s life and give them a brighter future, just like my mum did for me.”