Ann and Brian, from Newtownards in Northern Ireland, first became foster carers with Barnardo’s 11 years ago. Having fostered 12 children, the couple have found that “the foundation is always the same; there’s a young person who has struggled in life and they need our help.”
Now, Ann tries to encourage her peers to believe that they too can be foster carers. She advises them not to count themselves out; “…we know people who would make great foster parents but they don’t consider themselves to be. It’s a shame that they simply overthink and put themselves down.”
“We were once placed with a two-year-old. When she first arrived she was simply empty, lifeless - her parents never played with her. It made me incredibly sad to see such a young child not know how to be a child.” Ann remembers spending hours and hours with the child “being silly with her, playing with her, trying to make her laugh.” Eventually all the patience and love invested by Ann and Brian paid off; “…it was just incredible to see how far she had come along - she had a personality again. Things like this make fostering all worth the while.”
Another great moment for the couple happened only a few weeks ago, Ann tells us, when she and Brian saw one of their former foster sons working nearby. “He was first placed with us when he was 12-years-old and stayed with us almost four years. He had some challenging behaviours, and it was lovely to see that he stayed out of trouble and pulled himself together. He’s now 23.”
Ann and Brian are currently looking after a young adult who is an asylum seeker. He was 15 when he was placed with the couple and now, three years later, they have seen him develop a great deal. Initially there were some challenges - Ann describes the language barrier between the foster child and the family as being difficult. His status as an asylum seeker also means that he is unable to drive or work; but despite this, Ann feels that he has fitted very well into the family.
“These youngsters can be very angry, they hold a lot of anger, and if you get angry, it won’t help the situation. You need to give them the space to think, the space to calm down and then tackle the situation together.”
“We’ve had children with challenging behaviours. When they hit the experimental age where there is a lot of peer pressure, it’s important to be patient.” Ann adds, “children in care not only have to go through the transition of being a teenager, but they also have to deal with their past. But that’s where we come in, to try and help them build themselves up so they can be better.”
Ann and Brian acknowledge that being a foster carer isn’t always easy, but they are thankful for the support Barnardo’s has provided throughout their fostering journey. There have even been times where their social worker has had to visit at 1am; “I can just call my social worker, and she will say ‘I will come out to you now and talk to the youngsters’ - and that just does it.” Ann goes on to say that their social worker has “just been with us at every moment, every struggle.”
Ann encourages anyone who has thought about becoming a foster carer to “just go and get some information and you’ll be surprised.” Most importantly, “enjoy it - it’s an excuse for us to go to the park and play on swings. The children keep us young!”
By choosing to become a foster carer with Barnardo’s you can make a huge difference to a child's life - and yours.