Published on
25 January 2021

Barnardo’s NI says children who may have experienced abuse and neglect are waiting for places with loving foster families and they need more potential foster carers to come forward.

Gillian Cassidy lives in Bangor with her husband and their five children. As part of Barnardo’s NI fostering week, Gillian is sharing her very honest and compelling story of being a foster carer and how this has fitted in with her unique family life.

“Well, I currently have five children. Three are birth children: two daughters and a son, we also have a son through planned adoption and our foster child, a little girl, who is the youngest in the family.

“When people find out that I am a foster carer and adoptive parent they assume that I couldn’t have children of my own, because “if she can have her own, why would she need more?” I don’t need more. They need more.

Barnardo's NI

“My eldest was born with a genetic condition called 22q (also known as 22q Deletion Syndrome), which means she has a lot of medical and learning differences. My birth son also has a genetic muscle condition that means he fatigues easily and his speech, eating and hearing has been impacted. My other biological daughter was the one who never slept and the one you couldn’t take your eye off for a second!

“My husband and I had always talked about adoption and knew it was something we both wanted to do. When our youngest biological child was three, we decided it was time to start the process and we planned to adopt another son.

“When we adopted our second son, he struggled a lot.

“He was only 18 months but he experienced real grief and loss having to leave behind his foster parents and coming to live with us in his new forever home. He was gorging on food and refused to let me touch him, he was hyper alert at all times, he wanted all doors to be kept closed and wanted everyone to have their shoes off and stored in the shoe box. As a baby he was removed from his birth home, where he experienced neglect and physical trauma as a baby. It took him a number of years to truly settle, to stop flinching when I kissed him goodnight. This taught us that the scars of trauma can take a long time to heal, if ever.

“Three years later we started fostering our ‘Cherry Blossom’ baby, nick-named as such because she arrived in early spring, just as the beautiful cherry blossoms were in full bloom. She came to us straight from the hospital and she has a range of complex needs. Having another child in our family with these needs has certainly brought its challenges, but it has also enriched our family beyond what we thought possible. We have to remind ourselves everyday that this baby is ours to love big, but only for a little time.

“For both our adoptive son and foster daughter we constantly tell them that their birth parents love and miss them very much, they just couldn’t care for them in the way they needed. It is important for our children to have this narrative and truth, and to understand why they came to join our family.

“We believe that having our biological, adopted and foster children all living under one roof has enriched every one of our lives. When you are welcoming children into your home it is a huge advantage to already have children living there. The children can watch their peers and quickly learn that they get their needs met and that the adults in the house can be trusted. We are teaching each of our children that they deserve love and that they can learn from the community that is all the other children in our household. I hope this community long outlives myself and my husband.

“For anyone that is thinking about fostering, it is totally worth it. These children need you and if you have space to love, please consider it.”

If you would like to find out more about fostering, Barnardo’s NI is holding two online information sessions on Monday 25th Jan @10am and Thursday 28th Jan @7pm. To sign up for the sessions click here.

You can also visit the Barnardo’s NI Fostering website - https://www.barnardos.org.uk/foster/northern-ireland or contact the team on 028 9065 2288 or [email protected]