North Yorkshire’s foster carers: ordinary people do extraordinary things

This story was published 21 August 2020

Foster carers across North Yorkshire provide an essential service in keeping children safe, loved and cared for.

Two people holding hands

And not just that – they are all ordinary people doing extra-ordinary things, helping children have a positive childhood and meet their potential.

North Yorkshire County Council looks after more than 450 children at any one time, with the majority living with a foster family.

The fostering service works hard to ensure that children can stay both in the county and in their community, close to their schools, siblings and extended family. The county council knows this is vital in order to provide the best life chances for each child. Its children’s services have received national recognition and are rated ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted.

Just one person signing up to be a foster carer could change a child’s entire life.

The county council also offers support to foster carers in the form of full training, support and advice plus there is a network of local foster carers and groups.

Mel Hutchinson, Head of Child Placement said: “Our amazing foster carers come from all kinds of backgrounds, and have had many and varied life experiences – being a foster carer is an extraordinary role carried out by ordinary people.”

“Looked after children have often not had the positive family experience that most children have, but all it takes is one foster carer to make that difference – could that be you?”

“If you have a spare room, and space in your life to offer love, support and stability and really want to make a difference then please get in touch – we have local children who need local foster carers now, and we’d love to hear from you.”

Alison was a teacher by background, living in Surrey when she began working for the Children and Young People’s service as a locality manager, meaning she saw first-hand why children needed fostering.

She and her family returned to her hometown of Scarborough and decided they wanted to become a foster family eight years ago.

She’s shared her story – including the massive ups and downs but overall sense of fulfilment being a foster parent gives her and her husband Tom.

She said: “Some of the children who need fostering at the tender age of five or six have experienced more than I have in a lifetime and for me, that is a real eye opener.”

“When I moved back to Scarborough we started the process to foster. I grew up here and we have a huge support network.”

“We have a birth daughter too, who was four when we started fostering.”

“We were matched with a girl who was six and eight years later, she’s still with us now and she will be until she reaches an age of independence.”

Alison and Tom have fostered 20 children so far – from a young mum with a newborn baby, to teenagers and everyone in between.

Alison and Tom are committed to being foster carers, but add there are difficulties and differences to parenting your own child.

Alison said: “It’s hard sometimes looking after children that you don’t have full control over and sometimes when the child has been traumatised by something it’s about working out what kind of parenting works best for them.”

“For example, having sibling groups and seeing the dynamic between them.”

“I worried about how my own daughter would adapt, but she has – she’s got an insight and an understanding that everyone starts life in a different place and I think that’s really important.”

“She’s understanding of why people behave in a certain way, and I think that’s important.

“Fostering is the most important thing I’ve ever done – the feeling you get when a little one holds your hand for the first time or an older one opens up to you.”

“Having a teenager saying ‘you trust me, so I trust you’ is so important. Or a little girl saying she feels safe for the first time – it’s an incredible feeling.”

Lisa, from Selby, decided to start fostering when she retired on medical grounds five years ago from her career as a police officer.

Lisa felt she could still give something back and felt that fostering would be a great way to do this.

She grew up understanding foster care, her father and childhood best friend both lived in a children’s home and later, other family members came from fostered backgrounds.

She said: “Every corner of my life has been touched by fostering in a positive way.”

“I’d always hoped to have four children and after having three girls of my own it seemed natural that the fourth could be filled by fostering.”

Lisa and her husband eased into the process, becoming more committed to the cause with each step.

She said: “The more we learnt, the more right it felt and our girls were just as committed as us.”

“We opted to do short term fostering at first in case it didn’t work out for us or any of our daughters, we knew everyone had to support it for it to work well.”

“The girl we have now was our very first placement and should have only been with us a few months. Aged 7, she was younger than we planned as our girls were then 19, 14 and 8 but it turned out well because they are excellent role models for her. Now, 2.5 years later, we are moving to formally change the situation as a long term permanent placement. It just feels so right having her in our family.”

“Of course we have had some real struggles with many ups and downs but she is a wonderful child, she’s just incredible. She’s smart with an amazing personality and great sense of humour. With our help, support and guidance, she has come through some huge adjustments and changed her own life for the better.”

“Something which also became apparent is how much her presence has impacted her foster sisters, their appreciation for family and recognition that not everyone has a similar start in life, or the same love and privilege, is important to learn.”

“There are times when it is incredibly rewarding – when she got her first 100% school attendance for example, or her first school play, or when she makes cards with ‘Grandma’ on, because it really feels like she has not only accepted us but also embraced our whole family.”

“We can’t replace her birth family but we play a really important role.”

“To know that she’s loved, looked after, going to school and reaching her potential is the best part for me. I’ve every confidence of her being a high achiever through university and having a bright positive future; and knowing we give her that love, care and confidence to be the best version of herself is just fantastic.”