Susie Fowler-Watt: ‘Fostering - the ultimate gift’
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Susie talks about the extraordinary and vital work of the foster carers
When it comes to New Year's resolutions, 15-year-old James has one thing on his list: find a family. James is one of the 1,100 children currently being looked after by Norfolk County Council.
He is also one of the small percentage who live in residential homes. But he so wants to be with a family, that he asked his social workers if he could make a film about himself to show to potential foster carers. It's his personal appeal for a home:
"I would like a cosy home with carers who are chilled. Yes, OK, they can be strict, but kind and calm. I would like carers who let me fall asleep and put a throw over me. I would like a home where I can have roast dinners."
For those of us lucky enough to have always had a secure and caring home life, James's situation is hard to comprehend. But in Norfolk there are a number of teenagers like him. They have faced more challenges in their lives than any young person should have to deal with. As a result, they need special types of people to step up and open their hearts and homes to them.
The council is starting a campaign to find these people in the county. They are called enhanced foster carers, and are described as people with time, patience and resilience. No particular skills are needed as there would be training and support. Are you someone who could fit the bill?
We have friends who have been foster carers for more than a decade, and are the most impressive couple we know. They have taken on babies and then had to give them up when adoptive families are found for them. They have even taken in a young pregnant mother and her toddler. All this while bringing up their own family.
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"It has given us amazing highs and incredible lows. Fostering is definitely the hardest thing we have done, and the most rewarding", they told me. They now hold a monthly gathering for children they have fostered and the families that adopted them. "They are part of our extended family and we are part of theirs."
What an extraordinary gift to give a young person. Can there be anything more important than the stability of a home and family? With our friends we also know there is an abundance of love, which makes it even more selfless and admirable. They know these children will be moving on at some point, but that doesn't stop them embracing them wholeheartedly.
With enhanced foster caring it is challenging in different ways. These young people may have had failed foster placements before; they are likely to arrive on the doorstep within complex pasts and/or special needs. They may want a family, but have little experience of what that actually means in practice.
But whoever steps up and offers a home to a teenager like James would be changing a life. If we're talking about New Year's resolutions, surely nothing could compete with that?
My definition of a hero husband
I have long known that I have a hero husband and been grateful for the fact. But it's hard to define just what it takes for a husband to achieve heroic status: cooking yummy meals and turning on the electric blanket before I get into bed are all up there, but a real hero has to go that extra mile.
My friend Olly just did that, literally. He went with his wife Helen for a night away at a spa hotel in deepest Norfolk. It took more than an hour to get there. But when they arrived and saw the beautiful facilities they looked at one another in dismay: they had forgotten their swimsuits. The spa break was to be spa-less.
In desperation they drove 20 minutes to the nearest town, prepared to splash out on new swimwear, but it was out of season and they had no luck. So our hero dropped his fair lady back at the hotel and drove all the way home to collect the forgotten items. By the time he returned, spa-ready, he had spent around four hours in the car. Time then spent in spa itself - 45 minutes.
I know my husband would have offered to do the same, but I'm sure many wouldn't. It's that kind of mission for their beloved that separates the men from the boys!