The Macclesfield Supermum who's fostered 18 children
Mother's Day is particularly special for Janet Garsden, the mum of the year who has fostered 18 children. Paul Mackenzie reports
Janet Garsden is a modest supermum. She has two daughters of her own and in the last four years she has also fostered 18 other children, giving a secure home to youngsters with troubled and sometimes abusive backgrounds.
The 55-year-old’s The home has been a sanctuary for children from across the county and she was awarded the parent or guardian of the year award at a ceremony late last year.
But she told Cheshire Life: ‘The award was not just for me, it was all foster carers. I have not been doing this very long and they gave me this but other people have been doing it for years.’
She was nominated for the award by her foster daughter who had been with the family for 18 months and who joined Janet on the stage for the presentation. ‘I didn’t really know what it was all about,’ Janet added. ‘I was so touched that she had taken the time and the trouble to nominate me, I wouldn’t have thought it of her.
‘She came up on stage and said she’d nominated me because I’d never given up on her and always stuck by her. It was lovely to hear that. I knew she was happy, but you never really know what children are thinking and 18 months earlier she had had a hard time settling in.
‘It is very difficult for these children, to be picked up and put somewhere else but she’s just another member of the family now.’
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Janet and her husband Peter, a lawyer who picked up an award for his work in child abuse cases the day before Janet’s presentation, first looked into fostering in the mid-1990s. At the time they both ran businesses and didn’t feel they could devote the necessary time to fostering but when Janet was injured in a skiing accident and had to give up her work as an interior designer, the couple filled in the application forms.
There followed a lengthy process of assessment and checks before they took in their first foster child in 2007.
‘It must have taken about 12 months from sending off the form to seeing that little boy,’ said Janet. ‘They check everything - your background, your home, your financial situation, everything - and it’s only right that they do; they have to be sure the child will be in a safe environment.
‘We were given a six-year-old boy for two weeks of respite care while his foster parents were on holiday and we really did wonder if we were doing the right thing. It was very challenging and hard work. But we got through that, and the next one and the next and you just have to adapt and take each challenge as it comes.’
Some children have been with the Garsdens for just a night, others for a week and others - such as the girl who nominated Janet, but cannot be named here - are there long-term.
Janet added: ‘Typically these children have a background of neglect or abuse, be it physical, sexual or emotional and some have health and emotional concerns, too.
‘It can all put a strain on us as a foster family but we are always mindful that we need quality time for us as well and that our own children need as well. There is a network of other foster carers we can turn to for advice and support and we have a social worker we can speak to as well.
‘No-one we knew did this when we started and our friends thought we were bonkers but we have made friends and had a lot of fun.’
Time to careWhen Janet and Peter decided they wanted to adopt they contacted Cheshire East Council's Fostering and Adoption department.
Stephen Kelly, the council’s Fostering and Adoption Recruitment Officer, said: ‘It’s all about giving children a safe and secure home environment when they can’t be with their parents, whether that’s in the short term or the long term.
‘The people who give up their time and make the effort to foster do an amazing job and are making a real difference to the lives of vulnerable children. But we are always looking for more people to register. We currently have about 430 children in Cheshire East, and the figure is roughly the same in Cheshire West, and we have 200 foster care households.
‘We are looking for 40 new households so we can give children the best possible choice of care, rather than just putting them with whoever is available, assuming anyone is available.’
Anyone over the age of 21 can apply to foster children, whether they are married or single, there are no restrictions based on race, sexuality or religion and there is no upper age limit.
Next month’s nationwide Foster Care Fortnight campaign, from May 16-29th, will highlight the need for carers and Janet said: ‘My message would be, if you have the heart and the will, give it a try.’
For more information on fostering in Cheshire East call 0300 123 3223 or go to www.spacesforfaces.com.
In Cheshire West, an information evening will be held from 6-8pm on April 14 at Winsford Lifestyle Centre, The Drumber, Winsford. To register your interest call 01244 972222.