BY TOBY PORTER
“If you woke me up in the middle of the night and asked me about the children I’ve cared for, I can tell you each one’s date of birth and why they came to me.”
That’s a typical response from Stella, one of Southwark’s many foster carers. During Foster Care Fortnight which lasts until May 28, the town hall is looking for more people like Stella. Foster care can seem a daunting calling. But invariably, those who take it up wish they had started sooner. During Foster Care Fortnight, boroughs are hoping to encourage more people to consider becoming foster carers.
Foster carer Kahlil Gibran said: “You can give them your thoughts – but they have their own thoughts. Their souls dwell in a place called tomorrow, which you cannot visit.
“You can strive to be like them, but you cannot make them just like you.” Councillor Victoria Mills, cabinet member for children and schools, said: “The care and support that our foster carers provide for Southwark children cannot be underestimated.
“Fostering is not without its challenges but many carers describe it as the best thing they have ever done.
“There is no such thing as a typical foster carer. Our carers come from different walks of life and family make up. It is vitally important that we recruit more foster carers to provide stable and loving homes for children who are going through really difficult times.”
So why would anyone want to do it – especially if they are not genetically linked to their offspring? But people do – and in Foster Care Fortnight, those who have reaped the rewards have spoken about why. Dave has been caring for children since 1972 and currently cares for a teenage girl with learning difficulties. He started fostering with his wife but has continued as a single carer after she passed away in 2012.
He said: “Fostering as a single man is not something I ever envisaged or thought about. “To be honest, when my wife died, I didn’t think I would be able to carry on fostering. “But social workers from Southwark council spoke to the children and I was glad to hear they both adamantly wanted to stay with me.
I’m glad I have been able to finish what my wife and I started. “As many people say, fostering is a vocation not a job and it’s with good reason. Fostering is not a nine-to-five job. The best thing about fostering is seeing a child grow in confidence and leave care full of self-esteem and making a go of life.
“To anyone thinking of fostering, I say go for it. Your life will be enriched and you will be helping someone who really needs it. Yes, it’s hard at first but you get oodles of training and lots of support.”
Debbie and Paul have been fostering since 2015 and currently have been caring for a teenage boy.
Debbie said: “I wanted to become a foster carer and especially a foster carer for Southwark council because it’s where I live and I think it is important Southwark people foster Southwark children. “We found ourselves in a situation where our youngest went away to university and we were rattling around a three-bedroom flat and it’s a joy to have youngsters coming into the home. It’s something that we both wish we had done sooner.
“We’re looking after a teenager at the moment. I think there can be a lot of sensationalised stories about caring for older children. With teenagers you still have to be there and parent but they also like to have their own time.
“He’s part of our family and other foster children that we’ve had look up to him for advice. “You only ever hear about the ‘impossible teenagers’, and that’s not the case for everyone. You don’t hear about the good things.”
Stella has been fostering for 18 years, and has looked after more than 60 children. She said: “If you woke me up in the middle of the night and asked me about the children I’ve cared for, I can tell you each one’s date of birth and why they came to me. I can tell you that, but ask me what I had for breakfast and I can’t remember.
“That’s how they are to me. I always want to know what they are doing and how they are, even after they leave me.
“This Christmas we had more than 20 of our children back. This time they came back with their partners and their children.
“Seeing them now and remembering them how they were – that’s the reward.” There will be an all-day information event on Friday, June 8 at Surrey Quays shopping centre, Redriff Road, SE16 7LL from 9.30am-4pm.
There are regular information events held throughout the year, usually on the second Tuesday of every month at Canada Water Library, 21 Surrey Quays Road, SE16 7AR 5.30pm- 7pm. If you have a spare room and are interested in finding out more, call 0800 952 0707.
Southwark residents fostering Southwark children get a 100 per cent discount on their council tax as well as allowances for birthdays, festivities, holiday and technology purchases.