Why do we do it?

    Debra Hall fosters three children, a 16-year-old boy and
    girl and a 10-year-old boy. She also has three children of her own
    still living at home in Cheshire.

    “I get up at 6am, shower, finish off sandwiches for up to six
    packed lunches, feed the two dogs and three cats. At 7am I wake up
    the children, then do some emergency ironing. At 8am two taxis
    arrive to take the teenagers to school. Then I do a round trip of
    the town taking the other children to school.

    “Some days I care for a 14-year-old girl who isn’t at school, so I
    pick her up and take her up to my horses where we muck out and
    ride. All this is before lunch. After taking her home there’s three
    loads of washing to do and a food shop every day. This week two of
    the children have birthdays so I need to organise presents and

    “The logistics of dealing with so many people in one house means I
    have to be incredibly organised. I’m on call all the time, and can
    have a phone call at 10pm because someone’s missed the bus.”

    Liz and Eddy McCloy have been fostering children with
    special needs for seven years at their specially adapted house in

    Liz says: “We hadn’t said we were interested in any particular side
    of fostering but when we were approved there was a six-year-old boy
    with cerebral palsy and his nine-year-old sister who had learning
    difficulties and emotional problems. They needed somewhere with
    lots of space and we had two spare rooms so we thought we would try

    “They are both now permanent placements. We adapted our house so
    that the boy could have a ground-floor bedroom with a hoist over
    the bed and an en suite bathroom. Another disabled boy of four came
    two years ago as an emergency placement. It was meant to be short
    term, but he is still here, although the plan is to move him to a
    more permanent placement.

    “We get up before 7am. The youngest boy is very disabled and has to
    be fed through a tube. The older girl gets herself ready. My
    husband helps her brother get ready. Two school buses come to the
    house for the two boys. The rest of the day is our own. There is a
    vast amount of washing as both boys are doubly incontinent, they
    don’t speak or walk either.

    “Then there’s the shopping, tidying up, and meetings with social
    services. We try to catch up with our grandchildren. Then after
    school there’s dinner, and reading the school diary to see how
    they’re doing. It is a lot of physical care.”

    Sue Clements and partner Chris Thornton from East Sussex
    were approved as short-term foster carers after taking early
    retirement nearly three years ago. They care for two girls, aged
    eight and six.

    Clements says: “I always had to go to work when my two children
    were small, but now when they go off to school I have time to think
    about dinner.

    “The children we look after have had traumatic lives so they
    respond to a gentle routine.

    “After retiring I watched a TV programme that reawakened an
    interest in fostering I had had since I was in my twenties. I felt
    I couldn’t do it because I was working and had two children of my
    own. If I had investigated it further I would have realised we
    could have done it then.”

    Thornton says: “Some people think of this as a job but I think
    there are easier ways to earn money because it’s 24/7 – you can’t
    stop at 5pm.”

    Gwen Hutchinson has been fostering for 18 months with
    her Jamaican husband Leo in Essex.

    She says: “Because we are in a mixed race relationship it means we
    can have black, white or mixed race children. For about a year we
    have had a 16-year-old white English girl and a 10-year-old black
    boy from Sierra Leone living with us. He was in a children’s home
    before and at first he didn’t know what to do with the freedom

    “When they are at school I do the cleaning and cooking. They are
    allowed to see friends after school and the girl has a boyfriend.
    But he is home by 6.30pm and she is home by 8.30pm at the latest.
    They are in a routine they are happy with.

    “I adopted my niece when she was 12 days old. She’s now 18 and
    still living with us.

    “When we first fostered my niece didn’t like it much because she
    had been on her own. It was an invasion of our privacy and your
    whole routine changes. Now the two girls want to get a flat

    Wren Sidhe gave up being a university lecturer to become
    a foster carer with her partner Helen Udo-Affia, a carpenter. They
    care for a 13-year-old boy to whom they are committed until he is

    Sidhe says: “Helen is Nigerian so we had a boy placed with us to
    help support his mixed race background. Our agency is supportive,
    but there’s a lot of public disapproval of lesbians

    “He [the boy] has been with us for seven months and has emotional
    and behavioural problems. He is in school three days a week because
    he can’t cope with a full week. This morning I took him to hospital
    for a speech and language assessment. Then I took him to school
    where we had a meeting with one of his teachers because he
    assaulted another pupil yesterday. He wrote a card apologising to
    the other boy and gave him one of his computer games. We were told
    he would be excluded if his behaviour continues.

    “I was home by 11am to find messages from the personal adviser for
    looked-after children, the fostering agency and the home tuition
    service, so I dealt with these.

    “This afternoon I will speak to his social worker about the
    situation at school. We are also preparing for another boy who is
    coming to stay with us for respite care for a fortnight. This means
    dealing with all his appointments, for example with the youth
    offending team and a young people’s mental health project. At the
    end of the day there’s paperwork, filing and writing up the daily

    “Sometimes we feel like tearing our hair out, but we have done
    things that we wouldn’t have done otherwise and we have had

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