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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