I always knew I would embrace fostering disabled children because my son had been born with severe disabilities. Sadly, he died when he was just six, leaving a huge gap in my life.
My fostering journey started more than 25 years ago, when my first husband and I worked as child minders. We began offering respite to children with special needs and we so enjoyed having the children in our home. Despite having four children of our own, the house always seemed so empty when the children in our care returned to their families. So we started fostering. With such a large family, people could not understand how we were also able to also look after a disabled foster child. Fortunately, our social worker had four children herself and was very supportive, believing we could do it.
Our first placement was an eight-year-old girl with severe learning and physical disabilities, and no speech. We were told she would not live to adulthood, so we thought long and hard before she joined our family, knowing that we would ultimately be putting our family through loss in the not so far future. She was beautiful and made people smile. When she died at the age of 24 it broke our hearts, but it helped that we have such wonderful memories of her.
Our second placement was a boy aged seven with epilepsy and cerebral palsy. We had befriended his family when he was just five and when he went into care at the age of seven he came to live with us. Twenty years on, he still lives with us. He is happy but still needs a lot of support with his disability.
Sharing a home with children with disabilities has helped our birth children to develop into adults who have a loving and accepting approach to disabled people. We are so proud that they have all gone on to become support workers helping young people with disabilities in need of support. Two of my children are our back up foster carers, so that our foster children can remain in their home whenever my husband Neville and I need a break.
After my husband and I divorced I was a single carer for a few years, before getting married to Neville seven years ago. He has taken to fostering so well. We faced our biggest challenge in 2012 when I was diagnosed with cancer. I couldn't bear the thought of the children moving out. We dealt with the questions asked by the children. I was extremely unwell and had very intensive treatment, but throughout all my bad days Neville supported me with keeping the children at home. And our TACT (The Adolescent and Children's Trust) and local authority social workers were fantastic, trusting and supporting us to maintain stable family life during a very difficult situation. I am in remission now thank goodness.
Kassie joined our family when she was eight and our house was starting to struggle for bedrooms. Attics were converted and extensions were added to accommodate our large family. We built a cabin for our birth daughter and converted our garage for our birth son to live in.
Our new girl was very different to fostering boys with learning disabilities but we loved having her with us. She left at 16 to live with her boyfriend, but we remained close. Two years ago I had the pleasure of walking her down the aisle, a very proud day for me. Neville and I are Nana and Grandpa to their two boys.
Next, a four-year-old boy with learning disabilities and autism joined our family. We were only meant to have him for a weekend, but when he held my hand on the way home from school my heart melted. So he stayed. He is now 19 and we are supporting him through transition to college where he will be working towards achieving independence and life skills.
Another young boy with learning disabilities joined the family when he was eight and left two years ago when he was 18. He is still very much part of our family spending weekends, Christmas and holidays with us.
Finally, a 15-year-old girl joined the family last year. She is very bubbly and it's very refreshing to have a girl in our home again.
As you can tell, fostering means everything to me. We have a large loving family and it can be hard work, but so very rewarding. We have always known a busy house full of toys, noise and love. My children call me Earth Mother.
To anyone interested in offering a disabled child a place in their home I say give it a try there is no skill just caring and being there for them. Please contact TACT if you think you might be able to offer a loving foster home to children in care.