THE BLOG

Enjoyed A Good Career? Now Foster!

23/11/2016 16:26

Congratulations and good luck to Lucy Kellaway, who is leaving journalism to become a teacher at the age of 57. Kellaway is swapping her role as one of the best read columnists at the Financial Times to educate youngsters at a tough London state secondary. She is also setting up a new organisation called Now Teach to encourage middle-aged executives to follow her example.

Is she mad? Why would you give up a well-paid job which has earned you the admiration of so many people as well as giving you a ringside seat at some of the momentous events that shape our lives? At a time when many of her contemporaries are opting for part-time, advisory roles that might fit in with rounds of golf and Caribbean cruises, Kellaway is retraining to take on one of the most demanding jobs in one of the most unforgiving environments.

I have never met Kellaway, but we tread common ground. I worked as a journalist for 30 years, including almost 25 years at The Times. I never wrote an acclaimed column, but I held my own at the heart of a national newspaper, working on the big stories alongside some of the biggest names. Since leaving The Times I have continued working full-time as a media adviser and journalist.

But not any longer. At the beginning of September, just days before I turned 55, I took the plunge. Just as Kellaway has, I walked away from well-paid full-time employment to be able to work with children and young people.

My decision is rooted in our family's commitment to caring for children who are unable to live with their birth families. We are foster carers, providing a temporary home to children whose ages range from newly-born to teenagers. We have specialised in the care of siblings, so they tend to come in twos and threes, living with us until their long-term futures are resolved.

We became foster carers with no grand plan, unsure how long it would last. All these years later, we find that we are busier than ever with fostering, including our three current children who have been with us for just over a year. What's more, the wellbeing of vulnerable children and their families has become a significant focus of our lives, and our priorities have shifted. I cannot claim to ever have enjoyed staff meetings, or departmental budgets or even annual appraisals, and I never craved promotions. But these days they seem less important than they ever did, and certainly not worth leaving home for before the children wake up, and returning home after they are tucked up in bed.

I still need to earn a living through writing, for fostering, unlike teaching, does not pay a salary. But my aspiration is a working day that dovetails with our commitments as foster carers. And so far, so good.

So as I write this blog I sit in my makeshift office at home, overlooking the garden, and working on my new laptop. I will shortly interrupt my work for the afternoon school run to the village. I am excited to hear how the children's day went, to help get their tea ready and help with their homework. There may even be time for a game or two. Other days I shall be there for them when they return from contact, or to take them to after school activities.

Foster carers are routinely expected to be in at least two places at once, and now we are a better match for the small army of social workers, health visitors, contact supervisors, legal guardians and teachers who require our attention. And although it is often forgotten, we also have our own family and friends, who live in hope of a little bit of private time with either or both of us.

I am first to acknowledge that this new arrangement is only possible because I, like Kellaway, earned a good living over many years. It is a choice that I could not afford when our own children were growing up. I am in a strong position to give something back.

It also my response to an unmet need for foster carers. Recruitment is in crisis, for my generation, despite being increasingly time-rich and affluent, is proving averse to accepting any responsibility for the rising numbers of children in care. So there is added pressure on existing carers like us to find ways to do more.

I wish Kellaway's Now Teach initiative great success in luring chief executives back to the classroom after prestigious careers. And I hope that it inspires a similar movement to re-energise foster care. There are plenty of families out there, like ours, in a position to do so much more.

Giving children the best start at home and in school is the very least they deserve. A shortage of foster carers is the cruelest shortage of all.

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