By Natasha David-Hilton
“We were sat having a picnic on a Southport beach, and the only noise around was the calls of the seagulls above.
“We both missed the sound of children playing with buckets and spades, and just seeing them have fun – It’s not the same on your own.”
This was how one couple, Mark and Queenie Purdy, came to their decision to foster.
It is said that children bring light and laughter in to the home and that some families just aren’t complete without them.
If this is true, then why is the North West currently short of 1700 foster carers?
A rise in the number of children needing foster placements and a shortage of existing or potential foster carers has led to this dramatic shortfall.
For the first time 23 local authorities have been inspired to join together in order to tackle the problem of vulnerable children being left without a stable home.
The ‘You can foster’ campaign starring experienced foster carers is the result of this partnership aiming to demonstrate that there is no typical carer.
“We were not the typical carer,” explained Pat Peacock, a full-time foster carer for 11 years. “My husband and I were 50 when we decided that our lives were too quiet.
“We had a family, they had grown up and left, and looking after children is what we did best. We wanted a bit of action in our lives, if that is what you could call it.”
Stereotypes of nuclear, traditional, middle class families are believed to have prevented many potential carers from coming forward.
The reality is very different. Foster carers can be aged between 21 to 70 years, married or single, they can be living with a partner, be divorced, or widowed.
It doesn’t matter if they are in a single sex relationship, working, unemployed, own their own home or be renting.
Foster carers may also have their own children or not.
Pat added that it was perhaps a lack of knowledge that puts people off, and prevents them from coming forward and that foster caring needs more exposure.
She explained: “It is the most rewarding, life changing thing, yes it has its ups and downs but doesn’t life for everybody?”
People foster for all different reasons but the not-so-secret truth is nearly anyone who can offer a child a loving and stable home can foster.
Whilst it may at first seem that you are offering a child the chance for a better start and future, on closer inspection they are offering you the chance for a new lease of life, and a loving relationship.
Pat was overwhelmed by the experience, and she told me: “They give me a focus and a reason to get on with life.
“A couple of years ago, on mother’s day the girls said to me, ‘we are so lucky’ and I just replied ‘no I’m the lucky one.’
“I never thought I’d ever say that because life had dealt me such a blow.”
Stories such as Pats, and Mark and Queenie’s, really are the norm, where the carers report feeling lucky to be able to share their lives and good fortune with the children they care for.
As well as the diversity of foster carers there are also many different types of fostering that people can apply for, such as part-time or long term.
Part-time fostering involves having children stay with you on a short term basis, such as for one weekend a month, typically so that their families or other carers can have a short break.
Mark and Queenie foster on a part-time basis, and over six years have fostered 19 children.
And they said their advice would be to go to your local authority and research the different kinds of fostering thoroughly to see which one would suit you best.
Pat is a long term foster carer and has cared for four children over a period of 11 years. Any children placed in her care are there for an extended period of time.
She explained: “You’re giving these children stability and love, something that your own children take for granted; I would urge anybody that is even considering it to go ahead and do it.”
Potential fosters admit to often being put off by the assessment process, thinking it is intrusive, and although to some extent this is true but Rachael Suthurst, who is leading the campaign, emphasised that foster care is all about team work.
“Fostering is very rewarding and enjoyable, but it can also be quite challenging and may not always be easy,” she said.
“Your local authority will be with you every step of the way and provide you with the support you and the child you are caring for need.”
This sentiment was only echoed when speaking to experienced carers such as Pat, Queenie and Mark who all said that the support they received was invaluable.
The overpowering message from them was that if you can foster, do foster.
Chris Williams, Chair of the North West Fostering Leads groups and Senior Assistant Director of Children and Families at St Helen’s council, said: “The campaign so far has seen many people come forward across the region to find out how they can make a difference to a child’s life – but there must be many more out there.
“Our message is simple – if you’ve room in your heart and room in your home, get in touch.”