Mother’s Day (This Sunday, 6th March) is a time to recognise and thank the incredible women who dedicate themselves to the care, nurture and support of children and young people.
So it is only fitting that Aberdare mums Marion George and her daughter, Amanda Clarke, are celebrated for all they have done, not only for their own children, but also for scores of looked-after children they have cared for as foster carers.
Marion followed in the footsteps of her late mum, Phyllis, to become a foster carer 25 years ago. Ten years later and mum-of-two Amanda also became a foster carer.
Phyllis, also of Aberdare, died two years ago but fostered over 70 children until she was aged 80. Many of the children she cared for attended her funeral, including one who spent all the money he had on a suit and taxi to be at the service and pay his respects to the lady who cared for him like no other.
As they look back on three generations of foster care over some 60 years, the pair say fostering is a way of life for them and urge those who have considered it to make the first step and find out more.
They say it does take a special kind of person to foster, but that you don’t need professional qualifications to be successful as a foster carer – you just have to want to care for and nurture the children who come into your care, through no fault of their own.
Amanda explained: “I always knew I was going to be a foster carer because of my mum and nan. I waited until my own children, now 21 and 23, were old enough to understand and be part of the decision before I applied, but I have not looked back since.
Fostering isn’t something everyone can do, but sometimes people think they need professional qualifications or skills in order to “handle” being a foster carer, but that is not the case.
Patience and a sense of humour are a must and you have to see the good in people, the humour in situations and be committed to helping them.
Looked-after children are no different to other children, in terms of their interests and needs. You must never forget that, despite what they may have been through before they come to you.
It is not their fault they have been taken into care and they often arrive frightened and confused and simple tasks such as using a knife and fork or brushing their teeth may be alien to them.
We are there to make them feel safe and reassured. It is not about focussing on what has happened to them or analysing where they have come from, it is about looking forward and giving them a normal childhood with routines, support, friendship, normal family experiences and, of course, fun.
“I find foster care very very rewarding and it is nice to see the children in our care come on and grow in confidence. Many of the children Dave and I have cared for have kept in touch after they have moved out and even had their own families. It is like we have an extended family.”
Amanda and her husband Dave care for a teenage girl and a brother and sister. All three children are close and get along well, supporting each other.
The youngest two particularly enjoy walks on the mountain with Dave and the family dog and spent their first Christmas with the couple last year , which Dave and Amanda said was magical.
Marion was an only child – but not for long. Her mum, Phyllis, decided to foster after meeting looked-after children from a nearby children’s home when she was on the beach in Porthcawl. She went on to have a houseful of foster children for years to come.
Mum-of-six Marion has fostered for 25 years and is currently caring for an eight year old girl and continues to support a 28-year-old who she has fostered since she was six.
Marion explained: “It is so rewarding to see how the children in your care come on, even after only a few weeks. They are just children who need nothing more than support, stability and routine.
I could not imagine my life without fostering. There have been ups and downs but the good always outweighs the bad.”
Laughing as she recalls some of her experiences as a foster mum, including one child who kept a grass snake in his bed.
Marion explained: “You have to have a sense of humour and you have to see the good in everyone.
“Yes, some children have come from bad situations and it is about showing them a different way of life. But sometimes they are with you short term while their families get the help and support they need.
“As a foster carer, you get to provide that support and know you have played a part in putting a family back together, stronger, at the end.
“I see what some of the children I have cared for have achieved, in terms of building their own businesses, raising their own children and being happy and it makes me proud.”
Amanda and Marion are just two of thousands of foster carers. Here are just some of the success stories.
Leon and Louise, were just aged 8 and 10 when they moved into the care of Susanne Smith and her partner Phil. They stayed with her for their entire childhoods.
Leon went on to graduate from university and is currently enjoying a two-year work placement with the Council’s Step in the Right Direction scheme, which provides employment and training for former looked-after children making t heir first steps towards independent living. Louise now works full time.
Lynne Hughes, of Treorchy, has been fostering for over 25 years.
Lynn began fostering when her husband died as she wanted to “fill her house with love”. She has cared for scores of children and helped them go on to be confident adults.
She is pictured here with Jane, one of her first foster children, Jane never moved out of Lynn’s and calls her “mam”.
Jane says the patience, understanding and care Lynn showed her helped her grow from a young girl with a terrible background into a confident adult. Jane is now a mum of two sons and has a successful career in the armed forces and has been commended for her bravery.
This is John and Joy Crosby, who have fostered 93 babies – and have no intention of stopping!
They were awarded MBEs for their contribution to fostering
This is Matthew Lockyer.
When he retired as a property developer, he and his wife, Tracy, set about building the house of THEIR dreams – one filled with foster children.
The Porth couple have always wanted to foster and really wanted to help keep siblings together. They are currently caring for a group of four brothers and sisters!
This is Martha Edwards.
Martha and her husband, Simon, have always worked in jobs that help children achieve their full potential.
Fostering allows them to continue that work, while also focusing on family life.
They have five children of their own and have welcomed a teenage boy into their family unit.
This is Ken and Yvonne Mason, who have fostered for 40 years and are retiring this year.
They will be missed as they have done so much not only for the children in their care, but also for other foster carers as they provide support and share the skills and knowledge they have secured over the years
Key to a successful fostering service is the team in charge of foster carers.
We are proud of our fostering support team, which comprises experienced social workers who are committed to providing foster carers with the support, training and guidance they need to continue their vital roles. It says a lot when, upon the retirement of one of that team, foster carers come together to hold a party for her, to celebrate her retirement and thank her for the work she has done.
Here is Margaret Gallagher with some of the carers she works with at her retirement party.
Cake courtesy of foster carer Trudie Robinson.
Cllr Geraint Hopkins, Rhondda Cynon Taf Council’s Cabinet Member for Children’s Social Services, Equality and the Welsh Language, said: “Looked after children are the responsibility of Rhondda Cynon Taf as a community, with us as a Council coordinating and safeguarding their care.
“Foster carers are the members of the community who step up and help raise children who cannot be raised by their birth families, for as long as they need it.
“They all say they are ordinary people with no special skills and just a commitment to care and nurture.
“But each and every one of them is actually extraordinary and we salute each and every one of them.
“As Mother’s Day approaches we start to reflect on the care we had from our mothers and our own children. It might also be an opportunity to think about the care of looked-after children and whether you could play a part in that.”
Find out more about fostering by visiting www.fosteringrct.co.uk or calling 01443 341122.