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"Moving into full time fostering was definitely unknown territory for us, but it was the best decision we made and we’ve never looked back."

Foster Parents Ellie and Pete Wileen, who are both ex members of the armed forces, share their inspiring foster story so far.

November 16 2021 - 5 min read

Ellie and Pete qualified as foster parents eight years ago, after initially providing respite support whilst still working as part of the armed forces.

This year, Ellie and Pete have taken care of a parent child placement who was with them for seven months, as well as a child placement who was with them for three years until she was recently adopted. Throughout lock down, the couple have also provided many respite for a range of placements.

When considering the decision to become foster parents Ellie explains; “I grew up in an underprivileged background and a lot of my cousins were in foster care. When I got older and eventually joined the Royal Air Force, I noticed there were a lot of single parents that were struggling. This is when we set up a private fostering scheme which enabled service personnel to become trained as foster parents with FCA, so that they could privately foster the children of single service personnel that were deployed.”

She continued; “The military always had a record of the children’s placements and their approved foster parents. This was important because prior to Pete and myself identifying this, some children we knew of had been cared for by au pairs or distant relatives that had no understanding of the child or their needs let alone the military way of life.

“While myself and Pete were both serving at that time, we privately fostered for a single parent and then became respite carers for FCA whilst we were doing that.”

Pete adds; “We absolutely loved fulfilling the role as respite foster parents during that time, so much so that Ellie then decided to leave her role in the Royal Air Force after serving 28 years and entering into full time fostering, whilst I continued to serve. A few years later, following 32 years of service, I too decided to leave the forces to become a full time foster parent. It was a huge leap of faith, in a way we were kind of institutionalised, but FCA offered us a similar kind of support and structure that we were used to.  Moving into full time fostering was definitely unknown territory for us, but it was the best decision we made and we’ve never looked back”.

Ellie explains; “I was based at RAF Halton in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire. As I was the welfare officer, I linked in with FCA in Wendover and then when Pete joined me full time, we moved just South of Buckingham to go into therapeutic foster care. We wanted to be able to teach young people how to cook, grow vegetables and have animals too - so that’s just what we did.”

Ellie and Pete believe it is their support network which has helped to make their journey all the greater; “Our families have always been very supportive of us, Ellie's sister and brothers and my own brother, mother and step dad and extended family have been fabulous. We have fantastic daughters, Keira and Emilee, who have been constantly amazing throughout. We also have lots of support from the local community who are a great shoulder of support to lean on for us, which we will always be grateful for.”

Fostering has made a big difference to the couple's lives, as Ellie explains; “Fostering is more mentally intense than the military ever was for us. It has made us appreciate what we have and we have been fortunate enough to have such a variation of placements. We work together focused on the challenges in front of us and use both our military and fostering experiences to effect change. We just love seeing the difference in the children and adults when they leave. For Pete and myself, if we can give a child even 24 hours of happy memories to last them a lifetime, we have done something right”.

“We love working on the children's memory boxes, we always take pictures and provide them with lovely memories that they can take with them throughout their lives.”

Pete explains; “Ellie and I can have a degree of empathy with uncertainty. One minute we may have been based at one location, the next we may have been deployed to serve at another location such as Afghanistan for a tour duty. Somebody may fall down in your particular area or expertise and you may be called up at short notice to serve somewhere else, which allows us, in a way, to understand how important stability is. We understand, and I believe one of our best assets as foster parents is the fact that we have structure but at the same time remain flexible.”

However, fostering does not come without its challenges, as Pete explains; “Every foster parent that you speak to will say that challenging behaviour is a tough part of fostering, but seeing the changes in that young person makes it so worth it.  There are emotional challenges with fostering but it is those moments when the foster child says something heart-felt which makes it all worthwhile. Fostering has made our relationship stronger than ever.”

Ellie adds; “When the foster children leave us, it’s also very sad. We had a foster child for three years until she was adopted earlier this year and to see her happy now is huge for us. Although it was challenging to say goodbye, it was so rewarding to see her happy”.

There have been many rewarding moments over the years, as Pete explains; “Being part of a young person's life is so special. We experience everything from walking, talking, toilet training, riding a bike, swimming, sending an email, going to school for the first time… so many amazing firsts! Being part of their journey is an honour and a privilege. To see the transition in some children is incredible and we like to keep in touch with lots of the children that come to us.”

Ellie continues; “FCA Cymru have been absolutely amazing throughout this process and have supported us wholeheartedly from the start. Pete and I are carer representatives, so we have been privileged enough to go to national forums too which have been incredible. We are very privileged to be able to speak to other carer reps across Wales which have brought us all closer together, which is amazing.”

For anyone considering fostering, Pete and Ellie have the following advice: “We both dearly loved serving in the Royal Air Force but jumping into a new career field just like this has been brilliant. Don’t be scared to ask for help or advice, no question is a stupid question. Make friends with other parents, they are invaluable. Supporting each other is so important. You are not in this alone, FCA is so much wider and bigger and just asking a fellow foster parent would be like knocking on a neighbour’s door. Everyone is happy to help and support where they can, another first-class team we are proud to serve and be part of.”

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