“Honestly, the first time that fostering was suggested to me by my husband Gary, I thought he’d gone mad, and I said ‘what on earth do I want to do that for, I’ve just raised my own two children?!’” Jill starts, talking about how she got into fostering fifteen and a half years ago. After becoming discontented in her job and coincidentally seeing a FCA fostering advert in the local paper at the same time, Jill picked up the phone. “That evening, Gary came home and I told him that I’d signed us up to become foster parents. This time, my husband looked at me like I had gone mad, but let me tell you, it was the best thing we ever did” Jill said of the day their fostering journey began.
Other than raising their two biological sons, Gary and Jill had no experience of working with children. Jill was a mortgage advisor, and Gary was a business manager at Alton Towers theme park. Jill said: “There are lots of differences between raising your own children and raising foster children. But once you get your head around the rules, and you know how it works, it’s easy to get into the rhythm of it.”
There isn’t much in the world of fostering that Gary and Jill haven’t done. Between long-term, short-term and respite placements they have, incredibly, fostered over 50 children. They have supported a vast array of children; teenagers, siblings, new-born babies. You name it, they’ve done it.
“Fostering comes with ups and downs, and we all expect that, but the highs far outweigh the lows” said Jill. She continued: “There are a few parts of fostering that are the most rewarding for me. Seeing kids being happy, firstly. They can be dealing with a lot, so when they’re comfortable enough to be themselves and be happy, that’s amazing.
“Secondly, supporting a child, however they need, and seeing them get back to mum and dad, or leave foster care to stay with relatives. It is so positive, and such a rewarding experience when a foster child can be reunited with their family. That’s what we all want.”
Jill and Gary are currently looking after three children, two of which are siblings. The children that stay with them always have a huge impact on them as a family, if they stay for a week, or a number of years. Jill describes fostering as a ‘brilliant thing to do’ which is even better when children no longer in their care stay in touch once they’ve left. “We have had a few stand-out foster stories and amazing moments over the years. One of our foster kids, who is now married with children of her own, gets in touch almost every day via social media, a text or phone call. She has moved to Vietnam - where she’s from - with her own family, and has told me she will pay for me to fly over to see her and her new life! It’s amazing that you can have such an impact on someone.”
Jill continued: “Another case that really stands out to me, is a young man who we fostered between the ages of 7 and 11. He told me that when he was 10 he would be going back to live with his mum, as long as he was ready to do so. When he was 10, he did just that. After a year of meetings, and preparation, at the age of 11 he moved back with his mum! He’s now 15 and still comes back to see me. The last time I saw him, which was only a few weeks ago, I couldn’t believe how tall he’d gotten! It was such a proud moment to enable him to return to his family, and it continues to make me proud staying in touch with them and watching them flourish as a family. That’s the beauty of fostering.”
Jill says it’s important to remember that fostering isn’t without its challenges. “Some of the most difficult things we’ve had to deal with are behavioural difficulties, or learning disabilities. When it gets tough, which it does, Gary and I stick together, and really work as a team to make the most out of everything, and improve the situation.
“It’s also important to remember the reasons that children behave the way that they do. When you can break it down, and learn how to manage it properly it really helps, and you know you are having a positive impact on that person’s life. We completed a course called ‘Love Is Not Enough’ which is a form of attachment training. It was so helpful, and really shows that if you are prepared to learn and take each case as it comes, you will get through the difficult times.”
The pandemic has proven particularly difficult for Jill and Gary, but mostly because of the impact that it has had on the children in their care. “We’ve had children stay with us in lockdown who really struggled with the concept, and didn’t understand why they couldn’t go out. It has been hard, but we made it out the other side, and are pretty much back to normal which is great! We hope that it doesn’t affect existing, and foster parents-to-be much more than it already has” said Jill.
About the process of becoming foster parents, Jill said: “Once you’re ready, and you’ve accepted how this process is, then it is quite easy. But you have to be prepared to put some work in, and be trained to ensure that you can do this well, and do the kids that stay with you justice.
“When it starts, you go through your entire life to make sure you’re the right fit for the job. This can be a really tough process for some people. I know a few people who didn’t make it through the journey at the same time as us - and that’s okay! The process is the way it is to ensure the right people for the job are those doing the job.”
Jill was asked what advice she would give to someone considering going into fostering. She laughed as she answered and said; “A sense of humour is essential, and you absolutely must be able to count to ten.
“In all seriousness, don’t try to be anyone that you’re not. Kids aren’t daft, they soon find out what’s going on. You must be yourself and the rest will come.”
Thinking about starting your fostering journey?
24/7 local support, excellent ongoing training and competitive allowances are just a few of the reasons why you should choose FCA for your fostering journey.
"It’s special to be able to make such a difference to people’s lives, we love what we do."
September 27 2021
FCA’s Time to Shine winner, Melanie Plant, 44 , based in Shropshire, shares how specialising in parent and child placement fostering has changed her life.
“By giving them a stable home, a stable environment, we’re helping to change history in that child’s life.”
November 3 2021
Foster parent Mandy shares her fostering experience over the past 13 years with FCA Northern Ireland.