Meet Joanne and Martyn Shaw from Wigan who have been foster carers with FCA for over seven years. For the past five years the couple have also been carer ambassadors for FCA, talking to potential foster carers across the UK and recommending FCA to those who are thinking about fostering.
Martyn and Joanne open up about their fostering experiences and what led them to dedicate their lives to children and young people in need. Martyn said:
"We initially discussed fostering when we found out that we couldn’t have children naturally. Before we started looking into it we talked it through with some of our friends. Not everyone was as supportive as we hoped they would be, however, a few good friends came on the journey with us and still support us today.
We began our search by looking on the internet and contacting a few agencies who came out to visit us. We weren’t very impressed by the support offered by them and expressed our concerns to Joanne’s cousin Maria who fostered at the time. She advised that we get in touch with her fostering agency FCA.
We contacted FCA and immediately they put us at ease. They were very friendly, up front and honest answering all of our questions and concerns. From the get go the entire process felt stress free, which was great, a weight lifted from our shoulders.
Before fostering we both worked full time. Once approved as carers with FCA I left my job to foster full time whilst Joanne continued to work. Having recently decided to look after more than one child however, she decided to focus on a career in fostering too and even went back into education to study Social Work at the University of Central Lancashire to strengthen her knowledge.’’
The couple speak about some of the children they have supported and looked after, and reflect on reactions they have received when talking about being foster carers. Martyn said:
"We started our journey with FCA looking after a four-week-old baby for three months, following this short-term placement we then looked after an 11 year old who stayed with us on a long term basis for six years until he turned 18 and has now moved on to independent living. Now that we have been approved to look after more than one child at a time we have three children staying with us who are eight, nine and ten years old.
We’ve experienced some really mixed reactions when people find out we foster. Some are curious and think we do a great job and others can be quite insensitive. We’ve been called stupid for looking after children who have challenging behaviour and some look at us as if to say fostering isn’t a proper job. We pay no notice to this as it just goes to show the lack of awareness amongst people when it comes to fostering. It’s this ignorance that makes Joanne and I feel strongly about our role as ambassadors for FCA shouting about the wonderful work we do for children and young people.
We’ve experienced so many wonderful memories from over the years. Our best fostering moment has got to be seeing our last placement leave school with GCSE level A* qualifications including a 99.9% attendance rate over the 5-year period. It’s moments like these that make it all worthwhile. We have however, faced some challenges over the years.
Our first 18 months fostering was particularly challenging. Joanne became unwell with cancer around the time that we started looking after a teenager with difficult behaviour. From not following house rules (like most teenagers) to making unfair complaints against us our long-term placement threw every challenge he could think of at us. This really tested us as a family and as carers but we got through it together and in the end it all worked out just fine.
Our experience as foster carers has been very rewarding. For example, seeing that the young boy we’ve just referred to fostering has turned into a well-balanced and established young man whom we have stayed in close contact with since he left our care has made all the hard work completely worth it. Not to mention the fact that we have had the best support from FCA over the years too.
Right from the get go during our assessment to become carers, through to training, support groups and full support and understanding during Joanne’s illness, FCA has been outstanding every step of the way.
If we had any advice to give people considering becoming foster carers we would tell them to go for it. Ask as many questions as you need to and speak to other carers and you’ll soon find out what a great job it is. It’s a reward you’ll never fully understand unless you try it for yourself, it’s worth doing!"
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