Geoff & Stephen’s story – when short-term becomes long-term

Thursday 31 March 2022

Aiden was just nine years old but had already experienced four foster placements and an adoption breakdown. His new carers, Geoff Hodgson and Stephen Garry, knew that rebuilding his trust in adults would be a long and difficult process.

The couple, who run a tea shop and village store, decided to become foster carers because it was a way for them to have a child together. Geoff had previously been married and had three grown up birth children, while Stephen was keen to become a dad. Despite a chaotic start, the support of their local fostering agency and other partners like their local primary school, helped the couple turn Aiden’s temporary placement into a permanent arrangement.

It’s an inspirational story, which began with more than its fair share of twists and disappointments, so we made a film about it too.

Heroic Geoff worried Aiden might be taken away

Aiden arrived in the run-up to Christmas and was Geoff and Stephen’s first foster child placement. Ten days in, they were looking forward to a family Christmas. Geoff and Aiden had spent the day shopping in Manchester, along with Geoff’s brother and sister-in-law.

On the return to their Lancashire home in heavy rain, they encountered floods about a mile from their village. Geoff edged his Land Rover forward, not sure how deep the water was, but in less than a minute the water had risen and was swirling halfway up the sides of the car.

Geoff, a former captain in the army, climbed out through his window. His brother passed Aiden through the back window and he hoisted him onto his shoulders. “My first thought, after getting him to safety, was that this was a disaster and we mightn’t be allowed to keep him,” said Geoff.

“He said to me: ‘Geoff, you’re my Action Man hero’ but I felt more like Barbie; my bottom lip was going because the water was up to my chest and I didn’t know where we were!”

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Returning to a ruined home

The four abandoned the car and made their way to the only house with lights on. “The man who lived there came to the door and we explained what had happened and asked if we could come in. But he shook his head and said they were just about to have their tea, and we’d have to go the pub half a mile away,” Geoff recalled. “We couldn’t believe it.”

Having escaped the flooded lanes, Geoff was dismayed to discover that, back at home, the flood waters had entered their house. Stephen was upstairs with their dog, waiting to see if they needed to evacuate. Eventually the water receded but the fostering family had to move into a rented house in the village.

“We were lucky we had somewhere to go,” said Geoff, “but clearing the mess in our house and replacing nearly all our furniture and belongings took months. We told our social worker our concerns about losing Aiden, but as we had alternative accommodation and they were keen for the placement to work they were happy for him to stay with us.”

As if that wasn’t enough of a dramatic start to their relationship with their foster child, when the flood water went down, Geoff returned to his vehicle to discover that thieves had waded to the Land Rover and stolen Aiden’s Christmas presents.

Fostering Solutions [one of National Fostering Group’s agencies] were brilliant. When they heard what had happened, two days later they delivered a pile of Lego boxes to replace the ones that were taken,” he said.

Providing love and stability

If you’ve watched the film, you’ll have heard Geoff talk about the challenges and rewards of fostering a child. And, another crisis came a few months later. Geoff was called to Aiden’s school by the head teacher after reports of challenging behaviour in class. The head explained what had happened and asked Aiden what he thought would happen next.

Aiden’s head dropped and he said: “Geoff and Stephen will kick me out.”

Geoff told Aiden that no matter what, he and Stephen would look after him and help him, and that he wasn’t going anywhere. From then, Aiden has thrived. He went to what Geoff describes as an excellent primary school that put strategies in place to help him do well.

Painful misunderstandings

On their first family holiday to Disneyland Paris, Geoff and Stephen had a sharp reminder of the impact of Aiden’s fractured early years. “The trip was a surprise,” Geoff recalled. “We were flying from Liverpool but we’d told him we were going shopping, so when we pulled into the airport car park he looked up from his Lego and thought we were just parking in a shopping centre.

“Then we opened the boot and he saw the suitcase, and his face changed – he thought he was being moved again. We’d planned to tell him we were going to Disneyland in the airport, but we rushed to explain and reassure him there and then.”

Aiden is now at senior school where he’s achieving good grades and happy; a long way from when he arrived and would hide under the table rather than complete any school work. He also plays hockey for his county, does martial arts (he’s represented England) and is a leader in the Scouts. Inspired by Geoff’s grown-up children, he’s got ambitions to go to university.

Always a family

Although Geoff and Stephen had set out to do short term foster care, in May 2017 they asked for and were granted legal recognition that they were Aiden permanent carers. The certificate is displayed proudly next to photographs of Aiden taken at home and on family holidays. “It was really important to Aiden to know that Stephen and I were always going to be his family,” said Geoff.

Geoff and Stephen regularly organise and run recruitment events for Fostering Solutions and Geoff became a part-time support worker for the agency, helping other carers by offering respite and advice. In 2018, the couple’s consistent support and nurture of Aiden was acknowledged with the presentation of an Everyday Hero award.

Do you feel inspired?

If you’re wondering if you’re suitable to foster a child -there’s nothing stopping you from applying and we’ll support you all the way.

We welcome fostering applications from people of all ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds, physical abilities and the LGBT+ community (we’re a member organisation of New Family Social, a charity that supports LBGT+ fostering). You can be single, married, a homeowner or a tenant. Your ability to care for and nurture a child is what really matters.

Ready to take the next step to becoming a foster carer? If you’d like to find out more, enquire now.

Our article was originally published in 2018 and updated in 2022.