Nick has recently returned from a speaking event where he explained to a group of 60 delegates why he became a foster carer. It wasn’t his first time and it won’t be his last. Being an advocate for fostering isn’t in his job description, yet he feels deeply moved to go the extra mile.
It seems a world away from everything he knew. He’d never imagined that, aged 70 and retired from a lively career in newspapers, he’d be a foster parent to 2 boys with his second wife, Petrina, his childhood sweetheart. “It’s never too late to make a difference,” he said. “Our final destination may not be in doubt, but everyone has the power to change the course of history.
“Foster carers are among a unique group who can tip the balance for a child who has lost their way through no fault of their own. Fostering can find the way for lost souls. And we do need to get the message out there.”
Nick and Petrina are foster parents to Sam and Mason with Jay Fostering, our local team based in Leicester. They were approved for fostering 3 years ago and have cared for 10 foster children – from toddlers to teens – on respite, emergency and long term placements.
As well as a foster family, they have 3 birth children and 7 grandchildren between them. As with many families, it’s complicated. Nick has 2 sons from his first marriage who he lost contact with after his marriage to their mother ended; it’s only recently that he’s begun building a relationship with the eldest. On the other hand, the couple are close to Petrina’s daughter from her first marriage.
“We went out when we were teenagers,” said Nick. “Then I spent years moving around the UK, Spain and North Cyprus with work. I genuinely thought I’d retire from newspapers and live in North Cyprus for the rest of my days. I came back to Leicester for a funeral and went out for a coffee with Petrina. Shortly after, I moved back to the UK and we’ve lived together ever since.
Foster carers are among a unique group who can tip the balance for a child who has lost their way through no fault of their own.
“We were talking one day about our regrets – about my children, about not having children together and that being impossible now because we’re too old. We saw a fostering advert and it got us thinking that maybe we could help someone else’s children.”
Nick dedicated almost 50 years to journalism where, many times, he fought the corner for compassion, truth and integrity. Becoming a foster carer promised a change of pace that would find a different outlet for his skills and passions.
“I’ve launched titles all over the UK, Spain and North Cyprus. I’ve interviewed the rich and famous, royalty, and prime ministers as far back as Harold Wilson. Nothing compares to fostering a child,” he said.
“Never in my wildest dreams thought I’d be commended by education chiefs for getting a child to attend school, or feel so good at getting a child to go to the dentist for the first time in 7 years.”
“Fostering is about patience and compassion. It’s about kindness, consideration and unconditional love. The list of things that need doing are endless. They come with nothing – no rules, no boundaries or sense of how a family should function. We’ve been shocked.
“We always do more than you’d normally give – more time, more attention, more devotion, more materially than we gave to our own children. Our kids are already in the right direction. We make more of everything because they’d thought what they’d experienced was normal family life. It wasn’t.
“How quickly they adapt from going without to having an abundance,” he laughed. “Suddenly they expect holidays in Cyprus or trips to London twice a year. A restaurant once a month! They become eager for adventure. Imagine going for a holiday for the first time on a plane, swimming for the first time, then jet skiing, paragliding, all that. They love it.
“It gives them self confidence. They’re learning – it literally broadens their horizons. We awaken this sense of adventure that will set them up for life, enlighten them – they can pass it on to their children.
We want to ensure they aren’t facing an uncertain world by starting from a lower baseline… We’re opening the door to opportunity.
“Aspiration and wisdom are important. Education is a key area for foster children – it’s grounding for a happy and successful adulthood. We want to ensure they aren’t facing an uncertain world by starting from a lower baseline. Foster children can be low achievers and they might have special needs. They are sometimes reluctant to engage or achieve, so they don’t use their talents. We’re opening the door to opportunity.
“And fostering is about safety and support. Something is passing through our hands more precious than gold – a child who isn’t ours and who doesn’t deserve to be where they are.”
“Building trust is a challenge,” he said. “These children might arrive at your front door with the police and a social worker to a strange location. We’re strangers to them but they’re being asked to get on with us. They don’t know what family should be and they judge us on what they’ve known so far.
“We lead by example. Show we can be trusted. Actions speak louder than words – and we keep our word. We resolve issues. We place great importance to sitting round the table as a family – feeding, nurturing, discussing the day and the future.
“Many foster children have had a rough start. Some of them have seen things none of us should see. It can be challenging, the behaviour can be difficult. It doesn’t offend me. It’s not the child’s fault, it’s just behaviour. It takes time and patience. You need bucketloads of patience. I never saw myself as a patient man as a journalist but some say I have a calm serenity now!”
Nothing prepared me for that moment. It was more gratifying than anything I’d experienced.
“There’s a moment where fostering clicks,” said Nick. “Fostering is not a job but it is a vocation. No two days are the same. It’s daunting, exciting, and never dull. I thought, will we ever know if we made the right decision or did the right thing? Probably not. We’re just doing our best.
“My lightbulb moment was watching a child in my care trudging to school who turned, not once but twice, to throw me the gentlest of goodbye waves. Nothing prepared me for that moment. It was more gratifying than anything I’d experienced.
“He’s only 14 and contemplating staying put with us after he turns 18. He likes it here, he says he can achieve more if he stays. I’ve got no issue with that at all. It’s the icing on the fostering cake. There’s no greater feeling. We want them to feel wanted but the tables are turned – they make us feel wanted.”
“When we said we wanted to become foster carers, our family didn’t understand – I think because of our ages,” Nick said. “Now, I often get mistaken for being a younger man. Fostering keeps us younger.
“If I’d retired in North Cyprus, I’d have 310 days of sunshine a year. But this is better and it involves our family. My 95 year old mother is in social care – she’s got a close bond with one of the foster sons in particular. It would have been a selfish retirement and this feels like a selfless one, though we’re getting a lot out of it.
“I’m going to keep doing it for as long as my health will allow. I’ve got no regrets about fostering. It’s something that’s of far greater value than anything I’ve ever done.”
We want them to feel wanted but the tables are turned – they make us feel wanted.
Nick and Petrina are foster carers with Jay Fostering, which supports fostering in Leicester and across the East Midlands including Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire, Coventry, Northamptonshire and Derbyshire. “Debbie [Jay’s Registered Manager] is a good boss and she’s devoted to the cause of fostering,” Nick said.
In the Midlands alone, 26 children enter foster care every day. It’s a similar story around the rest of the UK. We work with local authorities in every region to meet the growing demand for all types of fostering for children who can’t live at home through no fault of their own. Can you make a difference?
As you can tell from Nick’s story, we accept foster carers of all ages over 21, from all walks of life, and with all kinds of experiences under their belt. If you’re receiving state benefits or a pension, as in Nick’s case, your fostering allowance doesn’t affect them.
If you’re unsure whether you’re eligible, try our Can I Foster? tool, which answers common questions about suitability to foster, based on a personalised Q and A style format. If you’re ready to chat with one of our fostering advisors, contact your local team.