Paul and Mel first applied to be foster carers in 2019, but halted the application process after two sudden bereavements. Nearly two years on, they celebrated their first Christmas with their long-term foster children.
Paul and Mel married in 2017. Both in their 50s, they each have a grown-up daughter – Sam and Riszka – from their previous relationships. When the couple began to consider fostering, their daughters thought it was a great idea.
“We had plenty of space in our house and now that our daughters no longer live at home we thought that we’d love to give a home to vulnerable children,” said Paul. “Sam and Riszka were very supportive, so we began the application process.”
The couple applied to become foster carers with a different independent fostering agency. Then, tragically, in early 2020, Riszka died suddenly and unexpectedly from a blood clot; and, on the day of Riszka’s funeral, Paul’s mum died.
“We were reeling and we halted the application process to give ourselves chance to grieve,” Paul said.
Six months later, they began the fostering application process again – this time with National Fostering Agency, which was recommended to them by a friend.
Due to Covid-19, all the meetings took place over Zoom and the couple agreed with the agency to fast-track the process. This meant two meetings per week rather than the usual one a month. The Fostering Panel date quickly came around!
“It was incredibly difficult at times as things were still very raw for us,” said Paul. “But our assessing social worker, Natalie was very supportive. Although she left the agency before we went to panel, she came back specifically to support us on that day.
“We were so nervous, but it was great to have her there. It all took place online. At the end, we were asked to log off and back on again while the panel made their decision. The screen went blank.
“We expected to be waiting for ages but in 10 minutes the head of panel came back on and said it was a unanimous yes. We were so happy!”
Later that same day, Paul and Mel received a call from the National Fostering Agency asking if they could talk to them about a placement. The couple had been due to go away to their caravan in the Lake District but immediately cancelled their holiday. Three days later, two siblings arrived – a boy of nine and a girl of 8.
“We were really nervous before they got here,” Paul said. “They came into the house like a tornado and straight out into the garden. It’s a big south-facing garden with a view over the fields. They loved it and moved in with us the following day.”
It took some time for the foster children to settle in and for everyone to get to know each other. The children had contact with their birth mum twice a week and a call on Sundays. These times were particularly difficult as the children were often upset. Paul and Mel spent lots of time with the siblings and took them on their first holiday.
“They’d never seen the sea before. We took them to the holiday park we like to visit. We’ve been used to going outside of the school holidays, so it was a very different experience for us, too, but we had a fantastic week. They absolutely loved it and want to go back again.”
The court has decided that the foster children will remain with Paul and Mel as a long-term fostering placement. They have applied to the court for permission to move the children to a local school – they’ve been travelling more than 100 miles a day, whereas their new school is just two minutes away. The children should be starting there in the next few weeks.
The fostering experience has been an emotional one for the whole family but the highs have far outweighed the lows.
“When they first came, they used to eat like they didn’t know when they’d get fed again,” Paul said, “but now we have a good routine and we enjoy sitting down to dinner together.
“They couldn’t swim when they arrived but now the little boy has just done his 10 metres and the girl her 5 metres. They ride bikes, he can tell the time, his sister sings…
“The lows were often around contact time. It was heart-breaking at first because they just wanted to go home to their mum, but now they are a lot more settled.
“As a foster carer you need patience, understanding and love. We are there for them no matter what. Before we went into fostering a friend who’d been doing it for 25 years said don’t go into it with rose-tinted spectacles. I agree with that.
“These children have been through really difficult things but they are beautiful children. They respect us and we respect them. It’s fantastic and we are loving it.”
People of all ages, situations and backgrounds can apply to become a foster carer, undertaking different types of fostering that suit their lifestyle, skills and experience.
National Fostering Group is the largest independent fostering agency in the UK, with more than 3,000 foster carers across the country.
This means we can offer better support and training than any other provider in the country, helping you be at your best in this important role.