Zoe is one of four and Tom has a younger brother. The couple bought their first house when they were just 19. It enabled them to provide a home for Zoe’s younger sister, who has lived them periodically over the last decade and Tom’s brother who was with them for five years while he was growing up.
When circumstances changed last year and their siblings moved away to live independently, Zoe and Tom started exploring the idea of fostering. It seemed a natural progression after their experience, although aged just 28 (Zoe) and 29 (Tom), they were younger than most people who apply to foster and had no children of their own.
Zoe said: “To be honest, I wish we’d applied sooner. We love being foster carers and the fact that we are closer to the young people in age means we can relate to many of their worries and anxieties, because we grew up with the same kind of stresses and challenges. Before we applied, we wondered whether we’d be suitable as we don’t have children of our own. But the fostering agency told us that they viewed this as a positive thing not a negative. Having no birth children means we approach each child as an individual and don’t have anything to compare against.”
In October 2021, Zoe and Tom were approved as foster carers with Fostering Solutions in Bolton. Zoe explained:
“We looked into fostering with the local authority and with other agencies. We were particularly impressed with the support and training provided by Fostering Solutions. And the fact that it is part of a big organisation felt like joining an established community. Their ratings were good and I’d been following someone on Instagram who’d been talking about the National Fostering Group (its parent group) and liked what they said. Right from the initial call we felt comfortable with them.”
Zoe and Tom were approved for 0-18 years and have already cared for seven children, aged from just a few days old to 16 years. They are currently looking after a 20-day old baby who is with them for respite care and a 15-year old boy, who was their first foster child. Seeing how he has changed since he came to them is one of the most rewarding aspects of fostering for Zoe. She said:
“He is much calmer now. At first he would walk out of lessons but now, although he still has an exit path, he rarely uses it. He’s doing really well at school and recently applied for a leadership role, mentoring peers. We are so proud of him. He won awards at the recent awards evening but we tend to praise him for his efforts not just his achievements – when he struggles and he keeps on trying.”
“For me, the biggest reward of fostering is seeing the positive impact we have on children and young people in our care. And the hardest part is seeing how upset they get when they are let down. Fostering can be tiring sometimes, particularly as we currently have a young baby, but the positives outweigh any negatives by a long way. The foster children bring us so much joy.”
The couple is keen to encourage anyone who is interested in fostering to find out about it, no matter what their age or whether they have children of their own. Zoe said:
“I know that lots of people come into fostering with an age preference, but teenagers can be amazing. They have so much to give. They are still learning themselves and, in some ways, they need as much guidance as younger children. The teenagers we’ve cared for have brought so much to our lives – including humour. If you’re interested in fostering teenagers I’d say ‘take them as they come and let them show you who they are’. All of the teenagers we’ve looked after have been amazing in different ways.”
Zoe and Tom are happy they chose Fostering Solutions as their fostering agency. Alongside the training and support, they value the sense of community the agency provides, the WhatsApp groups for carers, the regular activities and the invitation for foster children to have a say via the youth council.
So far, fostering has been fantastic.
If you feel inspired, find out more using our Can I Foster? tool or get in touch. As our foster carers say, it’s one of the most rewarding and fulfilling things you can do. We also have another great story on Charmaine and Chris are also young carers, they fostered before having their own children and still continue to foster to this day.