Jay* 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.
Geoff and Stephen, 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, but 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 Jay’s temporary placement into a permanent arrangement.
Geoff becomes an instant hero
Only ten days into their first ever fostering placement, Geoff and Stephen were looking forward to a family Christmas with Jay. Geoff was returning to their Lancashire village after a day Christmas shopping in Manchester with Jay, along with his brother and sister-in-law.
There had been heavy rain that day and, around a mile from their village, Geoff found the lane ahead flooded. He edged his Land Rover forward, not sure how deep the water was, and in less than a minute the water had risen and was swirling halfway up the sides of the car.
He climbed out through his window; his brother passed Jay through the back window where Geoff, a former captain in the army, 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!”
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.”
Back at home, the flood waters had entered their house, and Stephen was upstairs with their dog, waiting to see if they needed to evacuate. Eventually the water receded but the couple and Jay 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 Jay, but as we had alternative accommodation and they were keen for the placement to work they were happy for him to stay with us.”
When the flood water had gone down, Geoff returned to his car to find thieves had waded through the water and stolen Jay’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, stability and discipline
Another crisis came a few months later, when Geoff was called to Jay’s school by the head teacher after reports of challenging behaviour in class. The head explained what had happened and asked Jay what he thought would happen next.
Jay’s head dropped and he said:
“Geoff and Stephen will kick me out.”
Geoff told Jay that no matter what, he and Stephen would look after him and help him, and that he wasn’t going anywhere.
Since then, Jay has thrived. He went to what Geoff describes as an excellent primary school that put strategies in place to help him do well, and he is now at senior school where he is 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 and is a leader in the Scouts.
Reassuring him he’s here to stay
On their first family holiday to Disneyland Paris, Geoff and Stephen had a sharp reminder of the impact of Jay’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.”
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 Jay’s permanent carers. The certificate is displayed proudly next to photographs of Jay taken at home and on family holidays.
“It was really important to Jay to know that Stephen and I were always going to be his family,” said Geoff.
Do you feel inspired?
Geoff and Stephen regularly organise and run recruitment events for Fostering Solutions, and earlier this year Geoff also became a part-time support worker for the agency, helping other carers by offering respite and advice. The couple’s consistent support and nurture of Jay was acknowledged with the presentation of a Fostering Solutions Everyday Hero award earlier this year.
If you are LGBTQ+ and you’d like to become a foster carer, there’s nothing stopping you – and we’ll support you all the way. If you’d like to find out more, enquire now.
*Real name not provided to ensure safeguarding of foster child