Andy is a police officer and his wife, Grainne, has always worked with children. Their skills and experience made fostering seemed like a natural choice.
They were approved as foster carers in 2007 and have since – for various reasons – worked with other independent fostering groups as well as the local authority.
Fostering 17 children, including sibling groups, the couple is now back with Child Care Bureau as foster parents of three sisters who they have looked after, on and off, for around a decade.
Our journey to fostering
After 30 years in the police – 28 of which were spent on homicide – Andy has experienced at first hand the worst possible impacts that having a poor start in life can have.
“A dysfunctional childhood can affect you for the rest of your life and I’ve seen this in adults and teenagers who’ve ended up in the criminal justice system.”
Back in 2002 after 16 years working in London in the Metropolitan Police, Andy and Grainne decided to relocate to Worcestershire as an opportunity had arisen for Andy to join West Mercia Police.
They had two children of their own and Grainne had always worked with children. This meant their house was often full of children – fostering seemed like a logical next step.
Grainne was adopted herself and had always been interested in fostering and adoption. When their own children had both started school, they decided to explore the possibility of becoming foster carers.
Agency vs local authority fostering
Andy and Grainne were approved as foster carers in 2007 with Child Care Bureau, one of our local fostering agencies in Worcester, Midlands. They’d been recommended to the independent fostering agency by friends who were already foster carers.
In the intervening years, however, they fostered with the local authority and with other independent fostering agencies before moving back to Child Care Bureau.
“When we were with the agency initially, we took care of three sisters aged between six months and four years. They were with us for three years before being adopted,” said Andy.
“After they were adopted, we moved on to fostering with another independent fostering agency.”
“After they were adopted, we moved on to fostering with another independent fostering agency. Sadly, we later heard that the adoption had broken down.”
“Sadly, we later heard that the adoption had broken down. We wanted to be able to take the girls back, so we had to move to local authority to begin the process.”
“It took around 18 months but now they are back with us and they will be here long-term,” Andy said.
The family has cared for other sibling groups too – social workers do everything they can to keep brothers and sisters together where it’s possible and appropriate. The couple have got great satisfaction watching them start to thrive and then go on to be adopted.
To date, they have cared for 17 children, eight who have gone on to be adopted and they still keep in touch.
“They are settled with their new families and are facing a bright future. We are still part of their lives and they are very appreciative of everything we’ve done for them.”
Support from Child Care Bureau
Andy and Grainne transferred back to Child Care Bureau – with the sisters – three years ago.
While they had an acceptable experience fostering with their local authority, they recognise the benefits of fostering with an independent fostering agency that has the resources to support them.
“We didn’t have any real issues with the local authority when we were fostering with them, but they are swamped and it’s difficult for them to manage such a large caseload.
“Child Care Bureau has fewer foster carers, so we receive more personal one-to-one support. And because we’ve known them for 15 years, they’ve become like our extended family.
“These days, we don’t need the support from them in the way that we once did because the girls are settled and flourishing but we still have regular training, albeit on Zoom since Covid.”
“Child Care Bureau has fewer foster carers, so we receive more personal one-to-one support. And because we’ve known them for 15 years, they’ve become like our extended family.”
This support is helpful on a day-to-day basis but essential when a fostering placement hits a snag. A low point for the couple was when one of the young boys they were caring for made an allegation against them.
It was fully investigated and judged to be unfounded, but the process was a difficult and frustrating one for Andy and Grainne.
Andy said: “Coming from a police background, I understand you have to follow protocols and these things take time but it was very frustrating and difficult for us both.
“It’s never been the challenging behaviour from the children that has been a low point, as behaviour is easier to manage.”
Importance of routine
The family lives close to the West Midlands Safari Park, beautiful countryside and a forest with beautiful walks.
With Birmingham City Centre just 13 miles away, they also have access to a wide range of leisure facilities and amenities – plenty of things for the foster children to enjoy close to where they live.
They recently got a new King Charles Spaniel and taking him for walks has become part of their regular daily routine.
Andy said: “Routine is important for all children, but particularly those who have come from a difficult background.
“We have a daily structure so the girls know what they are doing and when. We sit down together every night for tea and then the girls do their homework before we take the dog out for a walk and then have an hour’s chillout time before bed.
“As foster carers, we do weekly logs and have regular monthly meetings with the school, the therapists and social workers.”
Looking back on the fostering journey
Andy says he and Grainne have grown in confidence as foster carers over the years.
“There’s no book out there, you learn as you go along and the more experience you have the more confident you feel,” Andy said.
“There are highs and lows as there are with any kind of parenting. I know some people feel tempted to throw the towel in when they’re having problems but you wouldn’t do this with your own children.
“There are highs and lows as there are with any kind of parenting.”
“You need to accept that you will have good times and bad times. It can be really rewarding and you grow into it and start to flourish.
“I would say don’t look on fostering as a job, look on it as a lifestyle change. There are ups and downs, as there are with all parenting, and it can be daunting at the start. But you will grow into it and learn as you go and when the foster children begin to flourish, that is such a high.”
‘We couldn’t have done it without our own children’
They also recognise the important role played by their own children, now grown up, in caring for the foster children and providing positive role models.
Andy said: “If you are considering fostering I would say it’s vital to involve your own children in the decision-making process because it will impact on them.
“We couldn’t have done what we’ve done without Jack and Larragh’s support. They have been a steadying influence on the girls and they deserve credit for that.”
Have Andy and Grainne inspired you?
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.
Visit your local independent fostering agency page for more information or get in touch using our form.