After 27 years of fostering, during which they cared for and loved more than 100 foster children, Judith and Stephen are two of our most experienced foster carers and have gone on to adopt two of their foster children.
Judith was recognised by Her Majesty the Queen in 2019 for her services to fostering when she was awarded an MBE. Judith told Her Majesty she was accepting the award on behalf of all the many, many foster carers – but that she was keeping the medal!
With five birth children – they say they “couldn’t have done it without them” – the couple has provided short-term and respite care. They have also provided long-term foster care for children of different ages, many of whom have had disabilities.
One of their sons has now become a foster carer himself, making Judith a foster granny! Another of their birth children teaches Makaton, a system of speech using signs (gestures) and symbols (pictures) to help people communicate.
Judith and Stephen adopted two of their foster children and another, who has been with them for 18 years, has remained with them under Staying Put. They recently became long-term foster carers for a nine-year-old boy who initially came to stay for just four day’s respite care but has been with them ever since.
With so much fostering experience under her belt with Family Placement, which is part of National Fostering Group, we asked Judith to share some experiences and insights.
What made you want to become a foster carer?
“I’ve always loved working with children and have been a nursery nurse, Brown Owl, Beaver Leader and taught in a Sunday school for many years,” said Judith.
“When my sons were young, I contracted the Hepatitis A virus while I was working in a nursery and became seriously ill. I was fortunate as my husband took care of me and my three sons and I got better.
“But I kept thinking what if I hadn’t got better. My sons would have been able to stay together and my husband could have brought them up, but it made me wonder about families who have less support than we did.
“When I was recovering, I saw a newspaper advert recruiting respite carers. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to help a family stay together through difficult times and we applied.
“Once we were approved, we were given a short-term placement – supposedly for six weeks, but it actually went on for six months. After that we were hooked!”
What have been your highs and lows?
“The highs have to be getting to know and being a part of the lives of so many wonderful children and young people.
“Also, I love how my birth children have been so supportive and how being part of a family that fosters has also helped shape their futures, making them into the amazing, understanding, caring adults that they are today.
“The lowest of the low – an allegation. It was horrible, untrue and was proven to be unfounded, but our entire family was put through a lot of stress because of it.
“Because of our training over the years, we understand the need for careful, regular record-keeping and, without going into detail, we were able to prove beyond a doubt from written evidence that what had been said did not and could not have happened.”
What did you think of the foster carer training?
“I’ve met some lovely foster carers and social workers through the training and support groups and I’ve had some really lovely supervising social workers – some of them have been absolutely amazing.
“In my early fostering days, I attended as many trainings as I possibly could, there is so much to learn. You never learn everything, though, because the role of foster carer and the fostering system changes with time.
“I have also taken my studying further with the help of the Open University and was extremely proud to receive a BA Hons in Youth and Childhood Studies and a BSc Hons in Health and Social Care.”
You’ve got an MBE – but what are the biggest rewards?
“The most rewarding things about fostering are the children’s achievements, be they large or small… The non-verbal child suddenly uttering their first words, a child who will probably never walk dancing with their friends, a child who struggles to write signing their first birthday card to you, someone putting a tick on the ‘dry’ box on their enuresis [bed-wetting] chart.
“Then there are the bigger things… Young people getting their first job, passing their GCSEs and gaining university degrees. The feeling that you have contributed to these successes is priceless.”
What are the hardest things?
“To be honest most of the ‘hard’ things fade away amongst the good memories – the wakeful nights, bedwetting, school suspensions etc. are just stepping-stones to something better, although they can feel bad at the time.
“Saying goodbye is always hard, whether it is a positive move or not. We were taught ‘Love and Let Go’ but it’s easy to say, not always easy to do.
“What you learn is that you will survive the pain, you are resilient, you have done a good job – and you can, and will, do it again – and again.”
Judith’s advice to potential foster carers
- “Realistically, if you don’t try fostering, you’ll never know how wonderful it can be. Obviously, it isn’t wonderful all the time, so make sure you have excellent support.”
- “You will have a supervising social worker and maybe a mentor. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, clarify anything you aren’t sure of, and have a bit of a moan about anything that isn’t going well.”
- “Involve your extended family, if you have one, and friends – not as babysitters, but as support for yourselves. Without breaking confidentiality, a trouble shared is a trouble halved, or a bit smaller anyway.”
Is there anything you wish you’d known when you started fostering?
“It’s so long ago, I really can’t remember!”
Has Judith 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.