A Ballymoney couple have spoken about their ‘rewarding’ experience as foster carers as they back a campaign to recruit more people to the role.
Mandy Steele (52) and her husband Peter (55) are urging people to think about fostering during Foster Care Fortnight, which runs from May 12-25, and help tackle a shortfall of 200 carers in Northern Ireland.
The couple have been carers with the UK’s leading independent fostering agency Foster Care Associates (FCA) for nearly six years, having previously done respite care for 12 years.
Mandy explained what inspired her to foster and how the young people placed in their care have benefitted from life on a smallholding surrounded by nature and animals in rural County Antrim.
She said: “We always wanted to foster. I have a brother with special needs so helping people in a similar situation has always been close to my heart. My husband’s mother also fostered for 40 years so he grew up around foster children. We did respite care for 12 years for the trust before I felt the time was right to be a foster carer full-time. I’m really glad that I did as I really enjoy it. The boys we have in long-term placement have come on a long way from when they first came to us and have really benefitted from living around animals and nature.”
Mandy and Peter have two of their own grown up children and fostering has proved an inspiration to their daughter who is now a nurse.
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Foster Care Fortnight 2014, organised by charity the Fostering Network, aims to show that carers can come from a wide variety of backgrounds and bring many different skills and qualities to the role.
Mandy explained what qualities she felt were important for a foster carer and said that despite being faced with the expected challenges of looking after vulnerable young people, these were outweighed by the rewards.
She said: “We have 30 chicks hatched at the minute. One of the boys reared turkeys for last Christmas and we are taking orders again for next year. We’ve also had sheep and the boys fed the lambs and we grow our own vegetables. I think it is a really positive experience for them.
“Patience and a sense of humour are important qualities for a foster carer. You also cannot go in to it expecting everything to be perfect - you will have to ride the storm.
“There might be times when you think you can’t do it but it doesn’t last long and there is always support from FCA with someone at the end of the phone.
“The benefits definitely outweigh the negatives. To see the changes in the children when they have a secure and stable environment is really rewarding.”
Feargal O’Keefe, FCA Northern Ireland regional manager, said foster carers can come from a wide variety of backgrounds.
He said: “There is no such thing as a typical foster carer. They can come from all walks of life and bring different transferable skills to the fostering task which we encourage them to use.
“On top of that FCA offers 24-hour support and in-depth training to help provide the tools our carers need to allow the vulnerable young people in their care to thrive.”
If you think you have the patience, commitment and enthusiasm to foster a child or young person, have a spare bedroom and a willingness to learn, contact FCA on 0800 023 4561 or visit www.thefca.co.uk/northernireland. Alternatively like FCA on Facebook by visiting www.facebook.com/thefcanorthernireland
FCA welcomes applications from single people, married and co-habiting couples as well as same sex couples.
Celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, FCA was founded by a social worker and a foster carer. Today the organisation is still founder owned and prides itself on making a positive and lasting difference for children and families.