Foster parents make a difference

Alison Harwood (left) and Debbie Gallagher, who foster children in Blackpool

Alison Harwood (left) and Debbie Gallagher, who foster children in Blackpool

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These two Blackpool mums are hoping to inspire others to become foster parents.

Debbie Gallagher, from North Shore and sister-in-law Alison Harwood, from Norbreck, are sharing their stories as part of national Fostering Fortnight.

The awareness campaign aims to tell people more about fostering, how it works, the benefits and find new recruits.

And both women say they have never looked back since signing up to foster with Blackpool Council.

Debbie and husband John have been fostering children for Blackpool Council for more than 11 years.

The 47-year-old said: “I was born and bred in Blackpool. When I left school, I wasn’t the career-minded type – I always knew I wanted to settle down and have a family of my own. I have always been maternal.”

During her time at Greenlands High School, she met her husband John and the couple settled down and had their first child Stephen, now 22.

Their daughter, Zoe, now 19, was born three years later .

Debbie worked as a child minder and was introduced to fostering by friends.

And after completing the application process, the family was delighted to be approved.

She said: “On the day we were approved we received a call from our social worker to ask us to care for a little boy. We were very excited, but also quite nervous, as we didn’t know what to expect.

“At times it has been challenging, but also very rewarding.”

Debbie and John have cared for more than 10 young children, some of whom they have been able to stay in touch with.

She added: “We have supported children to move on to their new adoptive families. One of the children still comes to visit us and recently came to a birthday party at our house. 

“Her parents always tell her Debbie and John looked after her and kept her safe when she was very small.

“We still have a fantastic relationship and it’s wonderful to see how happy she is.”

And Alison, 45 and husband David, saw first-hand how fulfilling fostering can be from Debbie, who is David’s sister.

Alison worked in sales before moving into accounts for the family business, while also having two children of their own – Harry, 10 and Grace, 13.

Inspired by Debbie and John’s work, the couple decided to make an application to become foster carers for Blackpool Council.

She said: “We waited until the children were a bit older. We spoke to Harry and Grace and they were really supportive.

“Now Harry is the biggest fostering advocate there is – telling everyone about it at school.”

Following the assessment process and becoming registered foster carers for Blackpool Council, Alison and David were soon approached to care for a baby boy .

“My heart was beating really fast when I got that first call,” she said.

“The little boy was very upset when he first arrived, he got lots of our care and attention and we all loved him being part of our family.”

The difficult part, she and Debbie readily acknowledge, is often saying “goodbye”.

“You put so much into looking after children it does make it hard, but it is so rewarding to see them return home to their families or move onto a permanent home happier than when they first arrived. It makes it all worthwhile.”

Anyone who feels inspired by the women’s stories can call the Blackpool Council Fostering and Adoption Team on (01253) 477888 or visit www.blackpool.gov.uk

There will be a tea party, with chance for an informal chat, for those interested in fostering, at The Art Deco Café Stanley Park, on Thursday, 2pm to 5pm.