Lancashire loves: The families who open their hearts and homes to children in need

Across the county around 20 children each week find themselves in need of shelter in the care system for a variety of reasons. Children desperately in need of some stability, care and love in Lancashire.

By Tim Gavell
Friday, 8th January 2021, 2:07 pm

Some have lost parents, some have suffered neglect or physical abuse, some come from chaotic backgrounds where families have been blighted by drugs or alcohol problems. All just need someone to look after them in their time of need.

The regional adoption agency for Lancashire and Blackpool says that there is a pressing need for more foster carers and the help they can give to a young person at a time when it is really needed, while also enriching their own lives. And it says anyone can be considered as a foster parent, married or single, gay or straight or from any ethnic background.

One of those who has stepped forward is foster carer Lindsey Wilkinson. Lindsey is a single mum of two, one aged 15 one 21, and says that fostering has been an emotionally enriching experience for her whole family and "the best thing I have ever done".

Foster carer Lindsey Wilkinson from Preston

Lindsey, 40, who went to Ribbleton Hall High School in Preston, worked for many years as a nursery nurse, but decided to become a foster carer as she wanted to make a real difference to the lives of children who were most in need.

She said: "Fostering was something I have always wanted to do. I had been a nursery nurse for 17 years in Preston and I had come to the point where I wanted a change. From my experiences at nursery I felt I could help and I knew there was an awful lot of children out there who needed help."

She said the process of going through the checks and vetting that someone needs to undergo to become a foster parent took a few months but was understandably necessary.

"They have to be very thorough, it is important to check carefully to make sure people are suitable, because we are dealing with the most vulnerable children. I had a social worker helping me all the way through the process."

Leanne and Jon Porter of Cleveleys who have fostered 32 children in six years

Her first foster child arrived on January 25, 2018.

"My first one was a little boy aged four. He was with me for six months and we developed such a positive relationship. When he first arrived he was angry and confused, which was understandable, he just wanted to be back with his family. We did have a few behavioural issues which were challenging at first, but it went really well and I am still in touch with his family now.

"You get so much support from Lancashire County Council, you can always ring up with questions. They also provide training, online through Zoom at the moment, and the training is all relevant and interesting. It goes from things like keeping records, first aid, to domestic abuse and keeping children safe online to safeguarding.

"I am a short term foster carer, I have two children with me at the moment. But I have had 12 so far. I had one boy who stayed for two weeks and the longest I had a child with me was for 51 weeks. I have had children from two weeks old to 16 years old.

The regional adoption agency for Lancashire and Blackpool says that people of any age over 21, with a spare bedroom, can become a foster parent

"But it's not just about helping the children, its helping the families as well. Quite often they have some serious difficulties to deal with, such as mental health issues, and they can be really struggling. So quite often its about building that relationship with the parents as well and guiding them sometimes.

"The parents are understandably sometimes very defensive, but it usually does not take long to build a relationship."

Lindsey is also a mentor for families with the Lancashire Intervention for Families Team which offers guidance with such things as routines and behaviour. She said there are opportunities to meet other foster carers and buddy up for support. And there is a group for the existing children of foster carers, for support and which meets up for fun activities.

She added that saying goodbye can be a wrench: "My two boys love the fostering. We do sometimes get upset when a child leaves but they know that it is such a positive thing we are doing.

Leanne and Jon Porter who always take the children in their care to the beach. Many have never seen the seaside before

"When a child is adopted, we stay in touch for a while to be there for support, but sometimes the new parents just want to get on with it and cut the ties. I have one boy who always sends a card on Mothers' Day and chocolates.

"It is really good making a positive difference and seeing the change. It's about offering emotional support and empathy not just to the child but the family too sometimes, after all they are going through some really tough times.

"What children need is a loving, caring, stable family home. They need consistency of routine and set boundaries, that is key to it all. Sometimes for the children, chaos is their normal. It is what they are used to and they think they want it. But it just takes time, care and consistency. It helps to understand where that behaviour is coming from. Keep your cool and be consistent and caring.

"If people have the time and will and a spare bedroom, it does not matter if the are a single parent, same sex couple or have children of their own, they could be a foster carer."

"It is the best thing I have ever done. Just making a difference and seeing how far they have come. There are so many more positives than negatives. It is wonderful."

Leanne and Jon Porter from Cleveleys, who have two children, aged 14 and nine, have been foster parents to others for six and a half years.

Foster carer Lindsey Wilkinson says her own children enjoy helping her to be a foster parent

Jon, worked in security and as a personal trainer but has now started working for the NSPCC on the Better Start project. He said said; "It is something Leanne has always wanted to do, even when I first met her. She wanted to give more to those that needed care and love. We are foster carers as a family not just Leanne and me, its the kids as well."

Leanne, 33, said: "Our second child had just turned three when we went through the process and our first children arrived. I have always wanted to work with children since being tiny. I used to go round and help the lady next door bath her babies.

"I worked in nurseries gained my qualifications but form there I decided I wanted to do something for those children who didn't have a great start in life."

Jon, 36, said: "The process was good actually. It helps you deal with things. And it makes yo think about yourselves and the way you do things."

Leanne added: "The support from our fostering supervisor social worker is absolutely amazing. Any questions, queries or when you feel a wobble, because you can feel that way sometimes. She's always on the end of a phone. We qualified in May 2014 and we got our first children in July, three little ones, all siblings.

Jon said: "We have always made a point of taking siblings, because they are the hardest to find homes for. Its vitally important to keep them together. We have got siblings and we would not like to have them split up if anything was to happen.

"The first time there was an element of nervousness. Especially meeting with the children's family. We have to build that bond and relationship with the parents not just the children. We don't make judgements. People are in situations for all different types of reasons. That was one of the most nerve wracking things.

Leanne, said: "Because of that now we have become buddies to help out new foster carers, going to meetings with them answering any questions they are unsure about."

Jon said there was a wide ranging of training, some mandatory, some for developing your interests. He said: "I came from a security background. I did not think I had the skills necessary. But you develop into the role and the training and support is there to help.

Some children come from households with chaotic lives but Jon said: "Our routine at home is pretty good. Very structured and in a short space of time it all falls into place. Having other children in the house that are older, as role models, helps set a behaviour model and they follow that. It is lovely to see them develop skills.

Leanne added: "Such things as seeing them using a knife and fork for the first time. Seeing them build self esteem and confidence. I enjoy taking children out to the beach for example.The children come from all over Lancashire and some of them have never seen the beach. Wet suits and wellies! Its lovely. Just experiencing the outdoors.

"We have opened up our home to a young lad who will be with us to adulthood. He has been with us for three years. That is really rewarding, to be able to give a child a home for a long time. There is a great need for children of an older age to have a permanent home so they can have that security.

"There are no stereotypes for fosters. We were quite young but there is no time limit. It was nice to experience it with our own birth children but you can be older."

County Councillor Phillippa Williamson, cabinet member for children, young people, and schools, said: "The reality is that fostering is open to people from a wide variety of backgrounds. For example, carers must be over 21 but there is no upper age limit, and it doesn't matter to us whether you already have a family, or you don't. You can work full time or part time, or not at all.

"We need the support of foster carers just as much as ever. The council needs to find around 20 places every week for the children and young people it cares for."

To find out more visit www.lancashire.gov.uk/fostering or call the team on 0300 123 6723.

Blackpool Gazette:

Thanks for reading. If you value what we do and are able to support us, a digital subscription is just £1 for your first month. Try us today by clicking here