‘It’s definitely changed our lives for the better’

“Foster children are not different from your own children. They maybe just haven’t had the start in life that other children have. But it is our job to give them that life that every child deserves,” says Natalie, a foster parent for the past 13 years.

Natalie and her husband Colin fostered their first child when they were in their mid-twenties. Since then, they have fostered another twenty children, between the ages of 0 and 18. Most have been long-term placements, with the longest being eight years. The couple also have a daughter and two sons of their own, aged fifteen, nine and eight.

The couple, who live in Rosemarket, say that starting fostering at a young age, and bringing up their own children with their foster children, has been a definite plus for them.

“It’s easy. You find the time to look after your own children. It’s exactly the same,” said Natalie. “We treat all our children equally, and the rules are the same for everyone. It’s really important, so that nobody feels any different.”

“All of our friends and family know all our children and treat them all the same,” added Colin, a trained paramedic. “Lots of them come back at Christmas and you can’t move for presents! It’s like one big happy family.”

Many of the children which the couple have welcomed into their home have been teenagers, and Natalie says they are actually much easier to foster than some people think.

“In the beginning, they can be hard and will push their boundaries, but if you connect with them, they are away and independent. It’s all about respecting one another,” she said.

“Trust is a big thing. You have got to build up trust; that you are not going to treat them differently or harm them. Nine times out of ten they are just normal children who need to be shown attention, want to be loved, and need some boundaries.”

The couple foster through Pembrokeshire County Council. ‘We have had fantastic support from the Council,” said Colin. “Any time we have asked for help or needed something, we have had it. The relationship and support we have got is brilliant. It helps knowing that you have got the backing from the team.”

Both are passionate about the huge benefits which fostering can bring to any household, and they urge anyone who thinks that fostering might be for them to give it a go.

“As long as you have got empathy and care about others, and have understanding of how people want to be treated, and respected, it’s well worth it,” said Natalie.

“All the good times outweigh by far the rocky patches in the beginning. If anybody thinks it might be for them, they should give it a try at least. It’s definitely changed our lives for the better.” Said Colin; “You can give a child that environment to flourish and turn their whole life around. Some of the children we have fostered have felt they are worthless. So to see a child grow in confidence, totally change, and do well at school or go on the straight and narrow is fantastic.

“We’ve helped to turn them around, make something of their lives, to get an education, to get a job. “I’ve loved every minute of it.”

Farmers who foster

farmers who fosterFarmers who foster – a case of transferable skills

On every sheep farm, there will be times when a lamb needs to be fostered by an ewe that is not its mother, a situation that mostly has a positive outcome.

Allison Silk uses this analogy to illustrate some of the similarities between her work as a sheep farmer and as a foster carer to children whose parents cannot take care of them at that point in time.

“On the farm we get animals that are poor at mothering but it doesn’t mean they are bad animals,’’ says Allison, as she reflects on some of the circumstances that have brought children into her care in the 28 years she has been fostering.

Allison farms near Camrose where she runs two pedigree flocks of Hampshire Downs and Torwens and breeds Section A and B horses and poodles for showing.

This rural idyll and the old-fashioned family values synonymous with farming are a nurturing environment for the children she looks after.

“I have always believed that the first team you are in is a family and everything we do, we do as a team. It might be taking a cup of coffee out to someone who is nursing a sick ewe or finishing some of the farm jobs so that I can get the evening meal on the go,’’ says Allison.

Her decision to become a registered foster carer was prompted by meeting a girl in foster care.

“Her placement broke down and I thought we could offer her a home, but hadn’t realised that we had to qualify first!’’

Although they couldn’t help that girl, it was the catalyst to Allison and her husband Brian, deciding to become foster carers, opening up their farmhouse they shared with their daughters, Nadine and Hayley, to children and young people aged from 5 to 25.

They have since fostered so many children that Allison has lost count but many are still part of the family, returning with their own children and partners.

“There are 12 who still look at this place as their home, if there is a big job happening on the farm they will all turn up,’’ says Allison. “It gets a bit rowdy when they turn up because they now have partners and children of their own, some even bring their own mothers.

“With most of the mums and dads you end up having a really good working relationship with them which is good because their children will return home eventually.

“I feel I am doing a job for those parents who for whatever reason can’t look after their children at that point in time. I am going to do the best I can for them and their children, I can’t sit in judgment even though some of the children arrive very damaged and traumatised. If you got caught up in the situation you couldn’t do the job.’’

Brian sadly died but Allison, who is now 61, continues to foster. “I’ve not even thought about giving up yet,’’ she insists.

She encourages other farmers to consider fostering because she believes they have the right personalities and environments to care for children.

“Farmers who throw in the towel if a cow has kicked them in the milking parlour that morning or if they can’t harvest their crops because the weather is terrible, they get up and face the day and that is what must be done when you foster children.’’

Farmers can offer qualities and skills over and above the basics requirements of a foster carer.

Pembrokeshire County Council, which has five farmers and smallholders registered as foster carers, says farms provide children with experience of a rural family life and a strong sense of community.

“Farmers are resilient, they work through challenges and don’t give up,’’ says Cheryl Morris, a social worker with the authority’s Family Placement Team.

The structure and routine synonymous with farming and a strong network of family and friends are also valued.

With a shortage of foster carers both locally and nationally, Pembrokeshire County Council is urging people to give it a go.

“A farm can offer a rural retreat for these children,’’ says Ms Morris.


Pembrokeshire Family Placement Team children’s Christmas party

Pembrokeshire Fostering Christmas PartyA Winter Wonderland came to Pembrokeshire this weekend when the Pembrokeshire Family Placement Team hosted a children’s Christmas party for foster families.

While the children joined in the fun, eagerly awaiting the arrival of Father Christmas, the adults had a chance to meet and mingle and enjoy the festivities.

It was a delight to see so many children and foster carers at the event and to have the opportunity to show our appreciation for the huge contribution they continue to make to the fostering service in Pembrokeshire.

A good time was had by all at the end of Summer 2018

Pembrokeshire Family Placement Team held an inspired summer beach event for their children and foster families at Broad Haven Youth Hostel recently where hosts, Ruth Richards and her team provided free use of their fabulous facilities and worked hard to ensure the evening activities went to plan after our fun filled afternoon on the beach.

The setting was perfect. The hostel is in an ideal position, situated a short walk from one of the best sandy beaches in Pembrokeshire, with ample parking and easy access for buggies and toddlers and all the paraphernalia you need for a fun afternoon on the beach.

Some of our foster carers commented on the availability of the café and outdoor area at the Youth Hostel which offered a welcome retreat for those wanting a quiet corner to relax.

Bathed in sunshine down on the beach, there were lots of opportunities to involve the children in creating pieces of beach art, utilising the natural materials we found on the beach.

While photographs were taken of the creative pebble designs and sand drawings produced by the children, many of us enjoyed making shadow silhouettes depicting individual foster families.

The day was part of a promotional event to raise the profile of fostering in Pembrokeshire, providing new opportunities for recruitment through our facebook and website pages while illustrating the children’s art work.

One foster carer commented “It was a chance to socialise with other Foster Carers and for our young people to meet other young people in similar situations to themselves. The event was relaxed and the atmosphere was inviting.”

At the close of play everyone gathered back at the Youth Hostel field centre where refreshments were laid on for the hungry beach combers.

While the adults mingled and rested their weary legs, the children entertained themselves with an assortment of activities in the main hall bringing a welcome break and a chance to unwind from a fun filled day.

A big thankyou to Ruth and her staff for such a warm welcome. We enjoyed ourselves so much we are hoping to return at the end of the year for our Christmas party.

To find out more about fostering please contact  fostering@pembrokeshire.gov.uk

Make a difference, change lives and be at the heart of fostering in Pembrokeshire.