A few years ago, a strapping lad of 26 strode up the path to Sue Johnson’s door in Crosby Villa in West Cumbria. The last time Sue had seen him, he was just nine years old – one of many children she and husband Iain have fostered over the years.
“He came to tell me he had never forgotten me. I really worried about him when he left us, but my support worker told me he wouldn’t forget me, and sure enough, he came back 17 years later to tell me just that,” she recalls. “It was so lovely to see him and to hear his news. He’s a dad himself now.”
After fostering babies and children for more than 30 years, Sue has many positive stories to tell of the youngsters who have been in her care, some for just a few weeks, and others she has looked after for several years. That’s on top of bringing up the couple’s own three children and adopted son.
“Fostering doesn’t make for a quiet life, but I love the work even though it can be very demanding emotionally,” says Sue, who has no plans to retire, even though she is now 61.
“What is really important is that you get the support and training from a good agency; I have worked for Community Foster Care, a charity, for many years now and they are first class.
“They organise days out for the foster families, the foster children and their birth children, so everyone gets to know everyone else. There is regular training and someone at the other end of the phone 24-7. Even though I have fostered for many years, there are still times when you need help.
“Looking after children is a huge responsibility, but you can make such a big difference to a child’s outlook and long term wellbeing by giving them a lot of love and support in a solid family environment.
“For many children, coming into a foster home is their first experience of a regular routine. Most of them bloom while they are here. I see them grow physically with good, regular and wholesome food, and emotionally knowing they can trust us to be there for them.
“I am so proud to be able to help them grow and develop to the stage where they can go back to their own families in many cases. Not every story is a happy one, but if you can just plant a seed in a child who may have given up hope, that’s something very powerful.”
Sue and Iain gave up counting the number of children they have opened their home and hearts to, after reaching 100.
“I call them my ‘borrowed children’,” says Sue. “We know none of them will be with us forever, but that doesn’t stop you loving them to bits while they are here. I see our job as putting rungs in a ladder to help the children move on.”
Growing up with foster children as part of the family hasn’t put off Sue’s eldest daughter Kirstin and her husband Rob who are hoping to become foster carers this year.
Kirstin and Rob are already very involved as volunteers with Community Foster Care, through Sue’s work, so the next step was applying to become foster carers themselves.
“We want to foster long term because the only downside of growing up with lots of foster children in the family was saying so many goodbyes,” adds Kirstin. “We’ve discussed it all with our daughter, and she’s really looking forward to it!”
Click here to visit our Foster Care Fortnight 2012 information page.