Two Northern Ireland women discuss fostering
Karen Sharkey (36) lives in Omagh with her partner Gary, also a carer. She was named Foster Carer of the Year in 2015. She says:
My aunt had fostered children for 25 years and I was always interested in doing so myself, as I was always around foster kids. I'm from a childcare background, having worked in nurseries and as a childminder.
I decided to apply to be a foster carer when I was 22. I wasn't living with my partner at the time, but was with my sister, Anita.
We went along to an information evening when I applied. Both my sister and I had to go through the application process - it took months.
We were initially registered for short-time and respite care and our first placement was a family of three siblings - they ended up staying with me for years. I've now had 17 children through my care and they have mostly been babies - the oldest child we have had was eight.
At the moment we have two boys who have both been with us since they were newborn babies - and they will continue to live here until they don't need to be in care anymore.
It is hard when it's time for them to move on but as soon as one child goes to their new home then we're at the door waiting for the next to come in.
Every child who comes here has been part of our family, but at the same time, we always work with their families and keep in close contact with them.
I don't think I've missed out on anything by spending years fostering. Our lives have been so fulfilled by it."
Jenny Gillespie (50) lives in Bangor with her husband Mark, a joiner. She was named runner-up in last year’s Foster Carer of the Year awards. She says:
Nine years ago, Mark and I started fostering. We had discovered we weren’t able to have kids but then were approached by a relative who is a social worker — they suggested that we might make great foster carers.
My initial thought was no — I feared it would be too hard to hand the children back after their placement. But after having a chat with Kindercare Northern Ireland we realised that although we have no kids of our own, that it was something we could do.
Foster kids come to you with complex needs but from day one Mark and I decided that any child who came into our house would have a clean slate.
We’ve now had 10 children in total. Initially we provided short-term care but one of the boys has been with us for more than eight years and will probably stay.
We have had children with emotional difficulties but last year we took in a boy who has cerebral palsy and has acute physical needs. He doesn’t sit but he does walk, so he needs a lot of care — but his brain and personality are perfect. It was a whole new area for us and we didn’t know if we were making the right move but it’s worked out perfectly. Now both the boys will be with us for the long term.
We were worried about when the children had to leave, but when you care for them you know you’re working for them to be returned to their families. Unfortunately, as with our two boys, sometimes it’s not possible but there are wee ones who do reunite with a parent who has overcome any issues which stopped them caring for their kids in the first place.”
Could you be a foster parent? To find out more call Kindercare Fostering Northern Ireland, tel 028 9094 1690 or visit http://kindercareni.co.uk/