Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

40 years of fostering love: Northern Ireland couple who have spent a lifetime caring for hundreds of disadvantaged kids

Bringing up a child can be a challenging task, but one remarkable Northern Ireland couple have spent a lifetime caring for hundreds of disadvantaged kids.

Frank and Susan Gervin have opened their home and their hearts to more than 200 foster children during the last 37 years.

And even though the Co Tyrone couple are now in their pension years, they are still welcoming children into their home.

Their incredible story emerged as a charity launched a new campaign aimed at encouraging more people to become foster parents.

The Fostering Network said at least 200 new families are needed across Northern Ireland this year to look after the record number of children in care.

Frank and Susan fostered their first child in December 1975 after spotting an appeal in a newspaper.

They went on to adopt the two-year-old, who had special needs, but he passed away five years later.

Undeterred, the Coalisland couple took in another child, and have continued to foster children for nearly four decades.

Some of them have stayed only a night, others for a few weeks.

In some cases, however, children have stayed many years and become almost part of the family.

"We started in 1975 when we saw a child in the paper who needed a home," explained Frank, a renowned international boxing coach.

"The wee lad came to us the week before Christmas, and we eventually adopted him, but he passed away in July 1980 and it almost wrecked us. We took a year out and exactly one year later, we got a phone call asking us to take another child in."

For Frank and Susan, there was no hesitation. "We took the lad in and have been going since then," he added.

"A lot of children have come and gone since 1975. We don't ask what their background is, it doesn't matter to us what class, creed or colour they are.

"To us they are children that need help. Some have only stayed for a day or a night, others have stayed much longer.

"We have one boy who came for two nights and ended up staying for 15 years."

Last week, it emerged that 1,950 children are living with foster families on any one day in Northern Ireland.

The Fostering Network said families are urgently needed to replace the 13% of the workforce who retire or leave every year.

And Frank – known for his work with Clonoe Boxing Club – believes more people should open their homes to children in need.

"It is so rewarding to see a child smile," he added.

Factfile

The Gervins work with the Southern Health and Social Care Trust, which is seeking experienced carers who are willing to offer placements to children and young people with disabilities.

• Carers must have experience and understanding of the needs of children and young people with learning or physical disabilities.

• Drop-in information sessions take place across the Southern Trust area, including Oakridge Social Education Centre, Dungannon, on February 27 and Canal Court Hotel, Newry, on February 28.

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