Co Down couple who've provided 50 children with loving home are Foster Carers of the Year
They have provided a loving home for more than 50 children over two decades.
And now a Co Down couple have been awarded the Foster Carer of the Year Award.
Dromore's Margaret and Jackie McCarragher were nominated for the Fostering Network accolade by their daughter Nichola.
She paid tribute to the "love, care and dedication" her parents had shown to numerous children over the years.
The couple were presented with their award in the Great Hall in Parliament Buildings last night.
Margaret and Jackie first began foster caring in 1992 after Margaret was inspired by watching a television programme.
They have eight children of their own – the youngest is 14 and the oldest is 35.
She said: "It was when my own children started growing up and started primary school I was left in the house on my own.
"The television show inspired me to enquire about it and it all took off from there."
The first child the couple cared for is still with them.
Tara began life with the couple aged 18 months – she is now 22 and has just qualified as a personal trainer in London.
"Tara going off to university would be one of the big memories," Margaret said.
"Also, some of the babies that have come along and seeing them go off to adoptive parents – some of those we have made good friends with, and we still keep in touch."
The couple have fostered children from different countries and some with very disruptive childhoods, including an 11-year-old currently with them.
"He came from a harrowing background. We got him last year as a long-term so he will be here until he is 18 – that was one of the worst cases we have had.
"He is doing well in school and is more outgoing and is coping with everything really well."
She added: "It's very rewarding. Some of them have come with a lot of problems, and it's great to see them being resolved, and to go out in to the world and be happy and contented and get work."
While the inspirational couple have been recognised with an award, Margaret said the best reward was the love they got from the children. "Some of them come and aren't able to show any affection. Then they are able to hug you and start feeling at home in the house," she said.
"It's made the other children in the family just understand that it's not always easy going for everyone.
"And you aren't always lucky enough to have steady relationships and happy homes."
Commenting on her award, Margaret said: "Seeing the children go out in to the world is a reward enough that you have done the job well.
"It's something I enjoy doing. I wasn't expecting it at all."
"The love, care and dedication my parents have shown to more than 50 children has been so inspirational and made such a difference in so many children's lives that I felt they deserved recognition, and I am delighted they have been presented with this award.
"Many of the children who my mum and dad have fostered have remained part of our family even though they are now adults and mum still always has three foster children at home with her. Mum's house is busy but always loving. I am so proud of them – my parents are one in a million.
– Margaret and Jackie's award nomination by daughter Nichola, who is now a foster carer herself