Home Children and Young People Call out for foster carers in Newton-le-Willows
Linda and Geoff Harrison

Call out for foster carers in Newton-le-Willows

by Gemma Melling

As the UK’s biggest foster care awareness-raising campaign gets underway for the next two-weeks with the theme #FosteringMoments, one St Helens resident has shared her experiences during the past 18-years in a bid to encourage more people to come forward as foster carers.

Held from 13-26 May, Foster Care Fortnight is The Fostering Network’s annual campaign, backed by St Helens Borough Council, to raise the profile of fostering and show how foster care transforms lives.

For Linda Harrison, 58, and her husband Geoff, 53, the journey to becoming foster carers started around 20 years ago after seeing television adverts asking people to come forward as foster carers.

Working fulltime as NHS nurses, the Windle couple – who have a grown-up child of their own and two grandchildren – decided respite would initially be a good starting point. Not before long they were taking in children for longer periods of time, leading to looking after a child from the age of eight, right up until moving into supported accommodation at the age of 19.

“We did think about stopping then but when you realise how many children need a safe loving home, you just keep going,” said Linda, who has fostered more than 20 children and young people – ranging from overnight stays to months and years – during her time as a registered foster carer with St Helens Borough Council.

“When a child is placed with you, you want the child to be part of your own and your extended family and want them to be treated the same as any other member of that family. The children we have had placed with us have always been welcomed by everyone, and my brother and sister-in-law where our respite carers who gave us a break twice a year which was invaluable for us.”

Reflecting on her own #FosteringMoments, Linda points out the first-time opportunities her and her husband have been able to provide to children and young people in their care, from bowling, cinema, and soft play trips, to eating out at a restaurant for the first time – and even holidays abroad. But it’s also the small, often-taken-for-granted things in life, that Linda highlights as a big deal to children, like the pride in receiving their first 100% attendance card from school after a long period of absence or having a bath and story time before getting into their own bed at night.

Linda said: “Once they know they are safe and looked after, that’s when they blossom and they amaze you every day with what they are able to achieve. Obviously not all children adapt to being in care and you will face challenges and that’s when you need the support of the child’s social worker and your own supervising social worker. You need to recognise that you are not going to change the life of every child and not every child is going to like you, you have to try to build up trust and form a bond and never try to take the place of their parents.”

Passing on advice to others considering fostering, Linda said: “Be realistic in what you can do, and what age group suits your family. The rewards far outweigh the challenges, and you won’t always get it right, but you will know when you do when you see them happy, safe, and content and thriving under your care.”

Praising foster carers like the Harrisons and encouraging others who may be inspired by their story to come forward, Cllr Nova Charlton, St Helens Borough Council’s Cabinet Member for Children and Young People, said: “As a corporate parent, the council is responsible for caring for more than 480 children and young people which largely outweighs the number of foster carers we currently have registered with us. We need even more everyday heroes like Linda and Geoff to provide a safe and loving home to some of the most vulnerable children and young people in our borough.

“Campaigns like Foster Care Fortnight are an opportunity to shine a light on the benefits of fostering and to show our level of commitment when it comes to becoming a foster carer. You don’t just sign up and get left to it – support is in place from our experienced team who are there to guide you every step of the way in rewarding role which helps us as a council achieve our number one priority of ensuring every child and young people has the best start in life.”

To take the first step towards becoming a foster carer, visit fostering.sthelens.gov.ukcall 01744 671146 or email enquiry@foster4.co.uk.

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