To mark Fostering February, we asked Michael to tell his story of 12 months since fostering siblings.
It’s just over a year since we welcomed sisters M__ and E__ into our home — in the early hours of one winter morning.
Coming from an inner city environment, the girls were understandably unsure at first about our countryside location.
Today, they’re perfectly happy outdoors or playing with our ‘pack’ of four pugs — and are now living with us as a permanent placement.
But we didn’t get to this point as a family overnight — once me and my wife Louise decided we wanted to foster, we had a lot of research to do.
One of our oldest friends has been a foster parent for years, so we knew what a difference it could make to vulnerable children.
When we started looking into it, we spoke to a number of IFA’s — but it wasn’t until we got in touch with our current agency that it felt ‘right’.
They gave the impression of a ‘family’ environment — friendly contact, helpful information and a lovely initial visit.
It’s been a learning curve — we were apprehensive about our final panel meeting but needn’t have been.
Same with the first LAC meeting we went to — lots of new people, plenty to take in — but not scary at all once you’re there.
And we quickly revised our initial aim not to foster anyone older than our sons, R__ and M__, instead deciding to assess placements on their own merits.
We’re glad we did, as the girls are benefitting from having brothers — and vice versa — plus the age gaps aren’t that big anyway.
Although neither of the girls were in education when they came to us, we got to work enrolling them in local schools.
While waiting for their places to be confirmed, I was able to spend time with them — I’m self employed and mainly work from home.
And although time with the dogs and enjoying various craft activities was great, it was a relief when the girls were able to join their new schools.
Both sisters have flourished — especially considering how much school they’ve missed out on — and E__ is predicted top grades in every subject.
It’s not all work though, we’re a very ‘doing’ family — all of the kids have had a go at steering our canal boat during trips away.
And you’ll often find me up above the treetops — I’ve got a microlight aircraft and also fly powered parachutes.
Louise and I both qualified as pilots years ago in the US and we love getting up high and enjoying the views of Rutland Water and the surrounding countryside.
E__ has already been up for a flight — and we’re even working on persuading our social worker to strap in when she visits during warmer weather!
And now we’ve sorted out the girls’ passports, we can’t wait for our first family holiday abroad — Sri Lanka this Easter.
This last year has been fantastic — the girls are as good as gold and we love them to bits — I would recommend fostering to anyone.
The training has been excellent, we’ve been given all the support we’ve needed and everyone we’ve met has been a huge help.
And our social worker Paula is great — nothing is ever too much trouble for her — but she’s also the one who told us the most heartbreaking thing.
At the ‘Skills to Foster’ course we attended, we found out not only how many kids need help — but also how many a month unfortunately can’t be placed.
Louise and I were lucky to have the childhoods we did — and we’ve done what we can to make sure the girls have the best we can give them.
But it’s important to share our experience — so other people will see how much the girls have enriched our family by coming to live with us.
And hopefully someone will be inspired to change a vulnerable young person’s life — and change their own at the same time.
There’s no better time than now, during Fostering February.
If you’d like to know more about how you could help brothers and sisters who need each other stay together, please contact us online or ring 0808 1680 180.