The importance of foster homes in Buckinghamshire
PUBLISHED: 16:44 20 January 2016 | UPDATED: 16:44 20 January 2016
More than 400 children need foster homes in Bucks - and the County Council is campaigning for more carers to come forward to look after them. Steve Cohen reports on the people whose lives have been transformed
The award winners
Dedicated foster carers Juliet and Charlie Cleverdon were stunned last month by the attention they received after winning a national award. The couple, from Bucks, who have fostered countless children over three decades, found themselves being stopped in the street and congratulated by people.
It was hardly a surprise, perhaps, this happened because they had just met the Duchess of Cambridge and TV star Holly Willoughby at a glittering ceremony.
But to Juliet and Charlie, fostering is second nature and – while they were thrilled to win the ‘Outstanding Contribution by a Foster Carer Award’ – their primary motivation is looking after the children in their care.
“Fostering is our life,” said Juliet. “After we won the award, people stopped us in the street to congratulate us and I kept thinking - is this me they are talking about? It’s just something we do – and we are the lucky ones.”
On November 17, the couple travelled to London to receive their award at The Fostering Network’s Fostering Excellence Awards. One of the biggest thrills of the night was when they met the Duchess of Cambridge. “She came and sat at our table. She was lovely,” said Juliet. “She congratulated everybody and said we are doing a wonderful job.”
Juliet and Charlie have been foster carers for 30 years and have looked after more than 30 children, all of whom have had a learning disability and mild physical disability.
The couple also offer advice and support to others, encouraging new carers to attend support groups, training and other fostering events. “I just love every bit about fostering and I don’t know what I would do without it,” said Juliet, who lives in Buckingham with Charlie and a house constantly full of youngsters. “I can’t last a day without looking back to see if my brood is behind me.”
Juliet says she always wanted to foster and work with children, ever since she was 18-years-old.
She decided to take the plunge when her own daughter was two-years-old. “We thought it would be really nice to offer a home to another child who needed it,” she said. “I was given a sibling pair – a boy and girl of completely different ages. It was hard, but it was fantastic. I learnt so much. it was that feeling of making a difference. It was a challenge but you have the support and you learn. I am still learning every day.”
She has lost count of the children she has fostered over the three decades, and normally has three at a time. Now in her 50s, Juliet says fostering means she always has a ‘happy, bubbly, excited home’, and the family jokingly refer to the girls in her house as ‘Charlie’s Angels’, in honour of her husband who is a pillar of support.
Juliet, who says she cannot imagine a world without fostering, remains immensely ‘humbled’ by the national award.
She said: “It’s wonderful to receive this award and attend such a lovely evening. We just love every bit about fostering and I don’t know what we would do without it. That’s the life we have chosen and we would do it all again.”
Charlie said: “We thoroughly enjoyed the evening; it was a very special event for us. Juliet and I support each other to do this, we work as a partnership. We love it and, 30 years later, we wouldn’t change a thing.”
Meanwhile, despite their modesty, the tributes have poured in to them.
Lin Hazell, County Council Cabinet Member for Children Services said of the award: “This is fantastic news and I am so pleased to see the good work that Juliet and Charlie have done for us, be recognised. They thoroughly deserve this. Their commitment to fostering has been outstanding.
“We have over 430 children in care in Buckinghamshire and we need more foster carers like Juliet and Charlie. If anyone is interested in fostering I would encourage them to get in touch with us today.”
Lyn Peachey, the couple’s fostering team manager who nominated them for the award, said: “Juliet and Charlie are one in a million, with hearts of gold!”
Kevin Williams, chief executive of The Fostering Network, said: “Without the dedication of foster carers, many children would not have the opportunities that they now have. Juliet and Charlie have worked tremendously hard over the past year to ensure that the fostered children of Buckinghamshire know how much they’re cared about by everyone in the fostering community.”
The young champion
Teenager Jessica Price is so passionate about the benefits of being fostered that she is happy to stand up in front of audiences to appeal to them to help young people in need of a home.
Jessica, from Winslow, who has been looked after by the same family for the last 10 years, was asked to tell of her own experiences at a County Council fostering information session. The aim was to encourage people to become foster parents and help the hundreds of children in the county currently in need of a new home.
And Jessica’s presentation earlier this year was so stirring that it left her foster mother, Liz Calver, ‘choked’ with emotion. Now both Jessica, 17, and Liz, 48, are appealing to more potential foster parents to come forward and attend the next information session which is being held in January.
Jessica, who joined Liz and husband David and their four other children when she was aged just seven, said: “I don’t really feel like I’m fostered – I feel like part of the family because I have been living here for such a long time and because I get such a lot of support. I think it helps me a lot.
“Being fostered is fun, you do fun activities and get support with college, and you get a lot of love and care.”
She admits to being very nervous when she stood up in front of 50 to 60 people at the presentation in Aylesbury, but added: “I just felt like if I spoke about it, people would have an understanding of what it’s like to be fostered and have a happy home.”
Jessica has just started college and is studying animal care. Her first memory of the Calvers was when, aged seven, she was asked to decorate a tree with the family at Christmas.
Foster mum Liz said: “I was really proud of her at the fostering information session because it was a really difficult thing to do .She gave a little speech about what it was like and that she felt part of the family – and people asked her questions. She did well. I felt choked with pride.”
Liz, who is a teacher, says Jessica’s life with her and her family busts a lot of common myths about fostering, such as the one that working parents are not eligible: “We are both working parents. If you can be creative and flexible in your work, it is still possible to foster,” she said. “It is worth inquiring if you think you are in a position to foster. You may think you won’t be considered because of the myths, but if it is something you want to do, you can get round it. It’s not about looking for the difficulties – it’s looking for the positives and doing something worthwhile with your life which you can enjoy at the same time.”
Liz recently suffered from a rare and serious form of cancer of the appendix and says Jessica and the rest of her children were a huge help and source of pride to her through her illness. She has now successfully recovered but said this also shows that fostering is possible even when you are ill.
And she added that her cancer also proved something else to her about fostering: “I was seriously ill. When you are faced with that you look back at your life, I realised that fostering was one of the most worthwhile things I have done,” she said. “Jessica is a confident and caring young lady. I am proud of the way she has grown up.”
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