Wigan fostering heroes urge carers to keep siblings together
An inspirational couple who have fostered 37 children are urging others to keep families together during the hardest time in their lives by caring for siblings and children with disabilities.
Pat and Dave Walsh, from Ashton, who also have two biological daughters, have been foster carers with Wigan Council for more than 12 years and have been looking after four siblings: James, 19, Amy, 15, Gary, 12, and 10-year-old Helen (not their real names) for the last eight of them.
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And while they say they can’t pretend that the work hasn’t been tough at times, there is help at hand and the work is also incredibly rewarding.
Which is why they are doing their bit to help a new local authority recruitment drive after it was revealed that the borough is suffering from a foster carer shortage.
Despite previous experiences, the four siblings did not want to be taken into care and were understandably hesitant to build relationships at first.
However, after being welcomed into the fold by Pat and Dave, they have grown in confidence and have blossomed in their care, which Pat also believes is down to the fact they were kept together.
She said: “It’s absolutely imperative that children are kept together.
“It’s bad enough that they are taken away from their parents, especially when that is all they know and don’t want to be taken into care.
“They need each other more than ever during this time as they truly know what the other has been through and can offer support.
“It’s comforting for them to still have that family connection.
“I won’t pretend it has been easy.
“Fostering is a big decision in itself and there is a lot to think about, but the happiness of the children and the difference that could be made to their lives is what is most important to us.
“The council have always been fantastic but I cannot fault the support we’ve received when fostering siblings, especially taking into consideration the troubles the children have faced.”
And although the local authority has provided counselling opportunities and specialist visits for the siblings over the years to help, Pat and Dave have also received support, including tips on how to deal with potential outbursts and arranging for the same respite carers to look after the children for two days every six weeks.
Pat added: “As much as we love the children, it’s great to have a weekend every few weeks to ourselves – as I’m sure every other parent would agree!
“‘James is older and has moved out now, so he doesn’t go but the other three love it and it’s like a little holiday for them.
“They go to the cinema, bowling or shopping and it really makes all the difference.
“To any current foster carers who haven’t looked after siblings before or to people looking to foster for the first time, I would definitely recommend speaking with Wigan Council as they will tailor the support package to suit you and your family.
“It’s hard work but there is nothing better than watching children and young people grow into independent adults despite their hardships and knowing you’ve helped.”
James Winterbottom, director for children’s services at Wigan Council, said: “We have a shortage of foster carers for sibling groups in the borough and are extremely keen to encourage more people to look after sibling groups and children with disabilities.
“Fostering may seem like a big step but through The Deal for Foster Carers, we pledge to provide training opportunities, out of hours support, respite and much more to ensure that you are able to provide a stable and loving home to children and young people who need it.”
For more information about fostering with Wigan Council, visit www.wigan.gov.uk/fostering.
At the end of last year Wigan MP Lisa Nandy helped bring about a shock Government U-turn on excluding foster children from free care.
She led the Westminster debate and forced ministers to agree to extend the full 30 hours of free childcare to youngsters aged three or four being fostered.
Prior to the unexpected reversal, foster children were the only group not to be included in an additional 15 hours of care introduced in September, a situation Ms Nandy had been determined to reverse.