“How can a child that’s never been loved learn to love?” asks Polly.
“You give a lot in fostering,” she continues, “Every placement has its complications and challenged, but we’re just here to help – to help that child find their place.
Polly is sitting opposite me and next to her partner Ben (not their real names). They have been fostering children for a number of years and are beaming with pride as they recall how they have been able to transform young lives.
The couple, who live in the Wokingham borough, are keen to encourage others to get involved and see the difference for themselves. Their eyes sparkle with delight as they reflect on the ways in which they have been able to transform lives over the years – and they are keen to share their experiences with others so more children can benefit from a loving home.
“Fostering is something we, as ordinary people, could do,” Ben says.
“We would recommend it, if it’s right for you,” Polly added.
Fostering simply provides a child with the home life they need and it can be a short term placement for just a few weeks or it could be longer. Children in need of fostering may be unable to live with their birth parents due to their ill health, abuse or neglect.
It can sometimes have a real affect on the way in which children behave.
“Actually, just to be normal, just to be one of the crowd, can be a huge achievement,” Polly says of the struggles that some youngsters face.
Ben and Polly didn’t wake up one day and decide they wanted to be foster parents.
“It probably took about six months – it wasn’t something we jumped into,” Ben said.
The idea to foster came from surprising circumstances: their own children.
Polly recalls: “When my children were at school, a boy who was fostered joined the class wearing clothes that were too small and his hair was full of head lice. But the children really liked him – he was a lovely kid.
“My son said to me one day that someone had told him [the boy] off and it wasn’t his fault. ‘You’d never treat a child like that,’ he said. It made me think, ‘What could I do’.”
It sparked a train of thought that saw them decide to go for it.
“It came down to ‘we’ve just got to see’,” Polly said. “The children were involved – they wanted to be part of it. As a family, we’re a team.”
And so began a journey that Ben and Polly feel has been really fulfilling, not just for them but for the children they have looked after.
“It’s been a big learning experience – finding out about the child and what’s important to them,” Polly said. “The child is the centre of everything.”
Fostering is, Polly says, a “dynamic situation” with placements being for variable lengths.
“One was meant to stay for a weekend, but they stayed for two-and-a-half years,” Polly says.
“We loved him to bits,” Ben adds.
Even though they have loved numerous children over the years, the couple admit a certain frisson when they prepare for a new arrival.
“We have nerves every time,” Polly says. “I’ll find out as much as possible to prepare. Everybody is an individual and have things that matter to them. Once you meet them, that relationship can grow.”
And it’s not just Ben and Polly that can provide love for the children they look after.
“Some children get on better with animals because adults have let them down so much,” Polly says.
Ben adds: “In a lot of cases, children are wary of adults, but they will respond to an animal … dogs don’t keep asking questions!”
Supported all the way by social workers and a network of fellow fosterers, the couple feel that they have never been alone.
“When we’ve needed help, they’ve been right there with us,” Polly said. “They heard our cry and responded.”
And each child has their own social worker too, so there is a good support network to tap in to. There is a regular drop-in coffee morning for support and foster carers regularly get together for social events too.
Now though the challenge is on to find more foster carers and adopters. Churches across the Thames Valley are backing a campaign called Home For Good, which is encouraging people to foster and adopt.
The Revd David McLeod, from St Sebastian’s Wokingham, said: “Fostering has significant affects on transforming life. Children go into foster care are nurtured and are ready to be adopted because of the care they’ve received.”
Wokingham Borough Council is holding a fostering information event on Saturday, May 17 at St Sebastian’s Parish Centre, Nine Mile Ride, Wokingham RG40 3AT. Running from 10am to noon, you can drop-in, meet foster carers and find out more.