Suffolk: Foster families can change lives
suffolk: She is living proof that a supportive and loving foster family can make a real difference to a child’s life.
When Gemma was 14 years old she moved to live with her permanent foster carers Paul and Carol Riches in Old Newton, near Stowmarket.
The teenager, who had lived with two other foster families previously, had very low self-esteem.
But the care, attention and time that her new family offered helped transform Gemma’s outlook on life.
Paul said: “We worked with her to bring her out of herself, to make the best of herself.
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“It takes time to make them see they (foster children) are valued and they have a purpose.”
Gemma, now 31, said: “Life with Carol and Paul made me realise what a difference foster carers can make. I went on holidays for the first time, I went ice skating and horse riding.
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“When you go to a new family, it is really nerve-racking, every family is different.
“But they talked to me and listened, they treated me like one of their family, I felt safe.”
She added: “I have achieved things I never would have, thanks to Paul and Carol and being in foster care.
“I never thought I would go to college but they helped me get in.
“They helped me become independent, when I moved out on my own, Carol would ring me every day to make sure I was up in time for college.”
Such was the bond between Gemma, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, and her foster carers that when her fiance popped the question, she immediately asked Paul to walk her down the aisle.
For Paul it was a proud moment – equalled when another foster daughter asked him to be godfather to her child.
“This is what it is all about,” the 59-year-old civil servant said. “It is the little things like these that show just how rewarding it can be.”
The couple, who have three grown-up daughters of their own, are approved permanent foster carers and care for babies through to teenagers.
Over their 22-year career as foster carers the couple have welcomed 15 children into their home, many of who they are still in contact with now.
Paul urged more people to learn about becoming a foster carer as the nation marks Foster Care Fortnight.
“It is a big decision, it is important to spend some time thinking about fostering, talk to your partner, social workers and other foster carers.
“There is support there, so make the most of it. If you have got the space, not time because you can never have enough time to keep up with young people, the rewards are brilliant.”
n If you are interested in fostering call the team on 0800 328 2148, visit www.suffolkfostering.com or text the word ‘fostering’ followed by your name to 81400.
n Tell us your experiences. Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail eveningstar email@example.com