“I knew I might, hopefully, have a good effect on him – but I never thought of the effect he would have on me, how he has transformed my life so much.”
These are the words of foster carer Tamlyn, 45, who until last December was enjoying life as a single, professional woman with few responsibilities but is now committed to looking after a once-troubled teenage boy.
She is taking part in the council’s latest campaign to encourage more people to consider fostering.
“I think I’ve been very lucky to have such a brilliant, young man in James (note: not his real name). I had been doing some respite care, giving people breaks at weekends now and again, and I knew him from that. Then I got a call just a week or so before Christmas. James had crisis in his life. He needed somewhere to stay desperately.
“It was an emotional time for him and he was here on Christmas Day. My whole family rallied round, my mum, my sister and my cousin and we made it fun. My mum is much softer on him than she ever was with me! She smuggles him sweets with his magazines. I have a dog, Bertie, and that definitely helped him settle. He loves that dog.”
Tamlyn doesn’t shy away from the challenging side of becoming a foster carer. “I can’t say it has all been plain sailing,” she says, explaining she grew up in a single parent family on a tough estate and is “very aware” of the challenges some of our young people face. “I won’t say nothing is ever wrong or anything like that. For example, he raised his voice to me and we had words about that. But my friends with their own children say much the same.
“I am single and have a professional, full time job in corporate finance and so I don’t think I’m what is thought of as a typical foster carer. In fact, I’ve told people at work and they have become interested in fostering knowing you can work at the same time. And James sees me go to work every day and it’s good messages for him, for example he needed new tyres for his bike and said, ‘how can we afford it,’ and I could say, ‘well, I work, we can do it.’
“There are days I look back at my old life and think, ‘I could do with a bit of that freedom today.’ But it doesn’t last long because there’s a whole new part of my life now. There’s things we do routinely, like rock climbing or I’ll have a go on his computer games (he is brilliant at them), which I would never, ever have done before. And we have laughs together. He’s a really funny kid.
“James is excluded from mainstream school – although he is in a specialist school to get back on track – and has missed out on a lot of education but has made these really big improvements. He does an engineering course and is doing well. He even has a girlfriend now and he is even talking about becoming a policeman, which I don’t think would ever have been the case before.
“There’s lots of smaller changes that you notice that mean a lot. This morning he was up 20 minutes early to get to his ‘school’ and was really smart. He also saved up his pocket money for a long time to buy himself new headphones. It doesn’t sound a lot, but it’s great progress for him.
“He makes me so proud.”
Sam Underwood, the new Panel Chair of the Redcar and Cleveland Fostering Panel, said becoming a foster carer was an extremely serious commitment but brought great satisfaction and rewards. “We never have enough of these wonderful people,” says Sam, a former primary school headteacher who worked as a teacher in several schools in areas of high deprivation. “If you look at the country as a whole there’s 83,000 to 84,000 children and young people in Local Authority care and that figure has been going up every year for a long time – so it is a crucial role.
“I saw for myself the positive benefits of fostering on so many young people when I was a teacher and that’s why I became involved in fostering panels 17 years ago. Being on a foster panel is a chance to find out about people considering becoming foster carers and assess them and I have to say I have met some of the most brilliant, committed people. However, there isn’t a ‘type.’ We need all kinds of people to help look after and support all kinds of young people. Obviously, it isn’t for everyone – but I would urge anyone to give it serious thought.”
Councillor Alison Barnes, Cabinet Member for Children, said: “Our most vulnerable children deserve the best and we have some of the most amazing people – just like Tamlyn – who are prepared to give them a chance. It’s really heart-warming to hear how she and James are having such a fantastic effect on each other. Of course, we always need more foster carers and, as Tamlyn says, it does not mean you have to give up work. We just need ordinary, decent people to step forward to be role models for children and young people in our community.”
Find out more about becoming a foster carer by calling our foster team on 01642 444087 or visit www.redcar-cleveland.gov.uk/fostering.