A COUPLE from Middlewich are calling on people across the region to explore a career in fostering to support the growing number of young people entering the care system as the north west of England faces an ongoing shortfall of 1,240 foster carers.

As part of Foster Care Fortnight, which runs from Monday, May 13 to Sunday, May 26, Sharon Smith, 51, and her husband Chris, 54, from Middlewich, share their experiences of fostering and why they made the decision to open their home to vulnerable children and young people.

As a swimming teacher of 14 years and partner of her own swim school, Kinder Swim, Sharon has dedicated her career to helping children and young people conquer their fears. Working with youngsters alongside raising three children of her own, Sharon has committed her time and energy to the younger people in her life for many years.

Sharon said: “The idea of providing care for vulnerable children has always been of interest to me as my dad was in a children’s home when he was very young until he was later adopted. However, when I had my own children, the thought of providing care to others was pushed to the back of my mind because I was so busy as a new mum."

It was at the Cheshire Show in the summer of 2015 when Sharon first had a chat with a local fostering expert. A few weeks later, Sharon and Chris submitted their application to be foster carers with Foster Careline - an independent fostering agency headquartered in Ellesmere Port.

Winsford Guardian:

Chris and Sharon with their dog Hero

In March 2016, the couple were approved to begin their fostering journey with Foster Careline and now are the long-term foster carers for nine-year-old Katie (names of foster children have been changed to protect the child’s identity). Katie joins the Smith family alongside biological children, 20-year-old Carly, 25-year-old Callam and 28-year-old Carrie.

Since beginning their fostering journey three years ago, Sharon and Chris have cared for two other children; an 11-year-old boy on long-term placement and a 16-year-old girl on a respite basis which means the children stay with the family for short placements of anything from a weekend of a couple of weeks to give their longer-term carers or own family a break.

Sharon added: “In June 2016, we received our first placement, Kyle. It was very exciting and overwhelming when Kyle joined our family. Unfortunately, he needed additional care, more than we could provide, and moved on to be with a different family eight months later. This was hard for me at first, because I felt like I let him down. But I knew that I did the best that I could and he was better off with more tailored support in a different environment with carers who could cater for his specific needs.”

Shortly after Kyle left Sharon received a call from Foster Careline who had been contacted by the local authority with regards to a seven-year-old girl in need of a long-term placement. In April 2017, the then seven-year-old Katie was welcomed into the Smith family.

In the first few weeks, Katie was quite reserved and did not talk about her feelings and emotions.

Sharon said: “I bought Katie a feelings book to help her express how she felt in certain situations. Over the years, this has worked out quite well for her and now she opens up to Chris and I much more.”

To help with Katie’s social skills and anxiety, Sharon and Chris take her to gymnastics, cheerleading, dance and swimming. These activities have not only helped Katie develop new friendships, but have also taught her how to act with different people in different situations.

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Earlier this year, the family suffered a series of losses following the passing of their two beloved dogs and a close grandparent.

Sharon said: “When Chris’ mother passed away, he found it very difficult and Katie could see how sad he was. To help Chris, Katie made a feelings book for him, like I did for her, to help with expressing his emotions and feelings. Chris says often how kind Katie is and how thankful he is to have her in his life, they are very close. People tell us we’re doing a great thing for Katie but I don’t think they realise just how much she gives us.”

A recent addition to the family has been a four-legged member, Hero, a rescue lab from Romania. Hero has taken a special liking to Katie and Sharon said: “Hero and Katie have really helped us get through this tough time. They light up our family. I would never say we rescued the two of them, because they have truly rescued us.”

Anyone can become a foster carer as long as they are over 25, including single people, married couples, same sex couples, home owners or tenants.

For more information about fostering, contact Foster Careline on 0800 566 8337 or visit fostercareline.com