Family who reap rewards of foster caring

There’s little doubt about the positive, lasting impact that fostering can have on the lives of some of the most vulnerable children in society. But the same could also be said for the families who have chosen to foster through Kirklees Council and provide these children with a stable and loving home.

Read a real story of what is it like to foster

This is true for twin sisters Alex and Pippa Richardson, aged 19, who grew up in Cumberworth surrounded by foster children. Their parents, Lynn and John, began fostering when the girls were aged eight and in that time. They have welcomed 47 children of varying ages and ability levels into their home.

But whilst some might wonder what impact fostering as a family might have on their own children, the university students maintain that fostering has helped shape who they are today and has even inspired future careers paths, with Pippa hoping to pursue a medical career in paediatrics and Alex, in family law.

Now in her second year at the University of York, Alex says:

“Particularly in the early days Pippa and I would look forward to having new children come to stay. For us it was about having another person to play with and I remember we’d always wait excitedly by the kitchen window in anticipation of their arrival.

Being part of a foster family really opened my eyes to a diverse world; something many of my classmates from our local village school never got to experience until high school. I also felt that I could really appreciate the importance of having a stable home life and that not having an Xbox wasn’t the be all and end all.”

University of Bristol student, Pippa, adds:

“Whilst I’d grasped the concept of why these children needed a safe environment, at first I didn’t fully appreciate the complexities of what they might have been through. As a child it was difficult for me to understand why someone didn’t want to play or might have preferred to be around women rather than men.

My parents were always as open and honest as they could be and over time things became clearer. This only made us want to help so I think it’s fair to say that this is something that’s definitely influenced my decision to pursue a career in the care profession and specifically one that’s child-focussed.”

Whilst embracing life as a foster family, Pippa and Alex admit it wasn’t always easy, but say that the support they received was crucial to a happy home life. Alex explains:

“At times it was hard having to share mum and dad. But as we became older we realised that actually, it was less about that stuff and more about helping these children. I remember helping out with the practical stuff and teaching many of them to ride a bike or how to swim. Pippa and I always enjoyed lending a hand but in reality we all learned from each other.

I always felt supported. Pippa and I had a great social worker and we were also part of a Kirklees Council support group for children whose parents were foster carers. It felt reassuring to know there were other children out there like us with whom we could share our thoughts and experiences.

But one constant throughout was the support I had from my parents. Mum would always encourage us to speak to her about anything and everything, no matter how seemingly trivial. I have friends who no longer talk to their parents. But because I was always encouraged to talk from a young age, to this day I still tell mum everything; something that feels very natural.

Being part of a foster family has definitely influenced my interest in family law. From past experience and knowing that there are families out there in need of help I know this is something that I’d find rewarding.”

Pippa adds:

“My parents would always make time for us no matter who was staying with us. Mum would also run everything past us, as we’d get a say in who came to stay. Just knowing a child’s age and sex in advance would help, even if they were coming to us at short notice.”

As well as the lasting legacy on their future careers, both Alex and Pippa still keep in touch with some of their former foster siblings so have been able to discover first-hand the difference fostering can make.

Pippa continues:

“Now that we’re older I always find it interesting to find out what everyone’s up to and what they’re like as adults. I also find it rewarding to know they’re doing OK in life. It’s made me realise that when you foster you are helping a child more than you’ll ever realise. Even though you might not see a difference immediately or be able to make a child feel calm or settled right away, the long-term positives are huge.

We had one girl who came to us a few years ago who found it difficult to trust or be around men because of what she’d been through. But when my dad passed away last year she brought flowers to the house as soon as she heard the news, which I think speaks volumes about the significant breakthroughs that can be achieved through fostering.”

Alex and Pippa’s mum, Lynn, aged 58, has continued to foster since John’s death in 2017. As well as welcoming children on a short-term basis, Lynn also looks after a six-year old boy long-term, who has autism and global developmental delay. She says:

“Fostering has always fulfilled a need in me, perhaps moreso after my husband passed away last year and the girls left for university within the space of a few months. Making time for each other and talking things through was so important for us as a family and has brought me closer to my daughters, even though they’ve left home now.  For anyone who has children and is thinking of fostering, I cannot recommend it enough. I’m immensely proud of Alex and Pippa and that fostering has inspired career choices that puts children and families at their heart.”

Lianne Kingswood, fostering team manager, from Kirklees Council added:

“The Richardsons are just one example of the lasting benefits that fostering as a family can bring. Lynn can be rightly proud that they’ve helped so many children through the hardest of times, whilst inspiring her own children to follow caring career paths.

The Richardsons join the 190-strong team of Kirklees foster carers, many of whom are also parents. Although we often get asked by prospective foster carers about how having other children in the house will affect home life, we tell them about families like the Richardsons and the positive feedback we receive from them. At the same time, we always strive to ensure that both our foster carers and their children are supported through our social workers, regular training and support groups.”

Want to know more about becoming a foster carer

If you think you can help a child get the best possible start in life, please come along to our drop-in information event at the John Smith’s Stadium, Stadium Way, Huddersfield, HD1 6PG on Tuesday 9 October between 5.30pm and 7.30pm, where you can talk to experienced foster carers.

Alternatively, you can contact our fostering team on Tel: 0800 389 0086 or visit www.kirklees.gov.uk/fostering to find out more.

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