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Viv and Ian's story

Meeting a fostered little girl in her former job as a teaching assistant set the wheels in motion for Viv and her husband Ian to share their home and shape the lives of young people in ways they never dreamed possible.

Little boy washing up with a man

Chatting with Foster with North East, the honorary North Easterners shared life-changing moments and some of the important lessons they've learned in the 15 years they've been fostering. They also explained how fostering as a family meant they couldn't imagine spending their lives any other way.

It's okay to take your time

Little boy playing with toy
 Applying to foster is a major decision for any family, but in a blended family with four children, becoming foster carers was something Viv and Ian knew they needed to consider carefully.

Their fostering story started when the couple moved down from Scotland to start new lives together in the North East of England. Without family nearby to call on for childcare, Viv worked as a teaching assistant in a local school. In her job, she met a fostered little girl and found herself becoming curious about whether fostering could work for their family.

Viv spoke to Ian about the idea, and they kept coming back to the possibility, taking their time to think about the practicalities and not wanting to jump in too quickly. When they were sure it was something they wanted to pursue, they spoke to the kids. They needed to find out how they felt before moving forward.

"All of our kids were teenagers when we started and were grown up enough to understand. I explained to them, 'Do you know how we mixed our families together? Well, it's a bit like that. We are just mixing the family up a bit and adding some extra kids to give them a family life they may not have had. It's just to make their life a little bit better.' And that's exactly how we've done it."

 Be a cheerleader

 In the 15 years since the family collectively agreed to give fostering a go, they've shared their home and lives with 24 different young people from toddler age upwards. Through short-term and long-term or permanent fostering, Viv and Ian, their children, and their grandchildren have gotten to know the young people. They've shared their home, toys, time and interests in a blended family life that's helped those children thrive.

You just have to involve yourself in their life and give them a life," says Viv, who explains that sometimes this means taking small steps first. Take scooter trips to the park to build confidence in a social setting. Help them join Cubs, Brownies or other clubs - find that thing a child is interested in and be a cheerleader for them.

Viv fondly remembers weekends spent supporting her granddaughters and two young sisters who came to the family at the ages of nine and 12 at dance competitions.

"We got our kids going to dancing the same as the grandkids. I used to go and sit on Sunday at a competition. I was like a dance company! You take your packed lunch, the hair grips and the hair spray, and you're sitting, shouting and screaming."

Sometimes, carers ask for advice on how to build bonds with teenagers in foster care. For Viv and Ian, finding shared interests has helped build trusting relationships and given opportunities for young people to open up.

Ian spent time with a motorbike-obsessed teen, showing him the ropes of mechanics in his garage. From horse riding to hairdressing, Viv has given all kinds of activities a go!

Last year, one of the girls we look after wanted to do beauty and hairdressing. We helped her get into college because she didn't want to go to school. She went to college at 15 and studied beauty alongside doing schoolwork. And it meant we got to do some things together, which was great. When she came home, we'd say, 'Alright, what did you learn today? Can you show me? Can you do that style on my hair?' If you show an interest and get into what they're doing, then you've got something to talk about.

Have a sense of fun

In her role as a foster carer, Viv has never been shy of giving new things a go, but on one occasion, her enthusiasm for joining in led her into a rather sticky situation. She found herself physically stuck on kids' play equipment, and a bit like the time when Santa got stuck up the chimney, she began to shout.

"I was at the big local soft play with the young children who were staying with us. We were having a great time. I joined in, following them up and down the climbing areas. I got to one of those big roller things and tried going through it, and my upper body got completely stuck. I had to shout at the kids to come and push me out. They were dying laughing; they pushed me, they pushed it, and for a while, I was getting more and more stuck. Eventually, I got out and it became a funny memory for us all."

Show them they can shape their future

Asked what the couple most enjoy about being foster carers, Viv responds: "I like looking after the kids and seeing their progress. I like seeing where they can get to."

While sometimes potential foster carers wonder how much impact they can make in the lives of teens, Viv beams with pride when she talks about the achievements of one of the two sisters she spent all those hours supporting at dance competitions.

Now, at 27, the young woman's view of the future ahead is a world away from the girl who arrived with the couple just before her 13th birthday. Viv explains that before coming into care, the elder sister had been used to looking after her younger sister and 'being in charge' of the house. It took some time for her to adjust:

"She said to me, 'Well, I'm never going to be anything in life. What am I ever going to be? Nothing.' And I said to her, 'Well, actually. Whatever you want to be in life, we are going to be right behind you the whole way, and I'm going to push buttons for you and open doors. Do you think you can't get in there? Believe me, I'll ask the Social Services. I'll be talking to this person for you, talking to that one. Whatever you want to be in life, you'll get there."

She added: "Well, now she's qualified in what she wanted to be. And we've pushed all those buttons and knocked on doors to get her to university. Twice. First in musical theatre, and now she's a physiotherapist. She started her job two weeks ago in Scotland beside my mom because that's her foster nana. So my message to others is always if you want to you can do it too."

Let them know you're there when they need you

"You have to make sure you tell them that you're here. Tell them if they need someone to listen, you can sit and listen. We don't need to talk. If you want to talk, talk, and I'll be here and listen. You need to tell them that because sometimes they do need to chat, and they just don't know how to start."

If you have a sense of fun, the capacity to listen and a willingness to be the cheerleader a vulnerable child or young person in the North East needs, we'd love to hear from you. The Foster with North East team is here to answer any questions about fostering. You can complete our enquiry form, and we'll be in touch.



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