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Geoff and Stuart's story

Geoff and Stuart were happily plodding along in decades-long careers when they suddenly started to notice how empty their home felt when Geoff's daughter started to grow in independence and be out of the home more.

Man and boy with dog horizontal

Foster with North East spoke to the couple who shared with us their first steps in fostering, the ups and downs they've faced along the way and why the North East fostering community has become a chosen family to them.

From first steps to emergency care 

Geoff, a former taxi driver of 20 years and Stuart, who before fostering worked in a bookies since leaving school, have been married for five years and together for a decade.

They started thinking about fostering a few months before the first lockdown and began their journey while COVID restrictions were in place.

"We thought - we'll just put the feelers out there, and it didn't take that long. Our initial visit happened around August. By September, we'd been allocated a supervising social worker, and the ball was rolling. It was quite quick."

Following their assessment and training, they were approved by the panel. It wasn't long until a call came about two unaccompanied teenage asylum seekers who had just arrived in the country; they desperately needed somewhere to stay for the weekend.

As newly appointed foster carers Geoff and Stuart naturally wondered how they'd cope with potential hurdles during the emergency placement but found things went far more smoothly than they'd expected.

Stuart recalled: "There were challenges with the language barrier and a few questions about food, but we got by with the help of Google Translate, pictures and pointing. They were nice, polite, respectful young men, and we even got hugs when they left."

The power of consistency

"After that first weekend, we thought if we can get through that, I don't think there's much we can't get through," said Stuart.

But the couple admit there have been other challenges along the way. They spoke about welcoming an 9-year-old boy who has now been with them for nearly three years.

"That first six months was hard, wasn't it?" said Stuart, turning to Geoff.

"It was a roller coaster - you know, when you get sort of to the top of the Oblivion, and it pulls you down - that's what it felt like but we just hit the ground running with it all."

"When he came to us, he wasn't in a very good place. We were being called to collect him every day from school. He sometimes got to lunchtime, and other days he didn't last that long at all."

However, after months of consistently showing up for him and listening, they turned a corner.

Geoff remembered the tough day when things changed: "When you speak to him now, he would tell you that was the turning point for him. Although he literally, packed all his bags and said, 'I'm going, I'm going to be moved on,' we spoke to him, he calmed down and realised that wasn't the case. He'd broken down, but he said that was a turning point because he realised then that we'd stick by him. He turned around and said, 'You do want me' and it was a huge moment for us all."

A memory book for time well spent

Like a few of our other fostering families, Geoff and Stuart say keeping a memory book has helped them as well as the children they look after.

"Because you do as with any caring role have those harder times, when we'd be questioning things, but we dig out our memory book and look at where we were and where he was and look at us all now. And yeah, he's made such good progress," says Stuart.

Their foster child also moved to a special provision school, which suited him much better.

"We've looked back a couple of times, and you can just see the change. We've got three photos of him on his first days of school in September. On the first one, you can tell he's not there; he's checked out and vacant. In the second one, he looks a little bit unhappy having his photo taken. The last one, he's got this great, big grin. He's just turned into a much happier young man."

Asked what they liked about being a foster carer, they both chat about how their lifestyle changed - they're busier but with more family time.

At the start of their fostering journey Geoff continued with taxi-driving around caring. Stuart also worked in the bookies, but ultimately, they decided to become full-time foster carers.

They say this has given them even more flexibility for family time. Recently, they've enjoyed go-karting and events with the 11-year-old and 17-year-old boys they look after.

chosen family - the North East fostering community

Something else Geoff and Stuart say helped them find their footing as foster carers is the community they've been welcomed into.

"We've got a good relationship with the fostering team," explained Geoff, admitting that at first, they overlooked their biggest source of support - other carers.

"Honestly, we didn't go to the support groups when we first started. We thought we didn't need it; as we already had a great support network. But after going to one, we now wouldn't want to miss any support groups.

It's so important to make friendships within fostering. Just so you can sound out ideas, share things that could help you in certain situations or speak to someone who's been there when things are getting a bit tough. We've built up our network and have half a dozen foster carers who are quite close friends."

As well as going to support groups, Geoff and Stuart meet with other carers for coffee or with the kids.

Stuart explained: "Even though it's a 24-hour-a-day job, you have much more time to be sociable."

"The children see the fruits of that as well because when we go places together, we'll meet at the park so they can play football."

Since they started fostering, Geoff and Stuart have welcomed 13 children into their home. Through their involvement in support care outside the home, they've looked after a further 15 young people in that time.

Asked what advice they'd give to new and potential foster carers, they shared this top tip:

"Go in with your eyes open. Don't try and shut anything off. Access the training. If you can,  make sure you turn up to support groups. Do some networking, and you will make friends because the fostering community is a bit of a chosen family."

Find out more

If you think you could share your home to shape the future of children in the North East we'd love to hear from you.  Complete our no-obligation enquiry form and one of our Foster with North East team will be in touch to answer any questions you may have, and talk you through the application process.

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