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The Coronavirus crisis has encouraged many people to think about the future and focused their thoughts on how they can help those outside of their immediate family.
As we encounter Foster Care Fortnight, which runs from 11-24 May, foster carer Fran Barzoukas from Basildon is urging people to think about whether fostering could be a life-changing opportunity for their own future. Fran says:
“Being a foster parent has very much enriched my life for the better. It’s not always easy, but l wouldn’t change it for one minute. You often want to change the world but when you foster a child you often end up changing their world. And your own”.
Over the last thirty years Fran, aged 65, has fostered children and young people of all ages on her own, ranging from new-born babies to teenagers. She went from providing short-term and respite care to long term foster care.
Fran currently fosters two girls aged 8 and 18. Fran added:
“The remainder of my foster and biological children are grown up now and have moved out of the family home, but we all stay in contact. Many have been bridesmaids for each other at their weddings! It’s so heart-warming to see the unique bond they have. There is no distinction as we’re all one family”.
Police Constable Stuart Sheridan, aged 32, has been in the foster care system since a baby. When he was 7 years old, he was taken into care by Fran.
“I distinctly remember feeling terrified when I first turned up. Fran just seemed to get it though. She made a real effort with me even though I was probably very difficult. My favourite memory was being treated to a Burger King. It’s sometimes the smallest gestures which have the biggest impact”.
Fran promised Stuart’s father, before he died, that he would always stay in education. With her help Stuart clocked up a 100% attendance record and credits his upbringing for his diverse career with Essex Police.
Currently serving Castle Point and Rochford Community Policing Team Stuart says:
“Fran has always guided me on what was right and wrong. When I first arrived in her care, I stole twenty pence coins from a weighing machine in ASDA. She marched me right back into the shop to give them back. So, it’s no surprise really that I ended up being a Police Officer!
I can honestly say that I don’t know where I’d be if it wasn’t for Fran. I very much regard Fran as my mum. A mother may give birth to you, but a foster mum raises you and she did that fantastically”.
In 2020, up to 500 children in Essex are expected to come into foster care and Essex County Council is urging more foster carers, like Fran, to help transform their lives.
Johnny spoke to Fran on Drivetime:
Foster Care Fortnight highlights the importance of foster carers’ work. More foster carers are needed in Essex on a full and part-time basis for either short or long-term placements, with Essex County Council offering high-quality bespoke local training.
Foster carers can be single like Fran, married, from a same-sex family or retired and there is an active network of support groups providing opportunities to meet and learn from other foster carers. Many go on to make long-term friendships.
Cllr Louise McKinlay, Cabinet Member for Children and Families at Essex County Council, said:
“While our county and the whole world responds to the devastating effects of Coronavirus, life goes on for children and parents in crisis across Essex.
A high proportion of the children who come into care are over the age of ten, so we desperately need foster carers like Fran to help with that age group”.
Stuart meets a lot of young people in the line of duty and hopes that he can be a role model for them. His advice to any young person finding themselves in foster care is to seize every opportunity available.
“I often hear from young people in care that I don’t know what it’s like being them. Well, I do. And I know that you can’t blame your situation on how you behave. You just have to use the cards you’re dealt with and play your best game with it”.
Fran also has some words of advice, this time on what to expect when fostering a new child or young person:
“Don’t be nervous as they are probably more nervous than you but do take time to listen and validate their concerns. It may be something they have not experienced before. It’s not all about the big gestures. It’s can be the subtle things, like having a routine and some home comforts, which make the difference”.
Fran is recommending that anyone thinking about fostering older children and young adults should just pick up the phone and enquire; they may be surprised at just how suitable they are and how much they get back in return.