GAIL Osborne welcomed Jacob into her home when he was three-years-old and has since seen him thrive.
“As a single mum, I often struggled to spend enough quality time with my son, Isaac. Suddenly finding myself unemployed from my retail job in 2010, I saw this as an opportunity to take a step back, spend some time with him and think about what I wanted to do next," says Gail, 41.
“I’d considered child minding, but a chance conversation with one of the mums at school opened up a world of possibilities. Not only was she a single parent like me, she was also a foster carer. I’d always imagined that you needed to be in a stable relationship to foster but I couldn’t have been more wrong."
Long-term foster carers make significant changes to the lives of vulnerable young children, many of whom have suffered abuse and neglect.
Kirklees Council has made an urgent appeal for people to consider fostering one or more of the 85 children in its care who are in need of a permanent foster home.
Lucy Earnshaw, deputy manager of Kirklees Council's long-term fostering team, said over the past five years the number of children being taken into care had risen by 20 per cent. "Although most go back to live with their birth families or are adopted, about one-fifth of all children currently in our care will need to be fostered until they reach adulthood," she said. "The sad reality is that in many cases, the older the child, the more difficult it is to find them a permanent home. For sibling groups and children with physical, learning or behavioural issues, their chances are further diminished."
Gail, who has been looking after her foster son, now five, for two years, says long-term placements can be of huge benefit to a child, keeping them closer to friends and family, and allowing them to settle with one family instead of being moved from place to place.
Gail approached Kirklees Council's fostering team and was approved as a foster carer in six months.
“I was soon approached about fostering a three-year-old boy on a short-term basis," she says. "Jacob slotted in with our family straight away, and it wasn’t long before I was asked if I could look after him until he reached adulthood. I’d been told there could be potential developmental issues, but this never bothered me as I believed that in the right environment there was every chance Jacob would be fine. Thus far he’s just like any other five year-old, meeting his milestones and doing well at school.
“His previous foster carers had done a fantastic job but once Jacob knew he had a permanent home with us I saw a difference in him. Previously he’d held on to his feelings and was almost robotic at times, now he has complete trust in us. He knows he can be himself with us because we are his family.
“As time goes on Jacob continues to thrive. He adores Isaac and his cousins, when I see him happily writing out little stories and sounding out his verbs, I know I made the right choice to give him a permanent home."
Long-term fostering has also helped 18-year old Marcus, following a traumatic start to life. Neglect and physical abuse left him with emotional and anger issues, and his schooling suffered.
He was placed into care at the age of eight and, following several short-term placements, he went to live with Cleckheaton foster carers Jane and Andrew Bottomley.
“Before I was placed into care I felt scared and upset at what was happening at home and thought I must have been doing something wrong," says Marcus. “By the time I went to live with Jane and Andrew, I’d been moved around several foster homes and had changed schools a few times, so had been through a rollercoaster of emotions. But with Jane and Andrew something clicked.
“For the first time I had stability and didn’t face the uncertainty of being moved around. Jane and Andrew spent a lot of time listening to me, trying to understand me and what made me tick. They believed in me.
“I was able to remain in the same school which has helped with my chosen career. I now assist other children in care through a Kirklees Council scheme and am about to embark on a health and social care course.”
* For more about long-term fostering, visit kirklees.gov.uk/fostering or call 0800 3890086.