Lesley raised five of her own children and when she gave birth to her youngest child she decided to move further into the country and foster children from around the area.
To date she has cared for 46 children in out-of-home care, from single to sibling groups. Two of the children she’s cared for have gone on to live with their birth families and Lesley sees this as an important aspect of foster caring that is often misunderstood. She explains, “The most important thing to me is honouring the wishes of children who want to be back with their birth parents. If a child really wants to go back home, then we need to support the families and work with them to make that happen in a safe and sustainable way.”
Lesley endeavours to include birth families in her role as foster carer as best she can. She has invited the children in her care’s birth families to football games and other important gatherings, to try and maintain a connection if it’s suitable and possible. She views her role as a carer as helping develop a wider family system.
“The children in my care have learned skills that they can then go back home and help their parents with. In the foster system we might think “oh yeah, we’re caring for a child” but we’re actually teaching them skills that they wouldn’t have otherwise learnt to be able to keep the family together.”
Before Lesley became a foster carer a friend of her daughter’s, Anna* turned up at her house and asked to stay with her for a few months because her grandmother was going overseas for three months, and a year and a half later she started to live with Lesley and her children fulltime. Lesley says of the connection, “That was the first time I learned about the importance of working together with a child’s family for their best interest. Her grandparents and I worked together as a family to care for her in a way that put her needs first.”
Reflecting on her years of caring for children and young people, Lesley feels a sense of gratitude to have been able to provide a stable environment for them. She feels this foundation allowed them to grow while feeling supported and learning essential life skills that they carry with them out of her care and have used to create positive futures for themselves and their own children.
It’s been years since Anna left Lesley’s care and has recently started a family of her own. Lesley says, “In her eyes and mine she’s still my child and has three kids of her own and I’m their nan. I feel I have the benefit of this wonderful extended family, where the children I’ve cared for have grown up and we’ve maintained that relationship and I get to be a grandmother to all their children. A lot of the kids that came into my care over the years have become best friends with my kids, and they’re lifelong friendships.”
Lesley’s first marriage broke down, but through it all she continued to care for children. Today she is a minister in training and has remarried to a man she describes as wonderful, who has never had children. He describes being a foster carer as gaining an instant family. “Because none of the kids are biologically his or mine, it means the kids are quite equal in the family. So, I find it’s a lot easier to care for kids in that way, where both parties don’t belong to each other.”
Currently Lesley and her husband have two 15-year-old girls, Andrea* and Lucy, and 5-year-old Adam who is Lucy’s brother. The trio came into their care through fostering and Lesley has begun taking next steps to become their guardian.
*Childrens names have been changed