We speak to Gina and Pete about their 30 year long fostering career and how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected their family.
Gina and Pete began their fostering journey in 1970 with Kirklees Council, before joining Bradford Council as foster carers in 1989. Hear their incredible story:
Finding out about fostering
During the 1969 Christmas season, Gina remembers seeing an advertisement on the television promoting foster care with the tagline ‘foster a child for Christmas’.
Gina and Pete knew that ‘foster a child for Christmas’ didn’t mean they would be able to look after a child straight away, but they were moved by what they saw on television and decided to approach Kirklees Council about becoming foster parents.
Gina used to babysit for a foster carer, so she knew fostered children and had looked after them already, albeit for just a couple of hours at a time.
Little did they know that their fostering journey was just beginning...
Becoming foster carers and adoptive parents
During the fostering application process, Gina and Pete had a daughter and then later that year, started looking after their first foster child.
Gina and Pete went on to have a son in 1971 and began fostering in earnest later that same year.
In 1977, they started looking after a little boy with Down Syndrome, closely followed by a little girl who also had Down Syndrome.
Gina and Pete fell completely in love with the children and moved to adopting them both in 1980; closely followed with adopting a further two children with Down Syndrome in 1984 and 1986.
“Every child is different and they all bring their own joys and challenges and need to be helped and supported in their own ways. When you get that first smile or hug, it just makes everything else worthwhile."
Joining Bradford Fostering
After taking a break for a few years to give their new family time to settle and get used to being a family of 8, Gina and Pete looked to return to fostering but were told no by their local council.
They then applied to Bradford Fostering in 1989 - and the rest is history!
Gina and Pete later adopted the sisters, who are now grown up and married with children of their own.
Now, Gina and Pete provide a mix of short and long-term fostering for children and young people in the Bradford district.
What's the difference between short-term and long-term foster carers?
Short-term foster carers look after children until the Courts decide who the child will live with for the rest of their childhood. Long-term or permanent foster carers look after a child or young person until they are ready to move out and live independently as adults.
What is it like being a foster carer?
We asked Gina about her experiences as a foster carer. She said:
“Fostering is different to being a mum. There are challenges you don’t face as a parent – you have to prepare the children and help them to move on to their permanent family, whether that’s back to mum or dad, or to new adoptive parents or even to move to other foster families.
It can be hard, because you might not always agree with the decision that has been made by the Courts and you can sometimes feel you know it’s not going to work, but you still have to do it and prepare the children to move as directed as positively as you possibly can.
Every child is different and they all bring their own joys and challenges and need to be helped and supported in their own ways. When you get that first smile or hug, it just makes everything else worthwhile."
"It’s important that children know that somebody wants them and loves them.”
Stability and routine
Nearly 300 children have stayed with Gina and Pete over the years in a variety of short-term and long-term placements, including Sadie, who is now married and has given Gina and Pete two grandchildren.
Other foster children include Craig, Heather and Nicky, who were initially going to live with a wider family member before Gina and Pete fostered them.
Though they were brothers and sisters, they had never all lived together and didn't know each other well.
Gina said she could only describe one of the brothers as a tight little ball when he first came to stay, he was so protective of and curled into himself and he was so angry.
At bedtime, Gina always kisses her hand and then reaches out to lay the kiss on each child’s head – the foster child dodged her outstretched hand every night for 5 months. The first time he let her lay her hand on his hair, she cried after leaving his bedroom. It was a breakthrough. Craig, Heather and Nicky soon became part of the family.
Gina said: “Over the years, I think we’ve helped lots of the children who came to stay with us by providing stability and routine. It’s important for children who come from chaos to know what is happening and when it’s going to happen. It’s also important that children know that somebody wants them and loves them.”
I feel a bit like an elastic band. I can stretch myself around each of the children who need my help to understand them and to help develop rules that suit them.”
And at the moment, Gina and Pete are still looking after a young woman they’ve cared for since 2014, who will be staying forever too.
The family had gotten so big, Gina and Pete ended up buying the house next door as well.
Their 4 adopted children, who are now in their 30's and 40's, live there, close to the love and care from Gina and Pete.
The impact of COVID-19
During the pandemic, life as Gina and Pete knew it stopped.
For their health and for the health of their children living next door, Gina and Pete both had to self-isolate and their home seemed so empty.
Gina laughs about how she used to say to her (now) adult children (birth, adopted and fostered) that she was “going to lock the door and if you’re outside, you’re not coming in!” She never imagined she was going to have to lock the door to protect the family’s health.
Now Gina and Pete have had their vaccinations, they are counting the days until they can leave the door open and get everyone back inside again.
“We had to cancel Christmas 2020 as there were just too many of us – we usually have at least 30 for Christmas dinner!
We’re going to have it in the summer when we’re allowed to all come together and hug and kiss and squeeze the grandchildren.
It’s almost a year since we’ve held any of the children and we just can’t wait! We have all really missed that contact."
What does the future hold...
After fostering for so many years, we ask Gina and Pete about their plans for the future:
“Even though we’ve done more than 30 years fostering, we’re not ready to give up yet. We have enjoyed it and still think we have so much to give to children who need our stability and care.”
Would you like to learn more about fostering in Bradford?
Foster carers change lives. If you'd like to learn more about fostering in Bradford, download an information pack today and see how you can make a difference.