A LOCAL dad who said his first year as a foster carer was “great fun” is calling on more people to take up the role.
Last year Phil Weston swapped his job of 15 years in a debt recovery unit for full-time fostering – a decision he wishes he’d made sooner.
The 49-year-old was initially held back by fears he would be turned down on the basis that most main care-givers are women, but he says the fostering team at Kirklees Council made him feel at ease.
Now he is backing calls by the council for more people, including men, to consider fostering after opening up about the positive effect it has had on him, his wife Becky and 11-year-old son Isaac.
“When I first enquired about becoming a foster carer I genuinely thought I wouldn’t qualify because I’m a man,” said Phil.
“But, far from it being an issue, I was actually encouraged to apply by the fostering team at Kirklees.
“With my wife working full-time as an advanced nurse practitioner and me facing redundancy at work, it made more sense for me to be the main care-giver.
“I was definitely in the minority when I went on all the training courses but nobody made me feel uncomfortable or out of place. In fact, the response I’ve had as a male foster carer has been really positive.
“So far I’ve looked after two boys; one aged 13 and another aged 11. I suppose you could argue that being a male foster carer makes me more relatable to older boys, but ultimately it’s having a stable and loving environment that will make the biggest difference to a child.”
Having been told for years by friends and family that he was a natural with children, Phil attributes much of his success as a foster carer to being ‘young at heart’.
He said: “As a foster carer you find your own style of parenting which may or may not work for a child. I’m relatively new to it all, but for me what’s worked so far is getting on the same level as a child.
“I’ve seen gradual but definite progress in the children I’ve looked after. Where manners and basic hygiene might have been lacking, hand-washing, ‘pleases’ and ‘thank you’s’ have soon become a given.
“I’ve seen instances where a child has struggled to make friends at school because of trust issues and home routines have been non-existent. But with time and encouragement, friendships have been established and homework readily done without having to ask.
“All of this is as a result of a child having someone in their life who believes in them and a home where there’s love and laughter, but equally, routine and boundaries. I truly believe it’s also about taking small steps and setting achievable goals with the aim of encouraging a child to do well.
“At home, Becky and I work on the basis that reward, rather than punishment, helps to motivate a child. From this we’ve seen them making the effort to become the best people they possibly can be.”
Statistics locally and nationally reveal a huge shortage of foster carers, particularly for youngsters over the age of seven, who make up around 75 per cent of the 469 children in the Kirklees care system.
Added Phil: “Foster caring is about so much more than looking after children. There’s so much scope to develop, whether it’s doing training courses to top up your skills, training other foster carers or sitting in on approval panels; no matter how long you’ve been doing it, fostering is a continual learning curve.
“If I could say one thing to anyone thinking of fostering, it is to please look into it. You might think there are barriers but you might find, like me, that making that initial call will set you on a path that will transform your life, as well as those of the many vulnerable children who need your help.”
Andy Quinlan, acting fostering service manager at Kirklees, added: “Fostering is all about the level of care, love and attention that an individual can provide to a child, rather than being about age, gender or sexual orientation.
“But because fostering is traditionally perceived as a female profession, many men are deterred from taking on the role as the main care-giver. Yet male foster carers like Phil can play a vital role in the lives of many children in care, particularly for a child who has never had a positive male role model in their life.
“It’s a difficult truth that older children tend to have more issues than younger ones as they’ve missed out on those essential building blocks for longer. They may have suffered more years of neglect than a younger child and might have missed out on the love and attention that all children need to make them well-rounded and whole.
“Often they come into care feeling very alone and they might find it hard to make friends, especially if they’ve been moved around various foster homes.
“But it’s never too late to start laying those foundations and the rewards in helping to turn a child’s life around are huge.”