This Foster Care Fortnight we’ve spoken to Peggy Armitage from Tranmere who has fostered 38 children in her 37 year fostering career. Peggy is used to changing the lives of young people and says it has brought a lot of joy to her family – and as you can imagine, Christmas and Mother’s Day is a big deal in her house!
Here Peggy talks about her fostering experiences, and offers advice to potential new foster carers.
“Myself and my late husband Barry decided to foster in 1980 when the youngest of our three children went to school. We started by fostering two brothers, and from there we always had foster children in our home – both siblings and individuals. Some would come and go after a few weeks, but most of them were long-term. To be honest, the hardest bit was letting them go, and there were many of our foster children that we wanted to adopt because we became so attached to them.
Fostering has been a positive experience for my whole family. There was always lots of laughing and playing in our house. My daughter Denise says that it taught her and her siblings to look after little ones, and that having other children around enriched our family and made it even warmer. They all saw each other as brothers and sisters, which was lovely – and they still do.
In the first few weeks, providing routine is the most important thing. One little boy who stayed with us told me it wasn’t bedtime yet because he didn’t go to bed until it went dark; after he had been out in the car with his parents. Later, when he had gone back to live with his own family, his mum told me that he had got them all into a routine when he went back home!
It’s a wonderful feeling to know you have changed the life of a young person. Sometimes they would arrive with sunburnt arms and legs, and we’d get them right. They became happy little souls. One girl arrived at our home, and she never smiled, cried, or showed any emotion for about a month. One day my daughters were doing something with her not expecting her to react, and she burst out laughing! From then she became a happy, smiling little girl.
We’ve always had support from the council and social workers. When I retired earlier this year I was given flowers and a lovely letter from the fostering team. We were invited to meet the mayor a couple of years ago and had afternoon tea and a photograph with him, to celebrate 35 years of me fostering.
My husband Barry was a great support. He would run the kids to and from places every week, and he absolutely loved doing homework with them! He made school a priority, and would always try to get the best out of the children. Recently I actually received a letter from a boy we had fostered, telling me he’s in the top set for maths because of Barry. It made me feel very proud.
A huge highlight was seeing our foster daughter Tiffany graduate from university. She was with us from the age of four and right through school, and Barry helped her as much as he could. Tiffany got a first class degree and now works in social work in Salford. She comes back to visit us – we’re her family, and I’m her mum.
When most children arrive they are just looking for love. They want to be cared for in a stable home. I don’t think you should ask them too many questions about their life as they will clam up and may feel uncomfortable. But eventually they do open up to you. You often see the same patterns and you grow more used to dealing with certain behaviour – but of course all children are different, so you have to deal with them in different ways. I think it’s important to show children they don’t need to be naughty to get attention. They learn that in time.
It’s not all hunky dory, with happy children around. I think it’s important not to expect that straight away. Sometimes you can get children over their problems, and sometimes you can’t – but it’s important to offer stability, support and structure. Children need to know their boundaries.
If I could turn back the clock, I’d still foster. I do miss having the children around. But I’m 70 in July, and my daughter says I should have a break now! The house looks, sounds and feels bigger. So I’m moving soon!