Eleven round the dinner table - fond memories for foster carer and councillor

Cllr Sue Oliver.
Cllr Sue Oliver.

As national Foster Care Fortnight begins, the question put to everyone is ‘Can You Guess Who Fosters?’

This year’s campaign, running from Monday, May 12 until May 25, is to get the message out that it is ordinary people who carry out the extraordinary role of fostering.

Cllr Sue Oliver, executive member for children’s social care at Bedford Borough Council, has been a foster carer.

Sue and her husband, Ray, took on their first foster placement in 1983 when, 3 months after having their first born, they felt the time was right.

This gave a 14-year-old, who was previously living in a children’s home, a family setting in which to flourish. Both Sue and Ray were full-time teachers at the time, but the couple decided Ray would leave teaching to become a house-husband to look after their family.

During this period, they had also decided to move into a derelict 5-bedroom property which they spent the next seven years transforming into a 10-bedroom family home.

A year after their first foster placement, they then took on another teenager.

Ray and Sue went on to have four biological children, and even when they were all under six years of age, they would have up to five placements within the home, at any one time. In total, they provided a home for 10 long-term placements, and over 20 short-term placements - some of which were for 24-hours emergency cover.

Each young person they took on was almost always a teenager; the age gap between their biological children and placements worked well, as the teenagers responded very positively towards young children.

Cllr Sue Oliver said: “At the time it was an extremely busy life, with never a dull moment. It’s only years later that you have time to reflect on what impact you may have had on these young people’s lives.

Each Sunday, there would be 11 of us sitting around the dining table and the teenagers would take it in turns to cook and then wash-up. This was a highlight for us, as a family, and formed many fond memories.”

Sue added: “You have to be resilient and be prepared to speak up for the young people, but you will get as many laughs out of it as heartaches.

“Many changes have been made to the role since we were doing it, and for the better. In January this year Bedford Borough launched its own excellent Foster Care service. In addition to the fantastic training and support, the fact that fees as well as allowances are now paid can help make all the difference in being able to afford to go on holidays together, as a family unit, for example.”

When Cllr Oliver was asked if she would do it all again, she replied: “Yes, yes I would. If you are at home looking after one child anyway, why not give another child a home, if you can?

“It made for one big, happy, family. Even after all these years I still can’t get use to cooking less, I always prepare too much!”

If you are interested in becoming a foster carer, and would like more information, contact Bedford Borough Council’s Fostering team on 01234 718718.

>> For those who would like more information on this topic, delivered face-to-face by a member of the fostering team, there will be two drop-in sessions taking place.

These are:

Wednesday, May 21

4.30pm – 7pm

Borough Hall

Cauldwell Street

Bedford MK42 9AP.

Thursday, June 12

10.30am -12.30pm

Queen’s Park Neighbourhood Centre

Marlborough Road

Bedford MK40 4LE.