Like many foster carers, Maggie and Mike are “empty nesters”

Maggie and Mike decided to start fostering Reading children some 14 years ago. Since then at least 50 children have been part of their lives – some for a few days, others for several years. For both of them, it’s a full time job that they describe as “often challenging… but always immensely satisfying”.

It’s feeding time for the baby in Maggie’s arms, a little boy aged just seven months and who has been with the couple since he left hospital.

“We do have a lot of babies with us,” she says, “and when we first applied, we did ask if we could just have the younger ones – but that’s not always possible as children of any age require looking after. And so we have children aged up to 11 staying– and every single one is precious.

“We also have the occasional parent and child placement. That can be demanding but very rewarding as you are potentially helping a mother, and sometimes the father, work through a tricky period in their life and keep their child.”

The couple’s story began some 14 years ago when redundancy loomed for Maggie after her employers decided to close their Reading base. “My cousin had been fostering for some time and I really liked the idea. As she put it: ‘You can’t change the whole world, but you can change the whole world for one person’.

“We only had one son living with us by then, so we had room. Mike was very supportive – and that is essential. If you are a couple, fostering will only really work if both of you are committed. Mike continued to work full time initially and has, in recent years, taken early retirement, so he now plays a big part too… although if I’m honest I do seem to be the one to get up most often at night!”

Over the last 14 years a steady stream of young children have found a stable base at their home – some for just a day or two, some for a few months, while others have stayed for several years. “We have had quite a few siblings with us, and when that happens it’s really good having Mike around,” says Maggie.

“There will be occasions when you have to make compromises with your time and commitments – again, if those closest to you are supportive it’s a big advantage.

“What has been really wonderful is how well our children, and now our grandchildren, have made the children we foster part of their lives too. Our young granddaughters especially really love playing with the little ones!”

Like many foster carers, Maggie and Mike are “empty nesters” – people whose own children have left home. “We’re both in our early 60s now, and you do get people asking if we find it tiring,” says Maggie. “We’re lucky in that we are both fairly energetic, but because we’ve never stopped doing it, it doesn’t seem too much.

“Mike does a lot of work helping to recruit new carers, giving talks and so on, and I have just been appointed to sit on a training panel. We’re delighted to pass on what we’ve learned. And there really is a lot to learn, which is one of the great things about being a foster carer: you’re often dealing with delicate family matters for instance, which can open your eyes on the world, so you’re always adding to your experience and skills.

“The team at Brighter Futures for Children provides lots of support in this direction – training, mentoring and so on… and there is always someone to talk to.”

And the hardest part? “Saying goodbye to a child is never easy,” Maggie admits, “but if they are going to be adopted, you have the opportunity to work with the new family so that the child is happy to transition to them. And you always know that you’ve been an important stepping stone in that young person’s life.

“So yes, it can be enormously challenging sometimes…but it is always immensely satisfying. I’m delighted that we made the decision to foster.”