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Thursday, 30 October 2014

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Don’t just think about fostering... become fostering friendly

Annabelle Hoggan has a simple message to anyone interested in foster caring: get on with it.

Foster mum photo
Foster parent Annabelle Hoggan with foster children Lucy-Mae, left, and Chantelle with her son Spencer

The 51-year-old west Cumbrian resident decided 21 years ago that she wanted a family, and she wasn’t going to bother waiting for a man to turn up.

Since then she has fostered six children on a long-term basis and five as part of respite care.

This includes Chantelle, 22, and 16-year-old Lucy-Mae, who are both delighted to have her as their mum.

For some people the decision to foster takes long hours of contemplation.

Not for Annabelle.

Talking quickly in a Scottish accent disguised by nearly three decades in Cumbria, she says: “I had been wanting children since I was 16. I was 29 and had no man on the horizon and thought I would do it myself.

“I did some respite care for a girl with autism and then started long-term.”

Although she had no prior experience of parenting, Annabelle was well-versed in caring for others through her work as a nurse.

She now works for Cumbria County Council, and admits that her work as a foster carer would have been much more difficult without their support.

She explains: “It’s really important because if you need to take leave, you can. It’s having that and being able to have the support of somebody.

“Even though it’s not your birth child it’s important and not all employers are as sympathetic. It makes a huge difference.”

This support has enabled her to keep providing love and care.

Over more than two decades she’s taken care of a variety of children, each with different personalities and issues.

But her zest for loving and providing for a family are unabated.

She explains: “It becomes so much a part of your life.

“You expect to love them and care for them,” she says, pausing.

“But you really love them. It’s not just a half-hearted attempt.

“Everybody says ‘how can you give them back’ but most of them keep in touch.

“It’s hard but in a good way, because they are moving somewhere good and going to the right place for them.

“I don’t think it’s ever any easier but if it didn’t feel that way you shouldn’t be doing it.”

The enjoyment Annabelle gets from fostering is plain to see, and she has nothing but praise for those she has brought up.

Chantelle worked as a nursery nurse until her nine-month-old son Spencer was born, while Lucy is employed in children’s services.

And she doesn’t hold back when it comes to lavishing them with compliments.

Annabelle explains: “They grow up to be amazing people.

“It’s not about having perfection, it’s about having the right attitude.

“People think you can’t do it if you haven’t been a parent but I wouldn’t change it for the world.

“It’s not all been straightforward but I think my kids are amazing.”

As this comment suggests, there have been more difficult times.

Inevitably many children who are fostered have been through tragedy, and this is not lost on Annabelle.

Initially this can be hard to cope with, but as she explains, the best way to work through things is to establish trust and stability.

“When kids come to you they have got history so sometimes it’s really challenging working out how to help them.”

Her family have supported Annabelle throughout her experience of fostering.

She believes that her life is a testament to the fact that there is no such thing as a ‘normal’ family.

“I love children and I knew there were kids out there who needed a family, but not a traditional family.

“It very fast became a fostering family and the girls can talk to each other about their own experiences.

“I’m a single carer and I just got on with it.”

  • The publishers of the News & Star - CN Group - are the first fostering-friendly employer based in Cumbria.

And we want lots of other Cumbrian businesses to join us.

We've teamed up with Cumbria's fostering authority - the county council - to spread the word and urge employers to take some simple steps that could help their employees become foster parents.

This doesn't involve yards of red tape, nor should it cost the earth.

CN Group has simply revised its HR policies to say that we will support any employee who is interested in becoming a foster carer by providing up to five days paid leave to allow them to attend training related to their role as a foster carer.

Alongside that we extend the same rights as for natural parents in terms of time off to deal with family issues. Simple.

Over the coming weeks we'll be highlighting the invaluable role that foster parents have - and how employers can make a small change to allow that to happen.

To find out more visit cumbria.gov.uk/fostering or call Cumbria County Council on 01228 226329.

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