AirTanker Fleet Engineering Crewing Manager Dale and his wife Dawn know all about
the highs and lows of being foster carers, having amassed almost a quarter of a century of fostering experience. Over that time, the Jones family have welcomed and provided a loving home to 52 foster children from all backgrounds and are one of the 55,000 families nationwide who are trained and approved as foster carers.
Across the UK, an estimated 64,000 children are currently living in foster care. There remains an acute shortage of foster carers available to meet the growing demand. Figures from charity The Fostering Network show that over 9,000 more foster families are needed in the next 12 months alone, which is why Foster Care Fortnight plays such an important role in raising awareness.
Dale spent 34 years in the RAF before joining the Voyager Engineering team based at RAF Brize Norton to work on the programme in 2013. Voyager is the largest aircraft in the RAF fleet and provides round-the-clock air-to-air refuelling and air transport capability for Defence.
First steps in fostering
In 1990, Dale and Dawn moved to RAF Brize Norton following Dale’s previous posting at RAF Marham in Norfolk. Their journey to becoming foster parents started with Dawn’s growing interest in a career in childcare.
Dale says: “Dawn enjoyed working with children and with that in mind we both became registered childcare minders. I was there as a back-up in case Dawn was unavailable at any point. Eventually, social services approached us about whether we’d ever considered short-notice childcare.
“Fostering was not something we’d really thought about. Of course, it was a big decision for us. Although there was a shortage of available foster families where we lived in Swindon, at no time did we come under any pressure. It was our decision to make.”
Rewarding and challenging
After deciding to take the plunge, Dale and Dawn completed a six-week modular training course and in October 1993 were ready to welcome their first foster child – a five-year-old boy – into their care. “Michael was from a family of four children and we were also helping his mum who was struggling with parenting skills. Here we were, not parents ourselves, but helping this young family with parenting issues. On one level, it seemed strange but we used own family values as a starting point.
“There was a lot to deal with. Michael was still wearing nappies and was prone to negative attention seeking. Thankfully, with lots of patience and perseverance, he was out of nappies by Christmas. A small step forward.”
Each fostering arrangement is different, as Dale explains: “Jennifer and Shaun were sister and brother and we began caring for them when they were seven and eight. They were due to stay with us for six weeks, but this was extended several times and in the end, it became a long-term fostering arrangement and they lived with us until they turned 18!
“Jennifer married three years ago. Her dad had passed away and I was very proud when she asked if I would give her away. That wasn’t something I could have envisaged back when we started out.”
What it takes to become a foster carer
“I would say that patience is one of the most important attributes. We never tried to be a replacement parent, instead it was about being a temporary positive adult role model.
“You also need an understanding employer. AirTanker has been very supportive. When I came for an interview I made it clear that fostering was a big part of my life and the company recognises that there are times when I need to be away from work for meetings, allowing me the flexibility to make up the hours. I wouldn’t have been able to take on the role without that commitment.”
The fostering experience
Having fostered so many children over the years, what advice would Dale give to anyone considering finding out more? “Foster carers come from all sorts of backgrounds – you’d be amazed. There’s no doubt that it takes commitment, patience and love but it is also incredibly rewarding to help young people who need your support. There are practical aspects to consider too, because you need to have the space in your home to be able to welcome a child.
“Children need foster care for many different reasons. It might simply be the need for someone to act as an extended family member when a parent is ill. There is a desperate shortage of foster carers nationally, which is why Foster Care Fortnight plays such an important role.
“Fostering is not for everyone, but I hope our story will perhaps make people stop and ask the question: ‘Is this something I could do?’.”
You can find more information about Foster Caring at: https://www.thefosteringnetwork.org.uk/
*Some names have been changed to respect the privacy of those involved