National Fostering Week – Celebrating Exceptional Foster Families in Leeds
In the wake of National fostering week, we’d like to celebrate 8 exceptional foster families, who have fostered children with disabilities for over 25 years for Leeds City Council and share their remarkable stories with you. This blog tells the stories of the first 4 of these fostering families.
1. Mary and Martin Birkinshaw were first approved as foster carers in 1981 when they had a young family. Their first foster child was Donna, severely disabled with cerebral palsy, she had little independent movement. Donna grew up in the heart of their family and is now married and lives close by with her partner and Mary and Martin continue to support her independence.
In 2010 Kirah and her little brother were placed with Mary and Mark as emergency care rather than long term because a younger family were to be found to care for the youngsters. Kirah didn’t want to move to another placement with younger carers because she recognised that this was the family she wanted to stay with.
The children are thriving and Mary says that they keep her young and on her toes. Kirah is becoming a confident young woman who is part of the’ Leeds Have a Voice’ council for looked after children. Kirah is working towards becoming a social worker in the future.
2. Danyela Wilson has been fostering for 38 years. She was one of 6 foster carers who were in a pilot project between MENCAP and Leeds City Council to provide fostering services for children with disabilities.
In the early 1980’s it was believed that disabled children who could not live with their birth parents should be looked after in hospital and Danyela worked at Meanwood Park Hospital in Leeds looking after disabled children.
Aged 25, Danyela jumped at the chance to foster a child in her own home and agreed to foster her first child, Clare, who later died due to her life shortening illness.
In 2002 Danyela decided to concentrate on supporting families in the community and other foster families for children with disabilities and has been providing short breaks to children with a wide range of additional needs including children who need ground-floor accommodation. Her contribution has helped to keep children with disabilities with their birth families.
3. Jan Pulham was approved as a foster carer in 1983. Jan was a special needs teacher and met Danyela Wilson when Danyela’s daughter Clare joined her class. Jan offered to provide short breaks for Clare and she and Danyela became life-long friends.
Jan quickly realised that caring for children with disabilities was her life time vocation. Jan fostered Vanda a chatty youngster with learning disabilities for short breaks and this developed into long term fostering when her family could no longer care for her. Vanda is now 46 and continues to live with Jan and her other foster to adopt children.
Jan has continued to offer regular short breaks to 20 plus children with disabilities (often supporting the same families for many years) alongside her adopted and fostered family over the last 30 years. Jan’s household is always busy and full of laughter.
Jan is now 66 and has recently told me that she sees herself continuing her family lifestyle for another 20 years.
4. Celina Archibald was approved as a foster carer for children with disabilities in 1990. Since this time she has successfully provided short term placements for children waiting a permanent family and short breaks to support other foster carers and families within the community.
She has been a consistent special person in the lives of many vulnerable children. Lots of children who stay talk about her great Caribbean cooking and look forward to being at her table.
During her 28 years of fostering she has cared for over 20 children and many of the children matched with her have continued to have regular short breaks over many years. Her contribution has supported placement stability for children in fostering and kept vulnerable children out of care.
In Leeds, we have some amazing stories to tell and as part of #NationalFosteringWeek we decided to feature these exceptional carers – but there are many many more. Thank you for making Leeds a child friendly city.