A couple who have given a loving home to more than 30 vulnerable looked-after children are celebrating 25 years as foster carers.
When Keith and Helen Atkinson first started fostering, East 17 had topped the charts with their Christmas Number One hit ‘Stay Another Day’, the first episode of sitcom ‘The Vicar of Dibley’ was broadcast by the BBC and the first National Lottery draw presented by Noel Edmunds was broadcast.
Now, a quarter of a century later, the couple have been presented with a bouquet of flowers by Foster for Bury to thank them for their invaluable contribution to helping Bury’s looked-after children.
Over 25 years the Atkinsons, who have two children of their own who are both now adults, have fostered dozens of children, teenagers and unaccompanied minors seeking asylum – some for a few days and others for several months or years depending on what the children needed.
Many children have stayed in touch with the couple over the years and have since invited Helen and Keith to their weddings and even the christenings of their own children.
Keith (aged 70) said: “It wasn’t really a conscious decision to start fostering. One day our daughter asked if her friend could stay for the night or she would have to sleep on a park bench. We were horrified. A social worker came to talk to us and it went from there. At the time there was a children’s home in Bury but we didn’t want her to live there. I just took my heart in my hands and said she could live with us and the look on her face was one of such relief. That was the start of it.”
Helen said: “It’s nice to see the children come on. When they come to us they can be so angry about being placed into care, but eventually you get them to settle down, to see that there’s a different way of life and that being in care can be the best thing.
“The children have been let down many times so if we say we’ll do something to help them, we always aim to carry it through as keeping your promise helps to build up the trust. Doing a small thing such as giving them a set of house keys helps to build trust and they gain a sense of responsibility.”
The couple now act as Ambassadors for Foster With Bury, helping to recruit new foster carers by attending community events throughout the borough to talk to members of the public who may be thinking of becoming foster carers themselves.
Helen said: “It’s all been a big learning experience, but we feel really supported by Foster With Bury. The training the team put together is brilliant.
“It’s hard to put into words why we do it. It’s about enabling the kids who come to us, who have all sorts of problems, to get as sorted as they can, just like we did with our own children. We can give them love and a stable home. It gives us all a sense of achievement.”
Both Keith and Helen, who live in Walmersley, are now retired from their careers working as civil servants. Helen said: “My best bit of advice is to keep laughing and to have a sense of humour. Hope for the best but prepare for challenges. Be open to almost anything and don’t be set in your ways as each child is different.”
Keith added: “We will both carry on as long as we can. I think the children are keeping us young.”
Councillor Tamoor Tariq, cabinet member for children and families at Bury Council, said: “Keith and Helen are an absolute inspiration to the Bury community. They have made such a difference to the lives of so many looked-after children in the borough and I want to thank them for all their years of dedicated service.”
For further information, if you think you can offer a vulnerable child in Bury a home, call 0800 9555 311 or visit www.fosterwithbury.co.uk