A caring couple who have helped change the lives of more than 60 children across three decades are encouraging other Essex families to consider fostering.
Margaret and David Cox, who live in Harlow, first became foster carers for Essex County Council back in 1986.
Three decades and dozens of children later, the couple are now taking well-earned retirement and are calling for more people to consider becoming foster carers.
“We’ve loved every minute of it,” said Margaret, who is a former mental health nurse at Harlow’s Princess Alexandra Hospital.
“We still get visited by a number of the children now and just to see how they’ve all moved on with their lives and made something of themselves is so special.
“Fostering is such a wonderful thing to do; you’re helping change the lives of vulnerable children and you get so much out of it.
“If anyone was thinking about becoming a foster carer, I’d definitely encourage them to go for it.
“In Essex we’re very lucky because the support network we have is absolutely brilliant. You’ve got all of the support groups and then, as foster carers, we are all there for each other as well. It’s a real lifeline.”
During their 31 years as foster carers, the couple have had a huge variety of both short and long term placements, offering respite care, help while children are reunified with their birth families, and support for young people as they move into adulthood.
David, 70, and Margaret, 66, also have two children of their own, Paul, 44, and Michael, 41, and had originally intended to adopt before being persuaded to foster instead.
David, a former Transport for London ticket officer, still fondly remembers the very start of their fostering journey and the first child they looked after.
He said: “It was a young lady who was probably a similar age at the time to our eldest son, about 15.
“It was quite daunting at first because you have to really change the way you think.
“Obviously you’re a bit conscious that it’s not your own child and the way you deal with things and the boundaries you set have to be changed sometimes.
“It’s a big learning curve. The children you care for all have different issues and backgrounds, but you gradually build up a picture of what is required and it becomes easier.”
He added: “We’ve got a number of the young people who come back to see us on a regular basis, which is really nice.
“One of them has got her own children now and brings them so it’s like being extended grandparents, one of them is at college and will be going to university soon.
“That is one of the most rewarding things for me, seeing how their lives have changed.”
The couple originally planned to retire at the start of the New Year and attended a celebratory event at the Meadows Children’s Centre in Harlow in January to celebrate their fostering career.
However, such has been their dedication to the children in their care over the years, it was no surprise when they postponed their retirement to help one final child.