Young people in Essex share how foster carers ‘unlocked their potential’

Para athlete Bebe with her foster dad

Four young adults have shared how fostering has shaped their lives, and how their foster parents helped to ‘unlock their potential’.

They are highlighting their stories as part of national Foster Care Fortnight (15 – 28 May), an annual campaign to inspire more people to consider fostering.

In Essex, today there 1034 children in care, and we have 513 fostering households across the county. We know that our Essex children need excellent care provided locally. We need to recruit 60 more carers every year to offer children the best possible local placement matches.

Tom – neuroscientist from Stansted Mountfitchet

Tom, aged 20, was first welcomed into the home of foster carers Sue and Ray Unwin the day after his 13th birthday. Now he’s studying Neuroscience at University, and he thanks his foster parents for helping him realise what he was capable of.

Tom said: “I never knew what I wanted to do before going in to care. I would never have got to where I am now if I hadn’t been fostered by Sue and Ray, they have helped me realise what I want to do with my life. My foster parents have shaped me more than anyone in my life and it’s meant that I can actually have a future to look forward to.”

Sue said: “When he first came to us Tom wouldn’t talk to anyone, he wouldn’t engage with anything, but he’s a totally different person now. Tom has faced a lot of struggles in life but we’re pleased we could be on this journey with him. We gave as much support as we possibly could and we’re really proud of him.”

Bebe - para-athlete in Harlow

Bebe, age 17, is an aspiring young para-athlete competing internationally in the T44 category. Born with club foot, Bebe underwent many operations as a child and was then placed into foster care at age 10.

Bebe said: “You always hear as a child, a foster child especially, that ‘oh, you can’t do anything because you’ve had a hard life’ but their opinions are irrelevant. It’s more about how I feel about myself when I win that gold medal. I compete in the 100m and 200m sprint, long jump and discus – I love the adrenaline and I feel like I belong here on the track. I’ve got many dreams, in a year’s time I hope to be Youth Champion at the Commonwealth Games.

“I would say, to anyone thinking of taking on a foster child, that if you think you can make a person’s life better, then why don’t you do it!”

Bebe has been with foster carers Mick and Pauline Davis since she was age 11.

Mick Davis said: “Bebe is a really exuberant character, we knew from day one that she would be the right girl for us to foster.

“The biggest thing we can give any child is confidence. From the day I first saw her running, I’ve been researching competitions and finding opportunities for her to reach her full potential. We’re magnificently proud of her, she knows exactly what she wants to get out of life.”

Cody – chef in north Essex

Cody, aged 17, is following his passion for cookery by studying Level 2 Hospitality at college and working as Head Chef at a local restaurant.

Cody has lived with foster carer Christina Cotter since he was 13. He said: “13-year-old me wouldn’t be doing anything, I would have just stayed in my room, but now I’m actually making something of myself. I’m saving up and working hard to open my own restaurant by the age of 30.”

Cody’s foster carer Christina said: “Cody was a shy, timid, traumatised teenager when he first came through my door. I asked him ‘what does he want to do in life’ and he said ‘to make everybody proud’, so I encouraged him as I knew he was capable. He’s grown so much in confidence and self-esteem, and he’s doing exceptionally well in college.”

Charlotte – student in south-Essex

Charlotte, aged 17, is inspired to become a Social Worker following her own experience in care and wanting to help other children in similar situations.

While studying towards BTEC Level 3 in Health and Social Care at college, Charlotte is working at a Family Centre in Essex where she supports group sessions and activities to help people cope with challenging circumstances.

Speaking about her experience in foster care, Charlotte said: “I don’t see Cara as my foster carer, she’s like my mum. She got me into a good school, encouraged me to get good grades, and she just wants me to be the best that I can be.”

Foster carer Cara Fitch said: “When Charlotte first arrived with us at nine years-old she was a ball of anxious, nervous energy. I think she’s always had this drive to be the support that she always wished was there for her as a child. I’m so proud of Charlotte, she’s become a beautiful young woman.”