Official figures reported that there are currently 1,105 children living in care in Norfolk. Of 152 Local Authorities in England, Norfolk has the eighth highest number of ‘looked after children’ in the country, putting a strain on services and a keen need for parents willing to foster and adopt these hugely disadvantaged children.
Dave and Nicola Ford, from Barnham Broom, west of Norwich, began fostering just over a year ago. Just two years into their marriage, they have provided a home to a teenage girl and her younger brother, on a permanent fostering placement.
Quick to laugh and finish each other’s sentences, Dave and Nicola describe how they have found the transition from a recently married couple to an instant family of four.
“I think it has been pretty hard work,” Dave laughs. “But that is probably as much because we were a couple with no kids, and now we have two kids, which is just a big adjustment!”
The children were placed with Dave and Nicola at the start of the summer holidays last year. Nicola says:
“It was definitely like diving in at the deep end. There have been ups and downs. We’ve had seasons of tougher moments. But then there are hidden gems amongst that which keep us going.”
Prior to applying to be foster parents, committed Christians Dave and Nicola attended two ‘Home for Good’ conferences, which enabled them to meet other foster parents and hear their stories.
Home for Good is a national organisation that seeks to promote a cultural shift, encouraging more people to foster and adopt, and particularly calling for churches across the UK to play an active part in that.
When the Founder of Home for Good, Krish Kandiah spoke at an event at King’s Community Churchin Norwich recently, he said:
“In Norfolk, they are particularly looking for adopters for children aged over three, I am told. Imagine what a difference we could make to these children at that age, rather than wait until the system has spat them out the other end. That is our vision.”
“In other countries people see kids that need homes, and they take them in. It’s the culture. Here it’s not. But we need to do it. If all the support is in place, fostering shouldn’t be quite as daunting and lonely as perhaps it sometimes is. I think that is what Home for Good can do, make it less of a huge thing.”
“Fostered and adopted children have lots of needs,” Nicola continues.
“It’s a big commitment to take on. And obviously some people’s circumstances don’t allow them to do it, so it’s not to be taken lightly. But if you can’t foster or adopt, you can definitely be a support to others who are doing it. A lot of people feel quite isolated because safeguarding issues make it a bit harder to integrate people. It doesn’t have to be huge – it can just be ‘I made you a meal’.”
Dave and Nicola attend St Thomas Norwich. Nicola works for the church’s Sanctuary Café on Grove Walk. Dave, a former Youth Pastor, does a little woodwork and has made the tables for the café. But primarily his time is now spent being available full-time for the children.
“With fostering there are things that fill up your diary, like meetings at school or with social workers, or training that we have to do”, Nicola says. “It’s really important that Dave is available during the day, because there can be lots happening during the week that’s unpredictable.”
Dave comes from a family familiar with adoption. His sister has adopted, and his other sister is approved to adopt, so the couple describe it as, ‘in his DNA’. Nicola isn’t exactly sure why, but has held a desire to foster since her early 20s, prior to meeting Dave.
“When Dave and I started going out,” Nicola recalls, “I didn’t mention wanting to foster because you don’t want to scare away someone you like. Then one Christmas, Dave proposed and I thought maybe I should mention this, but I still didn’t say anything. Then a few days after we got engaged we went for a walk. A few kids ran past and Dave just looked at me and said: ‘have you ever considered fostering?’
“And so we always thought it would be something we would do. But we didn’t realise it would be quite so soon into our marriage and pre-having our own children.”
The couple found the assessment process less arduous than they expected. It involved eight weekly sessions each lasting 2.5 hours, with meetings covered a wide range of topics including the couple’s motivation to foster, their backgrounds, health, finance and support networks. “We were expecting it to be pretty full on,” Dave says. “But we were pleasantly surprised.”
Dave and Nicola agree that their Christian faith has been a large inspiration in fostering. Dave said:
“Fostering is just at the heart of God’s mission. The Gospel is full of God adopting us into his family. So it’s kind of a no-brainer in terms of ‘does it line up with our faith?’”
“It is totally what God’s heart is about. You don’t need God to tell you to do it because it is right there in the Gospel.”
Their faith in God has also been a source of strength over the past year. Dave said:
“We’ve found that lots of times we are quite stumped, we don’t know what to do, we are tired and we don’t have the answer.
“And seeing God come through has strengthened our relationship with God in ways that wouldn’t have otherwise happened. Fostering stretches you in lots of healthy ways.”
If you are interested in finding out more about adopting or fostering in Norfolk you can visit: www.norfolk.gov.uk/children-and-families/adoption-and-fostering.
The Home for Good website, www.homeforgood.org.uk, has resources for individuals and churches seeking to support families that foster and adopt.
Pictured above are Norfolk foster parents Dave and Nicola Ford.
This article was first published on Network Norwich and Norfolk