A foster carer from Neath Port Talbot has shared her 30 years of experience to help inspire others to make a difference in a young person’s life.
Back in 1991, Annie Lewis was married, had children of her own, two boys aged seven and eight and was working as a chef, when she contacted her local authority to become a foster carer.
But Annie’s story begins much earlier as a troubled teenager in care herself.
Annie said: “When I was 14, I was an extremely challenging teenager. I had difficulties in my own family and was always running away. I was living in a residential children’s home where I met a young girl who was only eight at the time. I remember thinking this is wrong. I knew she shouldn’t have been there, with teenagers like me, but there were no foster carers available to have her. She latched on to me as a big sister.”
Annie later moved back home with her parents, but at that point she knew that one day when she was a grown up, she was going to do something about it.
Fostering with her local authority in Neath Port Talbot, Annie met many inspiring foster carers. “There weren’t many foster carers back in those days. But I remember meeting other local people who fostered, who were always just a phone call away when things got complicated. I made some lifelong friends and we formed a close community.”
Annie describes fostering as an unusual way of life. “When some people say “you get paid for it” I’m afraid I lose my cool. Fostering is not an occupation, it’s a vocation. It’s a way of life, not a job.”
Annie has cared for many different children over her 30 years, the majority being boys often with behaviour or health issues. Annie explained that a lot of the challenges were understanding what they were going though.
“It’s difficult to understand why someone would do that to a child or allow someone else to do that to a child. Some of the things that parents say to their children aren’t true. They see you as competition.” Annie who recently celebrating her 60th birthday, explains that her age now helps, as the parents see her as a grandmother figure.
Annie’s advice to anyone new to fostering is to stay calm and not take it too personally.
“You need to vent your own anger about the situation. I take 10 minutes with a cup of coffee and look at the sea. You need to find that one thing that gives you peace so you don’t burn out. I use the social worker and other local foster carers to talk to.”
“Almost every child and young person, regardless of why or what has happened to them or why they are in care, always want to go home. You need to find a way to help them to understand why they can’t go see mum or dad. With all the complexities of each situation, you need to help the child to understand what’s happening.”
“I was quite quiet in the beginning, but what I’ve learnt over the years is that being quiet isn’t going to help a child. You have to stand up for them. I know now what I’m allowed to say and do, if it’s what the child needs.”
“You can’t fix things for all the children, but you can fix it for one …….”
“I had one child, in my 30 years it was the first time that things ended quite badly. And I questioned do I really want to still be doing this. I changed track and did a different type of fostering for a while. Then I met a young man, and you can’t help but fall in love with them a little bit. He’s a teenager, hopeless with money so I’m helping him to learn, he does jobs around the house and he’s going to make a very good husband to someone one day.”
“One of my fondest memories was a child who went onto a new adoptive family. We still keep in touch and he’s grown up now with a partner. I’ve done all sorts of fostering over the years, but adoption is my favourite.”
“I have an amazing family. Both of my sons are in their 30s now and I have six grandchildren. They’ve only ever known Granny having different kids in the house. My sons are such tolerant laid back understanding men because of growing up fostering and I’ve had great support from them.
“I remember the things I went through as a teenager. I now see myself as a bridge over troubled waters, helping children from a time in their life where there is sadness, tears and rough times. I’m the person walking them over the bridge to where there’s a better future for them.”
Councillor Alan Lockyer, Neath Port Talbot Council’s Cabinet Member for Children’s Social Services, said: “I’d like to congratulate Annie on her 30 years of service as a foster carer, and also thank her for sharing some of her personal experiences with us.
“I’m sure it will be of great benefit to both those who are currently thinking about becoming a foster carer and those who are going through the same experiences as a carer at the moment.
“We are always looking for new foster carers who can provide a safe and loving family home to local children and young people. I would urge anyone who is thinking about becoming a foster carer to get in touch with our Neath Port Talbot Fostering team.”