As a teacher you're prepared to open your classroom door to challenging children, but would you open your own front door? Susan Young speaks to those who are happy to foster
Glen McPheat and staff at his West Sussex school are a pretty special band of people. By day, they look after children with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties. By night, they do the same.
Four out of the 14 members of staff at Springboard School in Lancing are foster carers - a fantastic example of the theory that teachers and other professionals who work with children are more likely to take on the demanding role.
The pupils that Glen and his colleagues care for during the day are far from easy, so why choose to bring more, often equally challenging, children into their homes as well? "Why not?" he says. "We make a difference to people's lives. We love children, care for children and understand their behaviour. Other people give money to charity or support them in different ways."
The Fostering Network hopes others will share Glen's can-do attitude during Foster Care Fortnight, which ends on May 25. It says another 10,000 carers are needed urgently - any age, any home background.
Glen thinks teachers may get something extra from fostering. "It can be frustrating teaching hard-to-reach children. You go two steps forward and one back. It's good to see how that works with these children at home.
"School makes a massive difference, and home can make an even bigger one. School can't undo the damage that's done at home. You've got to get both of these things right."
So far Glen, 35, his partner, Suretta, and teenage daughter, 14, have cared for three boys in their Hove home. The first was a respite placement for a fortnight. The second, Ted, arrived almost four years ago with a bin bag of outgrown clothes and a trail of legal problems to resolve. A year on, he was reunited with his mum.
Now the family includes Dan, who has Asperger syndrome and has been with Glen for two and a half years. "He's now back in mainstream school. He's settled and sees his mum every once in a while," says Glen, adding: "He doesn't call us Mum and Dad, and we're not trying to replace his parents. We're just trying to give him the support he needs in a different kind of way."
Charlie Roberts, 41, started as an assistant head at a south coast comprehensive last September, when his eldest daughter started secondary school, and the family took in a mother, along with her premature baby girl.
Charlie had been a residential social worker before becoming a teacher 20 years ago. He and his wife Josie talked about fostering, but not while their two daughters were young. "When we decided we weren't having any more children, we thought that might be the right time."
They were approved for parent-and-baby fostering, in which at-risk children stay with their mother (or father) under close supervision. The court eventually decides the child's future, with the help of the foster carers' evidence.
Typically, fostered mothers are teenagers. Sally, who lived in the Roberts' rambling Victorian semi with her daughter Billie, is in her 30s with five children, some of whom were removed by social workers. Sally was also in care.
The placement went so well that seven months on, the court allowed Sally to move into her own flat with Billie, and she sees two of her four children who were in care.
Charlie looks baffled when asked if fostering is hard after a day's work. "Do I like young babies? Yes, it's nice to have a new life in the house, especially when you're not doing the midnight milk run. It doesn't make me frazzled - Josie is here for most of it.
"I like living with other people, and we changed our lives so that we were doing different things, not more things. I have never thought, 'I wish we weren't doing this'."
* All children's names and identities have been changed
Jim Bond, chairman of The Fostering Network, had a first career in teaching, was deputy head of Eaglesfield School in Greenwich. He has cared for 87 teenagers in 14 years and views his career change as a natural progression from his interest in young people.
"I realised I was not going to have children of my own, and I wanted to do some nurturing in a different way," he says. His nurturing, much of which has been done with the aid of Jack, his labrador, has seen some extraordinary times.
There was the 3am encounter with the hockey-stick wielding boy, furious with his mother ("which turned into a really helpful turning point"), and there was the French holiday when a boy finally told him of the horrific sexual abuse he had suffered.
There are lighter moments too. "A young man came to me 14 years ago - he's now 28 and has his own baby. They say it takes twice the chronological age before a person can have a proper relationship.
"We're beginning to undo the first 14 years, and he realises he means something to me and me to him."
Jim, 59, who is single, says some teachers would make fantastic foster carers, although those without a partner might struggle to deal with crises. But he would still recommend it. "It's been fantastic. I have enjoyed my working life, but this is the best job I've done. I have seen the difference I can make."
* All names have been changed
FOSTER CARERS MUST BE
- Great listeners
- Able to have a good sense of humour
FOSTER CARERS CAN BE
- Any age
- Single, married or cohabiting
- Approved to look after a specified number, age and gender of children, or for parent and baby combinations
For information call Fosterline on 0800 040 7675 or visit www.couldyoufoster.org.uk
FOSTERING IN NUMBERS
The number of children and young people in care in any one day in the UK.
The number of foster families.
The number of foster carers needed urgently.
Minimum recommended weekly allowance for fostering a teenager outside London.