The year 2020 has been regarded by many as the “great re-set” as the coronavirus pandemic prompted us to re-evaluate our lives.
For Samantha and Stuart Ockelford from Sible Hedingham the lockdown really has been a time of transformation.
Not only did they successfully challenge themselves to get fitter, losing 10 stone between them, they became foster parents during lockdown.
“When this little girl arrived on our doorstep the mothering instinct in me leapt into action. I just wanted to hug her and tell her that everything would be OK. But I understood how that might have been too overwhelming for her, so we took it at her pace.
It was quite sad in those initial stages as we had to teach her how to eat with a knife and fork. She hadn’t even experienced that, until now. As the weeks went by and she became more settled, we saw a positive improvement in the whole situation and she also started to learn to read. It was lovely seeing her play in the garden. She was learning to be a child again and enjoying being part of a family”.
For Samantha, aged 44, who has 3 adult children from a previous marriage, and her husband aged 45, they instantly knew that they wanted children together. But, after many years of unsuccessfully trying for their own child, they decided that it was just not meant to be.
“Our journey was instead to help children in need. We discussed adoption as a possible option but felt more drawn to short-term fostering, so we could help more children feel wanted.
When the middle of my three daughters from a previous marriage went off to university, we felt that it was the perfect time to progress our fostering journey as the house was emptier and quieter. We had the two things needed for fostering in abundance: time and 2 spare rooms”.
As lockdown continues to evolve, Essex County Council are stepping up their calls for more foster carers, like Samantha and Stuart, to help transform the lives of young people across the county.
Foster carers can be single, married, from a same-sex family or retired. There is also an active network of support groups providing opportunities to meet and learn from other foster carers with many going on to make long-term friendships.
Cllr Louise McKinlay, Cabinet Member for Children and Families at Essex County Council, said: “Our foster carers help build better, brighter futures for hundreds of children across Essex every year. We desperately need more people, like Samantha and Stuart, to foster on a full and part-time basis for either short or long-term placements”.
Essex County Council offer high-quality bespoke local training to all foster carers and provide ongoing support. Samantha, who now works full time as a foster carer having left her job as a Safeguarding Officer for a local school, fully advocates this training.
“I certainly feel like the training process stood us in good stead and gave us the necessary tools. At the time we felt over-prepared but seeing those scenarios come to life in our own home makes us appreciate we needed it.
I can honestly say that the whole process has enhanced our life. It gives you the warmest feeling knowing that when we come to say goodbye, we have made a real difference in her life. We have given her skills that she will continue to use but, more importantly, she now knows that there are people that won’t hurt her and do love her”.
Find out more by visiting www.essexadoptionandfostering.co.uk/fostering. The phone line is also still open: 0800 801 530.