Foster carers: Carol and Stuart’s 40 years of super-care
Oct 15 2008 by Hilarie Stelfox, Huddersfield Daily Examiner
AT A TIME in their lives when many couples are settling down to a life free from the responsibilities of children Stuart and Carol Cock welcome the patter of tiny feet in their Marsh home.
In fact, Carol, 66, says she can’t imagine what life would be like without the babies and toddlers that they have been fostering for 40 years.
“I don’t ever want to retire because I don’t see what we do as a job. It’s what we have always done and we love it,’’ she explains.
The story of Stuart, 68, and Carol is a remarkable one. They began fostering when their own children were young. They have a son and two daughters. It was, says Carol, a way for them to help less fortunate youngsters.
“I was the eldest of five children born into a poor family and we never had anything. I always vowed that my children would have a better childhood than I had.
“When we began fostering we wanted to give those children a better life too,” she said.
The couple specialised in caring for new babies who had been put up for adoption at birth.
“It was all quite different in those days. The babies were given up by their mothers and came straight to us for a few weeks while an adoption was arranged. We never saw a social worker.
“These days the babies stay with us until they are two years old or even longer because it takes so long to sort out the adoption. Even then the birth parents can turn round at the last minute and say they want custody.
“It was better for the babies back then because they went to their new parents when they were just a few weeks old. But there are more sophisticated circumstances now and everything has to go through the courts,” said Carol.
“It’s extremely upsetting for us when a child leaves us after such a long time because it’s like giving one of your own children away.
“But we’ve always known that we’d be getting another one and when you see them go to their adoptive families and you see the joy on the parents’ faces it’s well worth it.”
Although foster carers are now paid an allowance and expenses by the council back in 1968, when Stuart and Carol began, the responsibility for payment – if any was made at all – belonged to the mother. Foster carers, they say, more often than not cared for the babies for love, not money.
In order to accommodate their ‘family’ Stuart and Carol bought a large five-bedroomed house in Huddersfield.
But once their own children left home they were able to move to a smaller property, where they now live.
In the past they have looked after several babies at once, as well as disabled children and toddlers. “The most we ever had at one time was seven. Six years ago we took three babies, all the same age, on holiday to our caravan in Wales. You should have seen the looks we got; people stared at us,” said Stuart.
Carol, who was a nurse before having her children, has been a full-time foster carer for the whole of the 40 years.
Stuart, a former quarry manager, took early retirement when his company closed down its operations and is now also a full-time carer.
“It is a two-person job really,” said Carol. “We’ve looked after children who were severely disabled and needed a lot of care. One little girl who was blind and had cerebral palsy was on an oxygen and a heart monitor. We cared for her for two years until she went for adoption.’’
Many of the children who arrive on the couple’s doorstep have been neglected or even abused. “We hear some terrible tales,’’ said Carol. “We’re seeing an increasing number of babies with parents who are drug users and those removed from violent homes.”
Among their many young charges have been four with Down’s Syndrome and a person with learning difficulties, who arrived at three months old and now, in her thirties, still lodges with them under the Shared Lives scheme.
Having cared for so many children Stuart and Carol have a vast wealth of experience that they share with other fosterers.
“We can usually settle the babies fairly quickly, but we’ve had some babies who have needed a lot of extra input and there have been times when we’ve had to take turns to sleep,’’ said Carol.
“We had one baby who was addicted to heroin at birth and would scream constantly unless someone held her hand all night.”
The stamina required to care for babies and toddlers is considerable, but the only concession that Stuart and Carol have made to advancing age is to cut back on the number of children they take, down to one baby/toddler at a time, plus their Shared Lives foster daughter.
With five grand-children of their own – some of which live nearby – the couple feel particularly well placed to take babies and toddlers. Their current foster child plays with their grandchildren on a regular basis.
Stuart and Carol’s lives have been full and busy, and while they’ve enjoyed their years as fosterers there have also been tragedies.
“We’ve had three bereavements among the disabled children. One severely disabled little boy was with us from being a baby until he was eight and then he died suddenly in the night,” said Carol.
It would be understandable if the couple felt some bitterness – anger even – towards the parents whose children are taken into their care.
But, says Carol: “Our place is not to judge them.
“It is to look after the child that is suffering and give them the very best start that we possibly can.”