Veteran foster carers Jeanette and Gary Denison know what it’s like to need help and hope.
Twenty years ago illness put paid to their jobs in the pub trade. They also lost their home.
But they turned their lives around by becoming foster carers. And in the two decades since they’ve helped more than 50 vulnerable children in Kirklees.
The couple, who live in Batley, look back on those grim days and recognise that their experiences led directly to the work they do today - and to be being recognised as among the best in their profession.
“It’s difficult to remember a time when our house wasn’t filled with children,” says Gary, 56.
“As well as having three of our own, we’d usually foster two. At one point we had seven children in the house!
“Thankfully our own children have always been supportive and our son and his wife, who themselves are parents, are considering becoming foster carers.”
The Denisons are being feted for their work at a time when Kirklees Council is campaigning for more foster carers to join its ranks. The authority has 657 children in its care, 66 of whom need long-term families.
Jeanette and Gary were pub landlords when he sustained spinal injuries at work and was also diagnosed with arthritis. He was forced to give up work - and his pub. With no job and no roof over their heads the couple ended up in a homeless unit. Recalls Jeanette: “We felt like we’d hit rock bottom.”
Yet the experience brought them into contact with other struggling families, and social workers. Through talking to them they learned about the chronic shortage of foster carers.
“Bit by bit we slowly managed to get back on our feet and were re-housed,” says Jeanette, 49. “We kept in touch with a couple of the families from the unit and we’d sometimes have their children round for sleepovers.
“I remember thinking how satisfying it felt being able to help someone out, even if it was just with a bit of babysitting. We asked ourselves; why not do this permanently? So we contacted Kirklees Council and things went from there.”
Having watched their own children grow up, Jeanette and Gary are now grandparents. Nevertheless their foster work continues. They have looked after children of varying ages and abilities, including some with complex medical needs. As well as being long-term foster carers to one child, they also foster other children on a short-term basis.
Adds Gary: “One thing we’ve learned over the years is that, even if a child comes from the most traumatic of backgrounds, they can overcome pretty much anything if they are shown unconditional love.
“Even after 20 years you think you’ve seen it all but each child brings something new. For the most part we love it and although it isn’t for everyone I would say if you’re one of those people who says they’ve always wanted to do it, why not go ahead and inquire about it?”
The Denisons were praised by Rob Finney, Interim Fostering Manager at Kirklees Council, who said they had triumphed over adversity to go on to amongst the best in their profession. On October 6 they will receive an award at an annual event run by Kirklees Council and Kirklees Fostering Network at the Ponderosa Lakeside Restaurant in Heckmondwike to honour the district’s foster carers.
“Without a doubt fostering can be challenging but we have families who have been doing it from anything between a few weeks right up to 32 years,” says Rob.
“These people have all been unwavering in their dedication in helping these children; seeing them through thick and thin, often taking them in at short notice and during unsociable hours.
“Whilst there are many emotional rewards attached to helping a child it’s also important that they are recognised for their efforts.
“I hope the event will go some way towards celebrating those achievements and thanking our foster carers for the amazing work they do.”