Calendar An icon of a desk calendar. Cancel An icon of a circle with a diagonal line across. Caret An icon of a block arrow pointing to the right. Email An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of the Facebook "f" mark. Google An icon of the Google "G" mark. Linked In An icon of the Linked In "in" mark. Logout An icon representing logout. Profile An icon that resembles human head and shoulders. Telephone An icon of a traditional telephone receiver. Tick An icon of a tick mark. Is Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes. Is Not Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes with a diagonal line through it. Pause Icon A two-lined pause icon for stopping interactions. Quote Mark A opening quote mark. Quote Mark A closing quote mark. Arrow An icon of an arrow. Folder An icon of a paper folder. Breaking An icon of an exclamation mark on a circular background. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Caret An icon of a caret arrow. Clock An icon of a clock face. Close An icon of the an X shape. Close Icon An icon used to represent where to interact to collapse or dismiss a component Comment An icon of a speech bubble. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Ellipsis An icon of 3 horizontal dots. Envelope An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Home An icon of a house. Instagram An icon of the Instagram logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. Magnifying Glass An icon of a magnifying glass. Search Icon A magnifying glass icon that is used to represent the function of searching. Menu An icon of 3 horizontal lines. Hamburger Menu Icon An icon used to represent a collapsed menu. Next An icon of an arrow pointing to the right. Notice An explanation mark centred inside a circle. Previous An icon of an arrow pointing to the left. Rating An icon of a star. Tag An icon of a tag. Twitter An icon of the Twitter logo. Video Camera An icon of a video camera shape. Speech Bubble Icon A icon displaying a speech bubble WhatsApp An icon of the WhatsApp logo. Information An icon of an information logo. Plus A mathematical 'plus' symbol. Duration An icon indicating Time. Success Tick An icon of a green tick. Success Tick Timeout An icon of a greyed out success tick. Loading Spinner An icon of a loading spinner. Facebook Messenger An icon of the facebook messenger app logo. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Facebook Messenger An icon of the Twitter app logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. WhatsApp Messenger An icon of the Whatsapp messenger app logo. Email An icon of an mail envelope. Copy link A decentered black square over a white square.

Foster Care Fortnight: Big-hearted Scots couple share their story in drive for new carers

© Andrew CawleyCathy and Alan Gray at their home in Stirling. They have loved fostering children.
Cathy and Alan Gray at their home in Stirling. They have loved fostering children.

Today sees the start of Foster Care Fortnight, an annual campaign highlighting how the foster care system can help transform lives.

Here, we meet one big-hearted couple helping to launch this year’s search for new carers.

For foster carer Cathy Gray, there’s only one regret she has about signing up – not doing it sooner.

Over the past ten years, the 63-year-old from Stirling has, alongside husband Alan, 59, looked after 17 different children for short break care before going full time with their current young person in 2017.

Working alongside independent foster care agency Carolina House Trust (CHT), based in Dundee, the couple hope their story and the successes of young people who have thrived after finding a safe and nurturing home can help at a time where there is a shortage of carers.

“It is a hard job,” Cathy said. “There are times you’re tearing your hair out but there’s also times where you’ve tears streaming down your face because you’re so happy.

“It really doesn’t take much. It’s saying thank you to them for doing things. Half of them have never had that. Or encouraging them to try things they’ve got wrong again and keep trying. Building up the trust with them is the hard thing – is this just another adult who’ll let them down?

“The most rewarding aspect currently is seeing how far he’s come from the shy boy we had. They thought he’d never get a qualification at all. He’s ended up with five last year. He’s working on it and sees the progress he’s made has been down to hard work which gives him a lot more focus.”

Alan added: “It’s always good to be able to see the difference you can make, even over a short term. Making them feel appreciated, getting them involved in whatever you’re doing, changing your routine to suit what they like doing. Everything we do they get involved in.”

‘Could you change a child’s life?’

Fostering had been an ambition of Cathy’s since she was young, and when she left her job in the prison service it proved to be the perfect moment to take the next step.

CHT, and other similar charities across the country, provide support through making sure the financial leap is bridged – especially with the surging cost of living – as well as extensive training and round-the-clock support from workers that the foster carers and children know personally.

Cathy and Alan. © Andrew Cawley
Cathy and Alan.

“If you’ve got a spare room, you should be a foster carer,” Cathy said.

“I’d encourage anybody – could you be the person to change a child’s life? It’s as simple as that.

“People see foster care as the kids being bad, and that’s something we need to challenge. They’ve had a traumatic life and if we can do better for them, even get them to think 10% better of themselves, it’s helping them. They just need that boost.

“One of our first kids is out of the care system now and stays miles from us but picks the phone up and asks for a plate to be put out for him at dinner! The kids of our own see them as their brother, and it’s the same with the one we have at the moment.”

The young person Cathy and Alan have fostered, who we cannot name, said of their experience: “I don’t think I’d be who I am now if it weren’t for being placed into foster care.

“I think it would be very important for all young people to have a good experience in foster care and just do what you can to make it from OK to better.”

Fostering makes a huge difference

Success stories like this are what agencies across Scotland hope to highlight as part of Foster Care Fortnight.

Over eight years working for CHT, Chief Operating Officer Sara Lovelock has seen an increase in young people requiring placements and hopes that the campaign can help spread the word, alongside the Scottish Government’s implementation in 2020 of The Promise – changes to Scotland’s care system based on recommendations from the Independent Care Review.

Scotland’s care system based on recommendations from the Independent Care Review.

“I see differences that have come from that national driver about how we treat and speak about care experienced young people,” she said.

“If the public perception is that a care experienced young person is a troublemaker on the corner with a hoodie on, that is a barrier to recruiting carers. Removing the  discrimination has been helpful.”

She added: “I know every single carer and I know most of the young people. My colleagues are all fantastic. They come with a range of backgrounds and experience, but on a daily basis, whilst there are still things that don’t go right for young people, there are changes for them that have come about because of high quality foster care.

“It can make such a huge, huge difference.”

Fostering memories

This year’s campaign sees a number of agencies across Scotland and the rest of the UK come together to celebrate the moments that built confidence, make young people feel safe and create memories.

There’s currently a shortage of foster carers in the right place at the right time across Scotland.

Latest figures show that 3,927 children in Scotland live with foster families, of which there are around 3,261 approved, but hundreds more needed each year.

According to The Fostering Network, across Scotland there’s currently a shortage of 400 fostering households as the number of children looked after away from home and family in Scotland remains high at 5,710.

Last year more foster families were lost than we gained, with an overall loss of 165 families.

Sarah Thomas, the charity’s chief executive, said: “Fostering families are a lifeline to children and young people in need of a home, providing them with support, stability and love.

“Children and young people need local foster carers who are equipped to meet all of their needs.

“We urgently need more foster carers to ensure children and young people are cared for in the right home for them.”

Sara Lovelock from CHT. © Supplied by Carolina House Trust
Sara Lovelock from CHT.

Sara Lovelock, chief operating officer of Dundee-based foster agency Carolina House Trust, said: “Foster Care Fortnight is about highlighting things like the first time a young person calls you mum or dad, or that they can get the bus on their own because of work the fostering family have done.

“We continue to have around 80 young people referred to us every month. We have no vacancies, so we really need to recruit. The only requirements for us are that you have a spare room and you’re over 21. There’s rigorous training, a huge amount of support 24/7.

“It’s a big leap to make, particularly at the moment, but it’s worthwhile.”