How to change a life.

There are lots of amazing things about my Mum.

But today, I am going to share my two of my very favourites.

First, she’s called Dallas. I know, right? How cool would it be to be named after an 80s TV show?

You have NO IDEA how many bets I won at school just by telling kids my Mum was called Dallas, and them thinking I’d made it up.

(It’s Scottish, apparently. She’s not actually named after a TV show.)

The second great thing about my Mum is that she was, for many years, a foster carer.

My Mum was married and in her 20s with young children of her own when she opened up her home to a series of children who needed a safe, loving place to stay.

Some of the babies and children she cared for came from difficult backgrounds, but my Mum has always said that nothing is insurmountable, if a child has been loved.

One of the kids my Mum ended up fostering was me.

Having a baby is tough at the best of times, but when you’re a single, teenage Mum with little in the way of resources, it can be too much – so my birth mother made the choice to put me into foster care when I was a toddler.

I went through a couple of foster homes before I ended up with my Mum, but apparently on the day the social workers dropped me off at her house, it was one of my brothers’ birthdays, and he told all his friends I was his birthday present.

I spent the day being brought plates of sandwiches and cake by small boys – which, frankly, is how all small girls should spend special days, in my book.

Thanks to my Mum, I had a happy, stable childhood. I had brothers, and cousins and grandparents and a thousand opportunities I wouldn’t have had otherwise.

We weren’t especially well off, but there was a lot of laughter, and silliness, and time – and we were all loved. And like Mum always told me, nothing’s insurmountable when you have that. Unlike lots of people in my situation, I’ve never had any urge to meet my ‘birth’ family – because I have a family, and I can’t imagine finding anything better than I’ve got.

I’m sure my Mum knows how grateful I am for the opportunities I’ve had. I hope she does. I often look at other kids who weren’t so lucky, and know that it could so easily have been me. That I could have had a life almost entirely different to the one I’ve had.

With hindsight, I’m even grateful that Mum didn’t let me change my name to Steve when I was adopted at the age of 10, and got my new birth certificate with ‘Whittle’ on it. Although at the time it was a bitter, bitter blow, obviously.

I suppose my point is that fostering is nothing short of giving someone a new life, sometimes. Today in the UK, a young person needs a foster placement every 22 minutes, according to UK Fostering.

Fostering can take all sorts of forms – short-term, long-term, even parent and child fostering when kids become parents themselves at a young age.

You don’t need special qualifications – just a spare room, the willingness to help children in a time of need, and being able to love children who (sometimes) aren’t very lovable, or don’t even know how to be loved. It doesn’t matter if you already have kids, are married, or single – and there’s lots of support from local authorities and organisations like UK Fostering.

It’s not for everyone, I know – many of the 44,000 children in need of foster care today have complex needs and present real challenges to their carers. But I am so grateful for the many people – like my Mum – who take on those challenges, and make such a difference to people’s lives.

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