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.


Sally is a full-time blogger and founder of the Tots100, Trips100, Foodies100 and HIBS100 communities, along with the MAD Blog Awards. She spends a bit too much time on the Internet. She’s also a very happy Mum to Flea, the world’s coolest ten year old.

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  1. 5th July 2012 / 9:31 am

    You mum is just amazing, full of wise words and thoughts and one day we may consider fostering, one day!

    • 5th July 2012 / 10:37 am

      She’s a legend, it’s true. And looks like Tyne Daly, according to someone on Facebook.

  2. Pants With Names
    5th July 2012 / 9:35 am

    An amazing story – wonderful to hear and a joy to read. What a fantastic woman your Mum is. Thank you for sharing that, it is so affirming to read such a positive story.

    • 5th July 2012 / 10:38 am

      Thanks – there are lots of positive stories, I know and I hope sharing them maybe inspires more people to look at fostering. I mean – come on – foster a kid and you could end up with someone like ME! *cough*

  3. 5th July 2012 / 9:36 am

    Your mum sounds like a fantastic lady, the world needs more like her. When I was teaching I was in close contact with a foster family as I taught their birth daughter. The difference they made to the lives of children in otherwise very difficult circumstances absolutely blew me away. At times I wondered how they did it, especially when very young children were placed in their care only to be taken away again, but they all seemed to get so much out of it.
    A lovely post and a tribute to your mum. X
    Lucy at Dear Beautiful Boy recently posted..the 4th of julyMy Profile

    • 5th July 2012 / 10:38 am

      Fostering makes a huge difference, I do sometimes think how hard it must have been letting children move on, but I know my Mum was happy they were moving to permanent homes or back to birth families.

  4. Dan Thornton
    5th July 2012 / 9:41 am

    Nice post, and I’ll make sure I call you Steve from now on 😉

    • 5th July 2012 / 10:38 am

      ‘precciate it.

  5. FeeHorne
    5th July 2012 / 9:44 am

    Wow. Just that. Wow. X

    • 5th July 2012 / 10:39 am

      Where did you think I get all my awesome from?

    • 5th July 2012 / 8:18 pm

      It’s true, she does. Most Mums do, I find 🙂

  6. 5th July 2012 / 11:47 am

    what a fabulous mum you have and to be called “Dallas” – is pretty cool!

    I’d love to foster, my next door neighbour is a foster carer and I have pretty much wanted to adopt all the kids who end up playing in my garden through the summer hols these past few years. It is something I would seriously consider but sadly the other half doesn’t feel the same.

    I admire women like your mum so much, to be able to make a huge difference is amazing.

    Love S.A.M xoxo
    Super Amazing Mum recently posted..Making Waves for Alex – A pleaMy Profile

    • 5th July 2012 / 8:19 pm

      My Mum was lucky, her husband was very supportive of the idea and I agree, that’s really important especially these days when kids in foster care are likely to have had much more difficult starts in life than was the case in the 70s/80s.

    • 5th July 2012 / 8:19 pm

      Aw, thanks, she’s pretty cool 🙂

  7. 5th July 2012 / 12:45 pm

    I know this post is about fostering and your mum sounds absolutely amazing. I just want to say that I get an added warm fuzzy feeling when I read about people who did not grow up with their genetic parents and yet are totally happy and content with the family they have. It reinforces the fact that the family who loves you and who you belong to is far more important than any quirk if dna. Obviously I have my own reasons for feeling this so thanks for making my day.
    Midlife Singlemum recently posted..#SilentSundayMy Profile

    • 5th July 2012 / 8:21 pm

      Yes, I think it’s overall far more important to have that connection than DNA.

      What I will say in my case is that it was always open and discussed in our family that I had a birth family, obviously – as I was fostered for much of my childhood.

      I am not sure how I’d feel if I was one of those people who discovered the ‘truth’ as a teenager, at a time when you’re feeling alienated from your family in the best of circumstances! But as it is, there was no mystery – I know who my birth family are, I just made a decision a long time ago that my life’s perfectly okay with the family I have. If that makes sense?

      • 6th July 2012 / 10:49 am

        It makes perfect sense to me. Sometimes, I think we’re stuck too rigidly to this idea of the “perfect”, nuclear family, with an approved designated biological “mum” and “dad”. What’s more important is that the children are brought up in a loving and caring environment. With cake. Definitely cake.
        Gerald recently posted..More guest blog postsMy Profile

      • 6th July 2012 / 8:31 pm

        Totally agree with you about being honest about it. In this day and age and in the future of today’s children, who knows what uses DNA testing will have and it is naive to assume that our children will definitely not have occassion to explore theirs. There is no benefit in not knowing the truth (their truth). I think children will accept will their identity if it is presented to them in a positive way.
        Gerald – cake is also significant.
        Midlife Singlemum recently posted..#SilentSundayMy Profile

  8. 5th July 2012 / 2:57 pm

    Am I allowed to adopt your mum as she sounds like a fantastic woman? x

    • 5th July 2012 / 8:21 pm

      No but you can borrow her from time to time.

    • 5th July 2012 / 8:21 pm

      I know, I have a GREAT Mum. And fostering is such a great thing to do, for all sorts of reasons.

  9. TheBoyandMe
    5th July 2012 / 7:08 pm

    It takes a special kind of person to foster and to do it well, your mum clearly did and must be so proud of you. I’ve worked with a foster child before (aged 10) and the emotional issues that she had from her terrible early start to life, combined with forming relationships with two potential adopters only to have them fail, was horrendous for her. All she wanted was to be loved.

    • 5th July 2012 / 8:22 pm

      Yes, Mum fostered kids with quite serious issues over the years and it’s tough – I think kids who go through care always find it harder to form attachments, even in the best of circumstances, and that makes fostering a tough thing to do – but so, so worthwhile.

  10. 5th July 2012 / 7:37 pm

    Lovely, lovely post. I know you don’t do hugs, especially with people you’ve never met, but it makes me want to wrap both you and your Mum up in a big one, sorry.
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    • 5th July 2012 / 8:22 pm

      Mum’s not a big hugger, either. It’s a Scottish thing.

  11. 5th July 2012 / 7:54 pm

    Your mam sounds amazing – we need more people like her.

    Now may not be the time to share this but….. when I was little, I used to ask my mam and dad to foster a little girl for Christmas as I wanted a sister that much but I was quite clear that she couldn’t stay past Christmas though or she might expect me to share my toys!

    I know, you’re now thinking what a nice child I was aren’t you
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    • 5th July 2012 / 8:23 pm

      I’m thinking how lucky I was fostered by a family with boys!

  12. One Mother's Notes
    5th July 2012 / 8:11 pm

    Beautiful post. Your mum sounds like an amazing woman. I’ve often felt the urge to participate in such a fantastic programme but haven’t been able to convince the other half yet. I think for it to work he would have to be on-board whole heartedly too. Maybe one day. Gorgeous picture too.

    • 5th July 2012 / 8:24 pm

      I think you both need to be committed because it can be fantastically hard work – luckily I was a DREAM foster child (cough) but it can be demanding – but on the other hand, I’m sure that’s what makes it so rewarding.

  13. Sarah ffelan
    5th July 2012 / 8:44 pm

    Wow indeed. What an amazing post. Really heart warming. My mum used to teach in an Assessment Centre (temp children’s home where kids used to go when first placed into care) and some amazing, gorgeous children used to come through that place with some heartbreaking experiences. I was only young and used to come and help out on my inset days etc. Anyway my mum got really attached to more than one child and for a time seriously considered fostering and discussed it with my brother and I. Unfortunately I wasn’t in the mood for ‘sharing’ my mum with anyone and instantly put a stop to the whole plan by having a small tantrum and that was that. I always feel guilty now and wonder what a difference we would have made to a child’s life. So whilst your mum is clearly FANTASTIC, I also say hats off to your brother for welcoming you in such a sweet way because I bet his acceptance made all the difference. x

  14. Molly
    6th July 2012 / 10:31 am

    I read your blog regularly, but am not one to post a comment. Not sure why, now that I think about it. I digress (this is the reason I don’t post comments, ah ha!). This post, it made me smile and cry all in the same reading. Thank you to Dallas, for being the type of person that I aspire to be. And to her daughter, thank you for sharing this with all of us and letting us see your perspective. Fostering and/or adoption has always been on my “I really want to/need to/must do this one day” list, but your words have given me a kick in the a$$ to start looking into it now. As in right now.

  15. MissMavisCruet
    6th July 2012 / 7:49 pm

    What a lady, what a name!

  16. 6th July 2012 / 8:15 pm

    really amazing .. you are so blessed to have such a foster mother .. appreciating what we have got is the first step toward happiness

    I had a warm feeling when reading this …

    hope to read more from you 🙂 thanks

  17. 6th July 2012 / 8:49 pm

    Ohh I love that your brother counted you as his birthday gift, how divine. Whata wonderful Mum you have.

    We started the process to be cleared as Foster parents last year and sadly realised that for us our kids are still too young right now but I am confident one day we wll be doing that very precious job.

    Mich x
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  18. Tattieweasle
    8th July 2012 / 7:02 am

    Such awesomeness! After hearing so many bad things about children in care etc it is brilliant to hear that there are truly exceptional carers out there who make such a difference. Way to go Dallas!

  19. 11th July 2012 / 7:31 pm

    Wow! I’m so thrilled that this post showed up in my Google alert. What an amazing story! I would love for you to share it with the readers of my foster care blog!

  20. 16th July 2012 / 10:00 pm

    For four years in my twenties I was a respite foster carer to a young girl with leaning disabilities and very challenging behaviour. She would stay with me every second weekend. At the time I was single ,lived in a tuiny house, didn’t drive and had never been a mum. Despite being a wualified and experienced social worker I found this a tough, challenging role not at all the easy, fun occasional bout of caring I had imagined. But it was also awesome, rewarding and a pleasure to know her and grow with her.

    I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone , you need to be robust, have a huge sense of patience and humour and have good support yourself so you can support such vulnerable kids. The alternative for many of these kids is care homes…fostering is BY FAR a better option for most children.

    Families are precious beyond measure and the Uk is crying out for more foster carers so if you think you can do it do make contact with a fostering agency and explore more.

  21. 17th July 2012 / 8:04 pm

    My mum fosters children now that her first babies have flown the nest, and I think it’s amazing. She currently is in her 60s and has a 7 year old (who’s been with her for 3 years) and a 2 year old. It’s so tough and there have been many lows as well as the lovely highs, but I think she’s incredible, and your mum sounds just as wonderful too.

    Big, massive kudos to all the foster mummies. I will do it myself one day, when mine are a bit older.
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