Despite already having four children of their own, Co Tyrone couple Stephen and Faye Neville decided a few years ago to grow their family further by becoming foster parents.
The Nevilles, from Moy, opened up their home and their hearts to three young brothers, who at that time were aged four, three and two.
Since then life has been a roller coaster for the family, but they insist they wouldn’t have it any other way.
Three-a-half years on, Faye says they have no regrets about their decision to become foster carers. She says the boys, now aged seven, six and five, are “doing great” and are very much part of their family.
“Fostering presents its challenges, but there are more ups than downs. There are far more good days than bad ones. It is very rewarding. The boys have brought so much fun and happiness into our family,” she explained.
“It is so good to watch the children grow and progress and do well at school and enjoy all the wee groups they are in. They are really doing great and they are very much integrated into our family.”
After registering their interest in fostering with the Southern Health and Social Care Trust, Stephen and Faye began the process of becoming foster carers.
That process involved completing a Skills to Foster training course and going through required home and police checks before being assessed by a panel of experts.
“From start to finish the process took about 10 months for us. I will always remember the day we received the phone call to say we were confirmed as foster carers,” Faye recalled.
Explaining why they took the decision to become foster carers, she continued: “We always had this feeling that if something ever happened to Stephen and I then we would like to think that there would be someone kind enough to look after our children.
“I suppose that was where our journey towards being foster carers began. In the early days we didn’t know if we wanted to do long-term fostering, short-term or respite – the only thing we were sure of was that it had to be a sibling group.
“It is traumatic enough for these young people to be removed from their birth parents and taken into the care system without having to be separated from their siblings.”
Stressing that the decision to start fostering wasn’t only taken by her and Stephen, Faye says her children – now aged 16, 17, 19 and 22 and all still living at home – were very positive about the move and have “really embraced” the fostering experience.
“We discussed it with them before we decided to do it. It is very important that you discuss it with your own family because it does bring changes to your family unit,” she said. “They are great with the children and very much encourage them. They have really embraced the whole thing.”
Stephen and Faye’s daughter Katie, 19, said she and her siblings didn’t know quite what to expect from the experience initially, but is delighted with how things turned out.
“We all clicked like we had met before,” she said. “It just seemed to work. Mum and dad understood fully how to handle three young siblings very well and knew every trick in the book.”
Katie, who is studying childcare and hoping to pursue a career in social work, continued: “The three children have been with us for three-and-a-half years now, which is absolutely fantastic.
“At the start I didn’t know much about fostering, until I began to learn how much we have influenced three young lives. How much they have grown and developed, gaining self-belief and happiness all under one roof.”
Faye stressed that she and her family have received “great support” from the Southern Trust and its social workers since they began fostering.
Asked if she would recommend the role to others, she said: “Most definitely. There is no doubt in my mind about that. It is very rewarding.”
While they don’t know for sure how long the three brothers will be with them, the Nevilles are determined to help them carve out a positive, happy future.
• More foster carers needed, says charity
Foster Care Fortnight, running from May 13-26, is the UK’s biggest foster care awareness raising campaign.
Delivered by leading fostering charity The Fostering Network, the annual campaign showcases the commitment, passion and dedication of foster carers. It also supports fostering services to highlight the need for more foster carers.
This year’s theme for Foster Care Fortnight is #changeafuture, highlighting the positive impact foster care can have on fostered children’s futures and encouraging more people to come forward to foster.
According to The Fostering Network, there are around 2,400 children living with foster families across Northern Ireland.
The charity says 250 new foster families are needed here over the next 12 months.
Anyone interested in fostering can visit thefosteringnetwork.org.uk to find out more, or contact their local health trust.
People are also being invited to attend local fostering information sessions:
• Tuesday 21 May – Crowne Plaza Hotel, Belfast, 7pm – 9pm (registration required 028 9504 0302)
• Tuesday 21 May – Armagh City Hotel, 7pm – 9pm
• Wednesday 22 May – Strule Arts Centre, Omagh, 7pm
• Wednesday 22 May – Dunsilly Hotel, Antrim, 12pm – 2pm and 6pm – 9pm