A Carrickfergus supermum who fostered 44 children in 25 years has told of the lifechanging effect of fostering on vulnerable children.
Action for Children Northern Ireland’s Fostering Co-ordinator Anne Davidson, who already had four children of her own, says that the experience of fostering has brought “unimaginable joy” to her life.
Anne and her husband of 37 years Jimmy fostered their first child in 1990.
She recalled: “She was a beautiful 3-year-old girl called Molly (name has been changed).
“The moment I set eyes on her I just couldn’t get over how pretty and innocent she looked, her beautiful big blue eyes and long blonde curly hair were breath taking.
“But it struck me straight away that there was also a real sadness about her. She had been very badly sexually abused, and had a really withdrawn, anxious persona. Her trust of adults had been destroyed.
“Her wee finger nails were completely bitten to nothing because of her anxiety.
“It was the start of a six-year journey with Molly. It was a process of teaching her that not all adults were dangerous and there were people, like me, who could help and protect her.”
Anne’s own children, who were aged 3,5,6 and 11, accepted Molly as their own sister as she began the slow process of recovering from her experiences.
Anne continued: “She couldn’t sleep for months without me holding her hand through the night. She would suffer terrible nightmares about the ordeals she had been through. But step by step, we helped her regain her childhood and learn to smile again.”
Anne’s husband Jimmy says that despite her difficult start, Molly has now turned her life around.
“That wee girl Molly is now a beautiful, intelligent 25-year-old woman,” he revealed.
“As far as we are concerned she’s still part of our family.
“She’ll come to our weddings, pick up the phone for advice and it’s an amazing feeling to know we played a small part in her transformation.”
As the years passed, Anne’s four-bedroom home by the sea became a refuge to some of Northern Ireland’s most vulnerable young people.
“We filled the house with love, fun and laughter and as each child moved on we eagerly anticipated the arrival of a new child, “ Anne explained.
“By 2000 I had fostered over 20 children and a lot of that was emergency respite and short-term help to children in emergency situations.
“One young boy that really had an impact and still remains close to my heart was Paul (name has been changed).
“He was 13 when he came to me and was really struggling at school.
“He had a very traumatic childhood and had a huge number of moves between different foster carers over the years from when he was just 18-months-old.
“Behind the pain I saw a spark in him. I knew there was a clever, fun-loving boy just waiting to burst out and make his mark on the world.
“I promised him then and there that this would be his last move and we would take care of him as a family.
“From that day my son and him became inseparable and are still best friends even now in their adulthood.”
With Anne’s encouragement, Paul went on to achieve ten GCSEs, sat four A-Levels and now has a successful career in the maritime industry.
Anne subsequently became a fully-qualified social worker and in 2009 achieved her dream job as Action for Children Northern Ireland’s fostering co-ordinator.
She stated: “We have to remember that the children’s experiences are not their fault, and with time and patience you can make a huge difference by fostering a child. ”
For more information about fostering, telephone Action for Children on 02890460500 or at FostercareNI@actionforchildren.org.uk