A MUM who became a foster carer after being adopted as a child and a couple who have taken 19 children into their home over the years have shared their experiences to raise awareness of the need for more people to get involved.

The carers have shared their stories as part of Foster Care Fortnight, which runs until May 24.

Foster parents Nicola Price, 43, and husband Mark, 41, from Darlington who have four children of their own, have also fostered 19 youngsters, including groups of siblings, through Darlington Borough Council.

The couple both worked full time for five years, before Mrs Price decided to start working part-time to accommodate their growing household.

She said: “For us it’s really important to keep sibling groups together. We realised that they do get split up to different families, our emphasis is now on keeping sibling groups together through fostering.

Carer Nicola Foster, who has fostered 19 children with her husband Mark

Carer Nicola Price, who has fostered 19 children with her husband Mark

"When you are taken into care it is a scary enough time without losing your brothers and sisters and all the past you have together. That’s why we do it.

“My advice to people considering fostering is: It wouldn’t hurt to look into it a bit more, go along to one of the virtual fostering events and speak to someone at the council about it to see if it is for you and what it will entail.

“I think it’s a common misconception that once you are a foster parent that you can’t carry on with your career. You could be doing respite placements, it doesn’t need to take over your whole life. Or it can be a family of long term children like we’ve got. I’d say just go for it.”

Foster mum Alex Gray, who looks after children with her husband Stephen, wanted to get involved after being adopted as a child. The couple, from Neasham, have been fostering through independent agency Five Rivers Child Care since 2019, having previously adopted their son Ashley in 2002.

The couple also have a daughter, 14-year-old Eve.

Foster carers Alex and Stephen Gray

Foster carers Alex and Stephen Gray

Mrs Gray, a former teacher, said: "I was adopted within a matter of weeks of being born, my adoptive parents have always been my mum and dad and have loved me and cared for me as their own.

" I was fortunate to be brought up in such a loving household, and because of that I have a really positive outlook on adoption and fostering, and it was something I knew we’d pursue eventually.

"We adopted our son, Ashley, before having any children of our own, then went onto have our daughter Eve and didn’t want to stop there.”

They are foster parents to Holly, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, moved in during last year's lockdown and will be staying with them on a long-term basis until she is 18, or able to live independently.

Mrs Gray said: “We’ve got two dogs who Holly just adores, it’s a really great excuse to be able to get out for those walks through the local fields and to the beach on the weekends. Holly has settled in so well, and we’re thankful we’ve found lots to keep us entertained during lockdown.”

She added: “I absolutely loved teaching. I went into it to really make a difference to children’s lives and I see fostering as a natural extension of that. The pastoral care side of teaching was always what drove me. I started off my career as a house parent to boarding school children while teaching at a prep school. Here was where I really learnt that personal support was, to me, the most important aspect.

“Because of my upbringing, fostering or adopting is something I have always known we would do, and we’ve ended up doing both. This was a turning point in our lives and we haven’t looked back.”

Darlington Borough Council is running a campaign to coincide with Foster Care Fortnight and says it urgently needs people to get involved.

Bronwen Smith, head of service for the council’s fostering team, said: “Children in Darlington need stable homes. Darlington Borough Council’s foster carers provide an absolute haven for children who can’t live with their own families. However, we still urgently need more of them to care for children of all ages on both a short term and long-term basis.”

The council is particularly keen to speak to residents who can care for brothers and sisters together as well as provide a home and structure for teenagers to help them thrive and take the next step in life.

Councillor Jon Clarke, portfolio holder for children and young people said: “We are urging people who have thought about fostering in the past and feel they might be ready to take the next step now to get in touch with the council in the first instance.

"You could be just the person a child or sibling group in Darlington are looking for.

“Our small, friendly, not-for-profit team can provide all the training and support you need to become a paid foster carer in Darlington.”

The council is running a series of banners and billboard advertisements in the town, as well as radio advertisements and online videos featuring real foster carers from Darlington in a bid to reach the eyes, ears and hearts of more residents with the potential to become foster carers.

Visit www.darlington.gov.uk/fostering to find out more.

Jennifer Sutton, fostering service manager for the North East of England at Five Rivers Child Care, said: “Fostering can be an extremely fulfilling path for anyone who is looking to make a change in their life. Alex’s many years of teaching gave her all the right transferable skills to be able to foster, as well as having her own personal motive to want to give something back. Her story is an amazing example of how fostering is not just a rewarding career option but is also an opportunity to change a young person’s life for the better.

“The Coronavirus pandemic hasn’t stopped us recruiting foster carers, as the need for children and young people to have stable and caring foster carers has not diminished. In fact, the number of children and young people across the UK needing foster care has risen dramatically during lockdown and we are really seeing this demand in Durham.

“We’re keen to hear from people from all backgrounds who are nurturing, compassionate and enjoy supporting others, as well as anyone who has questions about fostering and the variety of roles available. We provide training and round the clock support to ensure you can provide the best care to those in need.”

For more information on foster care contact Five Rivers Child Care on 01642 695 247 or visit www.five-rivers.org.