‘It keeps us feeling young!’ - Peterborough couple still enjoy foster caring after 33 years

Kate and Philip Gilbert with grandson Charlie
Kate and Philip Gilbert with grandson Charlie

A Peterborough couple have described the enjoyment they have received from foster caring for the past 33 years.

Kate Gilbert has written a piece about herself and husband Philip for Foster Care Fortnight which began earlier this week:

After marrying and beginning what was both of our second marriages, my husband Philip and I were looking for something that would be different for us and would allow us to help others.

We found fostering and originally began with Cambridge City Council. Thirty-three years and more than 600 placements later we are still going strong as foster carers with TACT Peterborough.

Throughout our fostering careers we’ve cared for all sorts of placements – short term, long term, respite, asylum seekers, caring for adolescents on the Staying Put scheme. We’ve also been emergency duty carers for the last 25 years, which means that we provide out of hours services for children who need to be accommodated as an emergency during the evening, nights or weekends.

We’ve seen a lot during our long fostering careers, but it was a new experience for us last year when TACT officially took over the running of Peterborough City Council’s fostering and adoption service. Before the partnership started we did have some slight concerns simply because we were entering the unknown; we didn’t know what, if anything, would change.

We’d thought about transferring to a private fostering agency years ago, so we had done a little bit of research into the differences between the service offered by agencies and local authorities. Thankfully, the transition from being foster carers with Peterborough City Council to TACT Peterborough was a smooth one and we’ve been able to see some real positive changes over the last 12 months.

Both myself and Philip are on the foster carers committee, so we’ve felt that the views we’ve shared there have been listened to and considered before, during and after the transition with TACT. Things such as finances have been changed by TACT and made it much easier to understand things.

The main difference we’ve noticed, however, is a better selection of training. Since the start of the partnership with TACT the selection of training has been much wider and given us the chance to access training on topics we wouldn’t have been able to previously.

We’ve been to training focussing on ADHD, Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders and training around the care of adolescents amongst many other things. This was something which Peterborough City Council didn’t have capacity to provide by themselves, so it’s been a hugely positive change.

We’ve also noticed big differences in the levels of support we now receive. Our supervising social worker had always been a big support to us, but we’ve really noticed a difference since TACT came in. We now feel much more listened to, and when we ask for anything action is now taken to put things in place in a shorter amount of time. Over the last year we’ve felt more looked after as foster carers than we ever had before.

Through such a long and fulfilling fostering career, we’ve faced all sorts of challenges. We’ve taken on a lot of placements that have broken down with previous carers for various reasons. These sometimes last for a couple of days, sometimes several years.

No matter how long they stay and what their reasons are for having a placement breakdown and becoming seen as a more ‘challenging’ placement, we’ve always tried to offer somewhere that is safe, warm and gives them a better opportunity at a good start in life.

Our greatest success as foster carers however happened nearly three years ago, when unexpectedly Philip and I both received letters in the post informing us that we were to be awarded with MBEs for our services to children and families.

At first we thought it was a joke, so we had to make a few phone calls around to confirm this was genuine! This was a massive surprise to us and we felt privileged to attend a ceremony at Buckingham Palace to be presented with our MBEs by Prince Charles.

I love that fostering allows you to help children who have had a tough time so far in their short lives, but I also love that it keeps me on my toes and keeps me feeling young!

We have thought about retiring but we’ll still be fostering for at least the next few years. We’ve got four young people who are in placement with us now ranging in age from 13 to 18 years old, so we’d like to help them through into adolescents and into a Staying Put placement.

If you want to become a foster carer I would recommend that you talk to TACT Peterborough, other foster carers if you know any, and try to get as much information as possible. But once you know it’s something you could do, go for it.

Specifically to anyone who lives in the Peterborough region, I couldn’t recommend the TACT Peterborough service highly enough – we’ve seen such a positive change in the training and support we now have offered and really see this partnership as a great change for foster carers in the area.