Amanda Berridge was wheeling her toddler in a pushchair through Swindon Town Centre when she spotted an information stand about fostering.
“I spoke to someone and took some literature away with me and everything went from there,” said Amanda, 39, who is now a foster carer with Community Foster Care along with her husband Alan.
“The door had opened to explore something new – something that would make a difference, and which was aligned with my values.
“Since I left school I’d always worked in a sales environment where everything was about the bottom line.
“Alan and I had often talked about fostering but never pursued it. We considered it carefully and knew it would be challenging, but we wanted to make a difference and decided it was what we wanted to do.”
When their son Elliott was two years old, Amanda and Alan applied to become foster carers, took part in the six-month training process, and opened their home to cared-for teenagers in 2013.
Their first placement was a 15-year-old girl who stayed for a few months. Since then there have been four other teenagers, two of whom remained part of the Berridge family until they moved on to independent living.
“I miss them when they leave – that’s the most challenging part. But all the children we’ve fostered still keep in touch.”
Amanda recognises the same need in all the children who have come to stay.
“They want love, stability, security and acceptance.
“You might start out thinking you can fix everything for them. But you can’t. Fostering is about giving as much guidance as you can. You give them the best you’ve got. You learn how to support them through difficult times.
“When they go leave, it’s tough, but you hope that whatever you’ve done for them will be worthwhile on their journey ahead.”
Husband Alan, who works full-time as a sales manager, also plays a supportive role.
“It’s been great for our son Elliott too. When we had a gap between placements after our daughter was born, he often asked when we were going to start fostering again. He enjoys that there are older children at home and he’s built a good bond with them.”
Amanda and Alan chose to join not-for-profit agency Community Foster Care because of the support offered.
“The training and support was part of why we decided to look at CFC. It’s also a charity and very child-focused. There is a carer support group and always someone to support you if needed.”
Her message to others who might be thinking of fostering is simple: “If you have a heart and a home, say ‘yes’,” she said.
“Becoming a foster carer has been transformational. There are challenges, but it is worth it.
“When it comes down to it, fostering is about giving children love and letting them know they are part of a family and that they matter. They might not believe you at the time, and you might not be sure you’ve made a difference. But with time, you realise you are both reaping the rewards of the life experiences you’ve shared together.
“These children have so much potential – they just don’t realise it. I am a believer that, regardless of their experience, you can help shape their lives for the better. Fostering is about giving them that belief and seeing them go on with confidence to achieve their goals."