Michael Ralph was 45 when he decided to become a foster carer with Community Foster Care. It was, he says, one of the best decisions he ever made.
The former chef grew up in Lancashire as part of a big family – he was the youngest of nine children, with 15 years between Michael and his oldest sister.
Having left school at 16, he carved a career in the catering business, working in hotels, pubs and restaurants in and around Blackpool.
“I’d been in catering for more than 20 years and decided I’d had enough. I’d been married and divorced by then and wanted a new direction. I thought about internet sales and that kind of thing. Then I saw something about fostering on TV and that was it.
“It would give me an opportunity to put something back into the community and to work with kids.
“Friends said I must be mad. But they were wrong. I’ve always loved children and would have loved to have more of my own – maybe because I come from such a big family. We’d also talked about fostering when I was married so it wasn’t a totally new idea.
“My neighbours in Preesall were foster carers so I went to see them about how to get started. They put me in touch with Community Foster Care and I’ve never looked back. It’s wonderful.
“The agency came to see me and four months later I was approved. A week after that I got a phone call to say they had a possible placement.
“The supervising social worker took me to meet an 11-year-old boy who ended up staying with me for three months.
“That first placement set me in good stead. It helped me to understand the way cared-for children are and the reasons they are like they are.
“In the following years I learned what these children have to cope with at such an early stage in life. In my upbringing I was loved, we had a happy home that was always warm and cosy. I didn’t realise how lucky I was.
“The love and nurturing that happened to me is the main thing that cared-for children miss out on. It makes them feel neglected, unloved and unwanted. There hasn’t been anyone there for them.
“My job as a foster carer is to give children a stable, loving life, to be a role model – someone who will take care of them and be there for them, whatever happens. Everything else is immaterial.
“It’s incredibly rewarding to see children change as they become settled, when they start to make friends and feel happy in themselves. I love it.”
Michael’s daughters visit several times a week and back their dad in his new role.
“When I was being assessed by CFC, they were asked how they felt about their dad fostering and they’ve always been very supportive. The cared-for children have three big sisters to look up to and they get on really well.”
He has no regrets about choosing Community Foster Care. “I’m so glad I spoke to my neighbours and found CFC. I couldn’t have had a better agency. The staff have given me all the support I need – they’re fantastic. It’s also a non-profit organisation so everything goes back to the children.”
Michael’s advice to anyone considering fostering is clear: “Just go for it. It’s wonderful.”