They have been foster carers for just 18 months - but for Sarah-Jane and Peter Bardsley there’s no going back.
Opening their home and their hearts to children who need help, understanding and a place of safety has transformed their lives.
“It’s partly a job that makes me feel valued. It’s also giving something back,” said Sarah-Jane, from Wiltshire.
She and Peter are registered with Community Foster Care.
Sarah-Jane always wanted a big family.
“When we were trying to have children of our own, we struggled. So we looked at adoption and fostering – in case it couldn’t happen,” she said.
“Then we were lucky enough to have our son Mackenzie who’s now 13, then our daughter Ebony two years later.”
The option of fostering cropped up again when the couple moved house in 2012 and took on a derelict farmhouse as a refurbishment project. At the time Sarah-Jane had a career in childcare.
“I couldn’t do childminding with the building work all around us so for a few years I worked in pre-schools and nurseries. Then we started thinking about fostering again and felt the children were at an age where they could understand,” said Sarah-Jane.
“They’d been used to having a house full of children because of my childminding days and they’d met cared-for children at school – they were fine about it.”
The couple completed Community Foster Care’s training programme and were approved in November 2016. Their first child – a nine-year-old boy – arrived three months later.
“He came as an emergency placement for the weekend and stayed for five months,” said Sarah-Jane.
Now they have a baby gurgling happily on a playmat on the living room floor. She will stay until she is six months old before going to her new adoptive parents.
“We were asked if we could take a new-born baby who was due in a few weeks’ time. We said ‘yes’. Then a few minutes later, we got an email to say the baby had been born prematurely. We met her when she was one week old and, after visiting her daily, we brought her home at three weeks,” said Sarah-Jane.
“She’s absolutely no trouble – apart from waking up in the night but all babies do that.
“Ebony and Mackenzie are really good with her – they help with baths and Mackenzie likes to prop her up and dance around her to keep her entertained.
“Giving her up will be difficult, but we have always known she isn’t ours.
“People do ask why we don’t adopt her ourselves. I really dislike that question. I would love to adopt her and lots of other children that I’ve looked after but that’s not my role.
“We wanted to foster to help children and families in whatever way we could. If a long-term foster child comes along, great. But, for a baby the best thing is for them to be adopted and that takes time, so they need families like ours who can provide love, warmth and stability, strong bonds and attachments.
“We’re just doing our best to make sure she has the best start in life in preparation for her new forever home.”
Both Peter and Sarah-Jane are keen to be open about fostering which, because of the need for confidentiality, is often talked about in whispers.
“It’s very rewarding – knowing that you can make a difference by giving children a good start in life and offering them a different viewpoint,” said Peter, who works in IT.
“I can go somewhere in my work capacity and they see me as a corporate representative. The minute I mention that we are foster carers, it breaks down barriers and relationships can change in an instant.
“Fostering touches so many people’s lives in many ways. It’s amazing how much support you get when you talk about it. People are very kind and generous. So I think we should be more open – foster carers don’t wear a badge, do they?”
They count themselves lucky that they have lots of family support.
“When a family fosters the whole family fosters,” said Sarah. “The children we take into our homes attend family events and when relatives come to visit they are treated as our own.”
Sarah-Jane’s mum gets a special mention. “She is very hands-on with practical support, particularly when Pete is working away. She comes over and helps keep the children occupied and they all love her - she brings a different dimension to the household!”
They are also pleased with the support they get from Community Foster Care, an independent, not-for-profit agency with a base in Wootton Bassett.
“Our social worker comes to see us every three weeks and is always at the end of the phone if we need help and advice,” said Sarah-Jane.