‘If I hadn’t come here I would probably be in prison or dead’

NEW LIFE Perry Delera and, pictured inset, with his foster carer Carol Carter
NEW LIFE Perry Delera and, pictured inset, with his foster carer Carol Carter
Dr John Steadman, archivist of Portsmouth History Centre based at Portsmouth Central Library     Picture:  Malcolm Wells

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Carol Carter and Perry Delera sit on the sofa, teasing, bickering and joking like any mother and teenage son.

Perry admits to being a bit lazy, but he and Carol have reached an agreement about him doing chores before he goes out with his friends.

NEW LIFE Perry Delera with his foster carer Carol Carter

NEW LIFE Perry Delera with his foster carer Carol Carter

And the 17-year-old budding actor says he’s quite pleased that Carol isn’t ‘too embarrassing’ when she watches him in shows. Although she admits to shedding a few tears when Perry took the lead role in a school production of Blood Brothers.

As they sit side by side, they look at each other with obvious affection and laugh at one another’s habits and foibles.

But Perry has only been living at Carol’s Bedhampton home since the age of eight, when he was placed there by the fostering service.

And life hasn’t always been so harmonious. When Perry came to Carol he had lived in several different foster homes and had been removed from almost as many schools.

By his own admission he was an angry little boy who was in turmoil most of the time.

‘I was very upset all the time. The littlest thing and I would blow up and get it all out of proportion. I was tense and frustrated. If I wasn’t angry I was upset.’

And he admits that his arrival couldn’t have been easy for Carol.

‘I don’t think there is a word to describe what I was like, I was horrible. How somebody manages to look after someone like that and be patient, I don’t know.’

But Carol, 55, disputes some of Perry’s confessions.

‘It was like a tornado coming in, yes,’ she laughs.

‘He lashed out, he never slept, I was exhausted. But he was lovable at the same time. He had a lot of warmth and a great sense of humour.’

Perry had been moved from his family home because of problems with a boyfriend of his mother’s, although he remembers very little about that time.

A variety of schools and households had left him unsettled. He had lived with Carol for a year when he was about three or four before returning home for a while. But he was still feeling negative when he eventually returned to her house.

‘I just thought that I might as well stay like I was, that I was going to be moved on anyway. I just gave up I think. I’d never had a solid school, I would verbally abuse the teachers and throw things. I just didn’t want to change,’ he says.

But life with Carol and her family, and his own determination, turned things around for Perry.

He was just 10 when Carol was diagnosed with breast cancer and later kidney cancer. The news obviously shook their world, but Carol – who also has three grown-up daughters – was determined Perry would stay with the family no matter what.

‘At times we were prepared for the worst and there was some discussion about taking him away. But I didn’t want that, no matter what happened,’ says Carol.

‘He’s just like my own child, that’s how I feel. I knew it would be awful for him to stay, but if he went to a home and I had died, he would have been left with the feeling that I didn’t care. At least if he stayed he would know that I’d cared about him.’

Thankfully Carol pulled through. And helping out and being a part of things resulted in some changes in Perry, although she says the stress set him back too.

‘It didn’t happen overnight, but he started being more helpful and co-operative,’ she says.

It was a few years later though that he really turned things around and started doing better at school.

‘I was in a school for people with behavioural problems, I’d been kicked out of every mainstream school,’ says Perry. ‘I just thought about stuff and realised I didn’t want to be like that, I didn’t want to be angry and horrible.’

He says Carol put in a lot of hard work to get him into a mainstream school. And then things really took off. Perry is now a friendly, chatty teenager with good GCSE grades and plenty of ambition. He enjoys rollerblading and spending time with his friends and girlfriend Emma.

A natural performer, he is about to audition for a performing arts course at South Downs College and hopes to go on to drama college and university.

He says having a good foster home has been crucial in his life.

‘I think coming here has changed me completely. This is my home and family. If I hadn’t come here I would probably be in prison or dead.

‘I’m a lot more happy, a lot more chatty and fun and less aggressive. I have an angry side but I’ve learned how to control it.

‘I think having a home and knowing someone cares is the most important thing, especially if the person looking after you has respect, care and patience and lets you grow.’

Local authorities and other fostering providers are always looking for new carers, so that the best care options are available for a wide variety of children and young people.

These can include long, short-term and emergency placements, short breaks for children with disabilities and supportive lodgings for young people.

The more people fostering, the more likely there is to be a good match. The ultimate aim is to get children back to their families, but if that isn’t possible long-term care is an ideal.

Carol has fostered more than 200 youngsters over a period of more than 20 years and says: ‘I was a tearaway when I was a kid. And I realised that if I hadn’t had my parents, things would have ended up a lot worse. So when most children come in, they can’t really shock me.’

Not all the youngsters have behavioural problems, and some may have been moved temporarily simply because parents are ill.

At the same time, there aren’t always fairytale endings. One lad went to Carol having committed 150 offences and she started seeing improvements.

‘He said he just wanted to be a normal boy but when he was given what he wanted he found it hard to cope with. He’s grown up now, but I think he still gets into trouble. But we’re in touch and he knows he has someone to talk to.’

Perry has been Carol’s longest placement and he is considered one of the family.

‘We’ve been through a lot together after all,’ says Carol.

As he chatters on about his new-found interest – the wonders of the universe – inspired by telly physicist Professor Brian Cox’s series, Carol rolls her eyes.

‘What, it’s interesting,’ says Perry, explaining how to find the Andromeda galaxy with the naked eye. Carol listens, looking proud, and they continue laughing and joking together.

Like any family they have their ups and downs, they say, but Perry doesn’t forget what he’s been given.

‘Without this home, I wouldn’t be anywhere, I’d have nothing,’ he says.