‘We just want to help a child in need’

Damon Barrow with his wife Lisa and their daughter Verity who are becoming foster carers.  Picture: Ian Hargreaves  (121873-4)
Damon Barrow with his wife Lisa and their daughter Verity who are becoming foster carers. Picture: Ian Hargreaves (121873-4)
Dr John Steadman, archivist of Portsmouth History Centre based at Portsmouth Central Library     Picture:  Malcolm Wells

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Lisa and Damon Barrow always planned to extend their family at some point.

The couple were keen for daughter Verity to know what it was like to grow up with other children in the house.

But they believed adoption would be the only route open to them after mistakenly thinking fostering was a short-term option.

Once they found out it was possible to become long-term foster carers they were keen to press ahead.

And 11-year-old Verity was one of the driving forces behind the decision, urging them to go for it.

‘There was never any issue that we couldn’t have any more children ourselves, it’s just the age gap was getting bigger and bigger and we were enjoying our lifestyle,’ says Lisa.

‘Verity was the one who was saying “Are we going to do it?” and “When are we going to do it?”

‘It was a big family decision.’

With a national shortage of foster carers – and as many as 10,000 more required to provide homes for children in need – that decision couldn’t have come at a better time.

The family, from Havant, are going through the long acceptance process at the moment and hope to have a child placed with them later this year.

While Lisa will continue to be the working parent, Damon will carry on the role of stay-at-home dad, just as he did with Verity.

And the couple are both keen to make others aware that foster families can come in all shapes and sizes, with men and women taking on the main carer role.

‘It’s not a big deal for me to stay at home,’ explains Damon, 43. ‘I did all the parent and toddler things with Verity. It was a bit strange being the only bloke at that sort of thing but it soon changed and I was accepted.

‘I’m not worried about doing that all again. There’s a few children who will benefit from having a male carer, that role model in their life.

‘I think there is a stigma attached to a male being the carer but I think more men should do it.

‘A lot of people still think that a woman’s place is at home but it’s changed in the past 15 or 20 years. I’m happy to do it and happy to promote it.’

While local authorities run their own fostering services, there are many private organisations also responsible for placing children in temporary or long-term care. That’s what the Barrows did, choosing to become foster carers for Cabrini.

While they’d been talking about welcoming another child into their family for a few years, it wasn’t until they had a chance meeting with a Cabrini representative last summer that they decided to find out more about the process.

‘We’d been thinking about it for a long time but we were living with my father-in-law at the time so to think about fostering then wouldn’t have been a great idea,’ says 41-year-old Lisa.

‘It was almost a year ago that my father-in-law passed away and we’ve moved house. We were in the right place and the right frame of mind so we decided to contact Cabrini.’

She adds: ‘I’ve been a nanny for over 20 years and I’ve looked after a lot of children and also helped children with special needs.

‘We had a chat and took some information home. It was really about three or four months after that when we said “Right, we’ve decided. Let’s put the form in to say that we are very interested”.

‘It’s all gone from there really and we are going through the process now. It does take a long time, we wish it was tomorrow. We just want to help some unfortunate child who is not having a great time in their life at the moment.’

By choosing to become long-term foster carers, the Barrows can expect a child as old as six or seven to be placed with them. While the child who will eventually live with Damon, Lisa and Verity will maintain contact with their own family, the Barrows’ home will become their permanent address.

For Lisa and Damon, the option to offer long-term care turned fostering into an attractive alternative to adoption.

‘We’d never thought about fostering,’ admits Lisa. ‘To me it was just short-term. We never really knew about the long-term fostering option. I just had it in my mind that we’d have children coming in and we wouldn’t know how long for. We didn’t want that really. I get attached and with Verity it wouldn’t be fair.

‘That’s when Cabrini explained long-term fostering. It’s not adoption but you’ve still got that long process. We know that we will have someone on the end of the phone if we need advice. We’ll have meetings and we get to meet other foster carers. We feel that we’ll not be on our own. We’re very excited.’

Damon, a self-employed landscape gardener, agrees. ‘When we decided to do it so many people said “You don’t want to do that, you get so many trouble children coming in and they only come in for two or three days”,’ he adds.

‘I think the perception of fostering is wrong on most aspects. What we thought about fostering was totally different. We didn’t know as much as we thought about it until we started getting into it.’

After months of background checks, meetings and support sessions, the Barrows can expect to go in front of an interview panel soon. Their application to become foster carers won’t be accepted until then – and they’re all eager to get the seal of approval that they need.

‘We’ve still got a lot to do,’ reflects Lisa. ‘We were hoping that we’d have someone by Christmas, realistically we’re not rushing into it.

‘We knew from the moment we put in our application form that it would be up to eight months.

‘It’s a bit like a pregnancy where you have to wait to meet that little person.’

Despite the months they’ve had to wait, both Damon and Lisa are pleased they decided to find out more. And with the current need for foster carers so high, it’s a role they believe many more families with a spare room could take on.

Lisa says: ‘There are a lot of options and lots of people trying to get more foster carers on to their books. If you’re thinking about it, if it’s in your head, take that next step and go and find out about it. You see all these children who do need carers and it’s very sad. The more you read about it the more you’ll want to do it.’

Damon adds: ‘I think more people should do it, as long as you can spare the time and the love. We know it’s going to be hard and tricky to start with. But we’ve got to help them, they’ve already had so much trouble in their lives.’

FOSTERING TEAM

Portsmouth City Council’s fostering team will hold an information evening for those who want to find out more about becoming a foster carer on Wednesday July 11 at 7pm.

The event will take place at the Spinnaker Tower and there will be a chance to hear speakers talk about the different types of foster care and the assessment process. There will also be an opportunity to ask any questions and chat informally to foster carers and staff from the fostering team.

To find out more about becoming a foster carer for the city council log on to fosterportsmouth.co.uk or call (023) 9237 4879

More information about fostering in Hampshire can be found at hants.gov.uk or cabrini.org.uk