Patricia and Graham Kelly-Blyth have dedicated their lives to bringing up other people’s children.
The married couple took up fostering 18 years ago and have so far cared for around 50 children in that time.
But more people like Patricia and Graham are needed with the number of foster carers lacking throughout Portsmouth, Fareham, Gosport and Havant.
Pleas have been made by both Hampshire County Council and Portsmouth City Council for more people to sign up or enquire about what it takes to become a foster carer.
Patricia and Graham work with the county council by volunteering at roadshows or events across Hampshire to encourage others to follow in their footsteps.
Patricia, 57, says: ‘As well as being a foster carer, I also volunteer to tell others about what it’s like being one.
‘I go along to roadshows run by different organisations from the council and tell people who might be interested about my experiences and how fulfilling it is to be a foster carer.’
Patricia and Graham decided to become foster carers when they were told they couldn’t have their own children.
She adds: ‘My husband and I couldn’t have any children but we had always wanted them in our lives.
‘Immediately we thought of adoption but the option for fostering came up and it seemed the right route to take.
‘I am really happy that we took that route because we have helped so many children.
‘In the last 18 years, we have looked after around 50 children.
‘It is amazing when you look back and realise we have looked after and helped that many children.
‘Quite a lot of them we don’t keep in touch with once they have gone because that’s how it is sometimes with fostering.
‘But a young lad who spent 12 years with us comes and visits occasionally which is nice.
‘They always know our door is open for a little visit and a coffee.’
The youngsters the pair have looked after have ranged from six years old to 17 years old and many stayed with them for a few years.
One child joined them when he was aged six and lived with them for 12 years.
And the couple prefer the long-term stays and have opted for this in recent years over the short-term stays or respite care which can see children moved on within weeks.
Patricia says: ‘When you go through the process you can say what you want to do and what suits the needs of your family.
‘We just wanted to do whatever was needed of us.
‘First of all, we looked after children short-term but most of the time as it happened, the children we looked after were for the long-term.’
Currently, Patricia and Graham are caring for three teenage boys.
They have a 15-year-old who has been with them for four years, a 16-year-old who has lived with them for three years and a 17-year-old who has been with them for seven years.
During their stay at the couple’s home, in Gosport Road, Fareham, the teenagers are encouraged to make their own choices when it comes to what they eat, how they dress and what sort of activities they do.
They are also encouraged to do what they like with their weekly pocket money – whether they spend it or save it.
Patricia says: ‘We like to encourage the lads to make their own choices and to be independent.
‘But the main thing, as foster carers, is that we have the time to listen to the children when they are feeling sad and to not make any judgements.’
Graham and Patricia work closely with the schools the boys attend to ensure all aspects of their lives are running smoothly.
‘Quite often with children coming into care, through no fault of their own, they have missed out on school,’ adds Patricia.
‘So for us, it is important that we work with their schools so they can get the best possible education.
‘We have a rewards system in place to help with their school work and that works for us.’
But it isn’t all work for the boys who enjoy spending time swimming and going to the beach.
They even cook Sunday lunch for the family which gets them working together as a team,and gaining vital life skills.
Patricia says they get to shop for the food, work out the recipes and cook it.
‘It is great to see them all working together and at the end produce a dinner they can be proud of,’ she says.
But they also go on day trips to other parts of the country and abroad as well as visiting cafes and restaurants a little nearer to home.
Patricia adds it helps the younger children with their social skills to go for lunch or dinner and to visit different places.
But Patricia and Graham also enjoy their trips out and say they continue to foster in the future.
Patricia adds: ‘Graham and I really enjoy what we do.
‘We enjoy helping the children that come to us through fostering and it doesn’t take much to make a child feel valued and special.
‘We have had so many children who come to the door and their eyes are dead.
‘Watching them slowly grow and learning to trust adults is so fulfilling.
‘They start talking and smiling and laughing. It is just wonderful to see.
‘That is what’s so great about being a foster carer.
‘And that’s what I tell people on the roadshows I attend.
‘I tell them how fulfilling it is and we tend to get a good response.
‘I travel to different events all over the county and work with the recruitment team at the county council who can provide all the information while I talk about personal experiences.
‘We have had a few people sign up off the back of them but many more are always needed.
‘Graham and I have been able to help so many children but more need help.’
Two events are being held by the two councils to give people interested in becoming foster carers more information.
On August 21, at Fareham Shopping Centre, off West Street, representatives from Hampshire County Council will be giving out information and advice about fostering.
Local foster carers will also be on hand to share their experiences.
It will be running from 4pm until 7pm.
The second event is being held by Portsmouth City Council at the Spinnaker Tower.
Between 7pm and 9pm, on September 17, representatives will be at the tower to offer information. There will be complimentary refreshments.
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