'˜It's something we felt called to'
Being woken up in the middle of the night by a telephone call is something Laurie and Ethel Brokenshire are used to.
At the end of the line is usually a social worker asking them to take in a child – a desperate case where they have had to urgently remove a child from its home.
It could be a baby, just a few days old, or a teenager, confused and defensive.
No matter the age, the couple, from Stubbington, offer each child the very same thing – a warm, kind home where they can feel safe and secure.
The couple, who are grandparents, have been fostering for more than 20 years now and have looked after almost 70 children.
Ethel, now 61, said: ‘We have received phone calls in the night asking us to take in a child.
‘The police have probably been to the house and realised they needed to get the child out of there immediately.
‘All they will have is the clothes on their backs.
‘So it means a trip straight to Asda to get underwear and toiletries. It can happen very quickly.’
The couple say their motivation to help has been their Christian faith.
Laurie and Ethel have fostered those who need respite or emergency care, those who will be adopted, and those facing court cases.
‘We do it because we want to give something back to these children,’ says Laurie, 63.
‘You always see some kind of change in every child, even if they are not huge changes.
‘It is a sacrifice, and your whole life will change as a result of fostering.
‘But it is hugely rewarding, and it is something we feel called to.’
Laurie had served in the Royal Navy, so had never lived in the same place for longer than three years.
But when the family came to Stubbington, he knew he would be based in HM Naval Base in Portsmouth for a significant period.
The couple independently heard a radio advert from Hampshire County Council seeking foster parents and felt it was a sign from God.
‘Fostering had been at the back of our minds for a while, but it hadn’t been practical,’ said Laurie.
‘But we prayed about it, and felt God speaking loud and clear.
‘We were fast-tracked through the process in six months.
‘And we also had to get our own children on board with the idea, as they were 7, 9, 11 and 13 at the time.
‘We’ve cared for 68 children since, and we pray for each of them once a week.
‘In the early days the average age was 13, but more recently it’s been about nine years old.
‘We started by fostering one child at a time, but now we can have three – including sibling groups of three.
‘The longest time someone has been with us is 18 months, but it’s usually shorter.
‘We had three girls together once and two of them improved by eight reading levels in a term.
‘Another girl who was three didn’t know her colours when she arrived, but ended up doing times tables.
‘It’s had a positive effect on our own children too. They were all very secure they knew that us loving other children wouldn’t diminish our love for them.
‘They’ve really benefited from it by appreciating all the positive things in family and life that they have, and have gone on to care for others.
‘Rachel is a primary school teacher, and Phillip hopes to be ordained in the Church of England next year.’
Ethel says lots of the foster children find it difficult to come to terms with the idea that there is no confrontation.
‘They ask us why we don’t shout and swear, or why we don’t hit them.
‘For some of them, the only attention they’d had in the past is when they are naughty and were hit.
‘One lad, who was 14, went out and came back many hours after dinner time. We told him that, as he knew, dinner was gone long ago, but that he could have some toast.
‘He never missed dinner again. It’s those kind of boundaries that they’ve never had before, yet need.’
Laurie uses puzzles to build up communication with the children.
He sets them puzzles aimed at their ability, not their age.
‘We make sure they are the winner. For some children it really is the first time they have done something on their own.
‘The first time they have achieved something.’
Some of those children have been to their church and enjoyed Messy Church, the youth group or the toddler group, each of which Laurie also helps at.
They need to ask whoever has parental authority over the child for permission to take them to church – or the teenager themselves, if they are over 16.
For three months of the year Laurie and Ethel put fostering on hold to go cycling.
They have packed up their tents and cycled across America, Canada, northern Europe and New Zealand over the years.
They also look after their own grandchildren three days a week, so have reduced to emergency and respite only for a while.
But they are keen to see others start – the need is huge.
To see a video of Laurie and Ethel go to portsmouth.co.uk.
Laurie and Ethel Brokenshire are sharing their experiences as part of a campaign to inspire churchgoers from Hampshire to adopt and foster children.
The Church of England’s Diocese of Portsmouth, the Christian charity Home for Good, and Portsmouth City Council are working together to promote the idea among Christian families of all denominations.
The diocese’s campaign to promote adoption and fostering in church families was inspired by a campaign in Southampton, where churches worked together to find 40 new foster families.
It prompted Portsmouth City Council to ask Portsmouth’s Anglican diocese if they could do something similar.
The Bishop of Portsmouth, the Rt Rev Christopher Foster, said: ‘These children who need our help are already living in our parishes, perhaps with temporary foster families, or in the care system.
‘Those of us who have known both the joys and the tensions of childhood can help. ‘Those of us in churches can support our friends who choose to adopt and foster.
‘Of course, Christians aren’t the only ones who can provide loving families, but for many Christians who do adopt and foster, their faith is often the prime motivation. ‘This is an important initiative, which has my full support, and I hope it will inspire more families to come forward.’
The next event is January 26, from 7pm to 9pm, at St Jude’s Church, Kent Road, in Southsea, for anyone interested in finding out more about adoption or fostering.
Go to portsmouth.anglican.org/adoption.