Rhys and Mandy have been fostering with their local authority Maethu Cymru Gwynedd for over 20 years, along with their four children David, Laura, Abi and Sam.
They share their personal fostering journey from how it began as a “happy accident” to fostering with four children of their own (two sets of twins!) and how 20 years later they still enjoy having a houseful of babies!
“When our eldest twins were 8 years old, we really wanted more children, but it wasn’t happening for us at the time,” says Mandy, a former solicitor, who is now 64. “So we decided to look into adoption and even went on to be approved to adopt.
Adopt or Foster?
Around 285 children are adopted in Wales each year, compared to 1857 children needing foster care. The children who need adopting, are often in foster care first, before a decision is made that adoption is the best option for them. With this in mind, the couple became very interested in fostering, as Mandy explains.
“Fostering wasn’t on our radar, simply because we didn’t know much about it. But we came to realise that there was a real need for foster carers in the area.
With fostering, we felt that we could make a difference to the lives of many children, whereas if we had gone on to adopt, like we had planned, we would probably had only adopted one or two children, at the most.
And as children have always been my passion, fostering felt like the right choice for us.
I like to call it our ‘happy accident’!”
Balancing fostering with own children
Rhys and Mandy began fostering when their eldest twins, David and Laura, were 12 years old. Two years later, Mandy discovered that she was pregnant – with twins again, but that didn’t stop them! “We were fostering siblings at the time but giving up fostering didn’t even cross my mind, even though we had twins on the way!” says Mandy.
“Unfortunately, I had a difficult pregnancy. I was in and out of hospital throughout my pregnancy and was advised by my GP to take a break from fostering.
I looked at is as just taking a short ‘maternity’ break whilst I got through the pregnancy and had the twins, who came early at 32 weeks old. If I hadn’t been so ill during pregnancy, we probably wouldn’t have stopped fostering at all.”
Rhys and Mandy began fostering again when their youngest twins, Abi and Sam, were just 12 months old, with their eldest twins 15 years old by then. With two young babies and two teenagers in the house, how did Rhys and Mandy balance fostering with raising their own children?
“Our youngest twins have never known any different,” says Rhys, a retired vicar and professional diver, who is now 75. “It’s what they’ve always known. They’ve always had to share Mum and Dad with other children. Of course, we’ve had to make some very subtle adjustments and sacrifices to the way we have brought up our own children since we have been fostering, especially with our youngest two, but that by no means is a negative thing.
Being part of a fostering environment has done our own children a world of good!”
Fostering and family
With teamwork at the heart of fostering, all family members play an important role within the household, from helping foster children to settle and feel part of the family to offering emotional and practical support.
“People often think I’m the main foster carer,” says Mandy. “But Rhys is absolutely brilliant with all of the children and can turn his hand to everything – he’ll happily get stuck in with the cooking, cleaning, nappy changing and night feeds!
Our own four children have always been hands on and helpful, and continue to support us today, even though they have left home.”
“My mum also lived with us until she was 98. It was lovely to have another generation around and for our foster children to have a foster grandma! She absolutely loved every single one of them.”
If our family weren’t on board with fostering, we couldn’t do it.”
“We’ve made it work, as a family” – Mandy & Rhys
Since Rhys and Mandy began fostering, they’ve helped many children move on to adoption and others back to their birth families. They’ve worked closely with their local authority team on securing a ‘long term’ plan for the children in their care, ensuring the best possible futures for each and every one.
“Knowing that these children have secure futures, whatever that will be, and that we’ve been a part of that, is what it’s all about for us,” says Rhys. “It’s hugely rewarding.”
Mandy added: “We’ve supported all sorts of families when children move from our care into adoption from single parents to same sex couples – and they’ve all been absolutely brilliant parents. It has been so nice to be a part of that.
As we struggled to have our own children, we feel that we can can relate with adopters. We know what it’s like to be desperate for a child – even though we went on to have dozens of them!”
Forming lasting relationships
Rhys and Mandy have always worked hard on building positive and many lasting relationships with birth families and adopters during the moving on period, and beyond. Good relationships help to build trust and help children create a sense of security when the people who are important to them are comfortable and get on well with each other. It is also an important part of closure for Rhys and Mandy when the children move on.
“We need to feel happy with where our foster children are going when they leave us, and know a bit about the life they are going to have,” Mandy explains. “We don’t just want to visualise their futures, we want to see it, and quite often, we are welcomed to be a part of it.
Some families are more keen than others to keep in contact. Some need it more than others. We always leave it to them to decide on the level of contact they want and need from us.
It’s always on their terms, at their pace and what they are comfortable with.”
Short term, big impact
Over the years, Rhys and Mandy have fostered children of all ages, on a short term and long term basis. The’ve helped many babies and children to thrive, flourish and reach their full potential by providing a loving, safe home when they needed it most.
They now focus on short term fostering, caring mainly for babies until they can return to their birth families or move on to be adopted.
But a short stay does not mean a small impact. Short-term fostering can be life-changing for children and that bridge to a secure, happy future.
“As older children are more suited to long-term fostering and can remain with a family for several years, we now feel at our age that short-term fostering suits us, and the children, best,” says Mandy.
“There is a long term, permanent plan for babies and that sits more comfortably with us knowing that they go on to have the best possible futures.
Of course, we always miss them when they leave, but it’s not about us.
We also enjoy babies and feel that we are actually quite good at it – after all, we’ve had plenty of experience with babies over the years!”
Could you make a difference to a local child in need?
There are currently more than 7,000 children in the care system in Wales, but only 3,800 foster families.
You could join Mandy and Rhys in making the world of difference to the lives of local children and young people in care by providing a safe and nurturing home.
If you live in Gwynedd, contact Maethu Cymru Gwynedd and a member of our dedicated team will be in touch for a friendly, no obligation conversation to help you decide if fostering is right for you.
If you live anywhere else in Wales, visit Foster Wales for more information and to find your local authority fostering team.