Aberdare parents-of-five Martha and Simon Edwards are enjoying their shared passions of family life and working with young people by becoming Rhondda Cynon Taf Council Foster Carers.

They have welcomed a 13-year-old boy into their family, him alongside their own children, aged 8 to 17, and are enjoying the challenges and rewards of their new roles.

Using the skills secured during their careers working with children and young people, while also drawing on their own experience as parents, the couple are watching with pride and excitement as their foster son develops the personal skills and confidence he needs to find his own path in life.

With their care, support and patience, he is blossoming into a young man with a talent for sports and a wide range of friends and interests.

The couple have shared their story as part of Foster Care Fortnight, a national campaign being supported by the Council to raise awareness of fostering, celebrate the work of carers and encourage others to consider opening their homes to a child or young person.

Both worked with children and young people in their previous careers. Simon was an outdoor pursuits instructor while Martha worked in primary, further and higher education.

When their own children were born, Simon switched careers to work in the oil industry to provide for his family and Spanish-born Martha became a freelance Public Services interpreter and translator, which allowed her to work flexible hours around the needs of her family.

Both missed working with children and, as they had always had an interest in fostering, they decided to take the first step and apply, after seeing a Council advertising banner appealing for new foster carers.

That was over a year ago and the couple have already cared for seven children – including twin toddler girls – through a range of emergency and respite foster care placements.

Then they welcomed their foster son in to their family as a long-term placement and are enjoying the rewards and challenges that come with helping him to grow up and thrive as a young man. He shares in all elements of their family life, which includes lots of time at the sports centre, family film night, holidays, sleepovers, extra-curricular activities and Sunday dinner at the grandparents – Simon’s parents Fred and Maureen love spending time with all the children.

Finding foster homes for older children and teenagers poses a challenge to Rhondda Cynon Taf Council’s Foster Care team, which manages the needs of 628 looked-after children aged 0-18 across the county borough.

Many people are keen to foster babies and toddlers, but there is a shortage of foster homes for older children and teenagers. It is feared this may be because children of this age present additional challenges to foster parents.

Without local families willing to foster local children, the Council has no choice but to use out-of-county foster homes for the children it cares for. This means that, on top of the distress of leaving their birth family, they are also accommodated miles away from the school, friends and community they have always known.

Martha is keen to point out that fostering an older child offers such a wide range of benefits.

She explains: “We have fostered children of all ages and each has presented their own challenges and rewards. We have worked hard as part of a team including social services and the birth family to do what is right for that child.

“ By being flexible, by being keen to adapt and learn and by taking the advice, support and training that is offered to that, we hope we have made a difference and have loved the experience each of our foster children has brought us.

“Older children are a thrill to foster because they are old enough to express themselves, what they want, who they want to be, what they want to get involved with, especially when it is a long-term placement such as ours.

“This allows us, as foster parents to nurture and support those plans and ambitions. It is like not only giving the child wings, but also being able to be there and watch with pride when they make their first flights out there into the world.

“It is a huge privilege to be a in position where you can see someone growing into the young man they want to be, right in front of your eyes, knowing you and your family helped make that happen.”

Cllr Geraint Hopkins, Rhondda Cynon Taf Council’s Cabinet Member for Children’s Social Services and Equalities, said: “I make no secret of the admiration I have for the RCT foster carers who provide safe, secure and caring homes for the children and young people that we – as a community and as a corporate parent – have a duty of care to.

“Foster Carers claim to be just ordinary people – but what they do is extraordinary.

“Looked-after children can’t live with their birth parents though no fault of their own and that in itself presents challenges for them. To then face the possibility of being moved miles and miles away from the only community, school and circle of friends you have ever known does not bear thinking about. But unless we have more local homes to care for local children, that is the reality. For nearly 200 children who are in out-of-county placements, this is already the reality.

“Speak to any of our foster carers and they will tell you what a challenging, but rewarding role it is. They will describe the highs and the lows. They can recall the memories and milestones that made them shine with pride and the situations that will remain lessons in life forever. All of them will say it is the best thing they have ever done.

“Our foster carers come from all walks of life and, between them, provide a community and a welcome that is extended to anyone else who wants to step up and do something extraordinary by becoming a foster carer.”

Rhondda Cynon Taf Council has a friendly, expert Foster Care team that is on hand to answer any questions you may have about foster caring. You can ring or email them for an informal chat on his this extraordinary career choice could be for you.

All Foster Carers have extensive support, training and peer support and there are generous financial allowances and benefits, including free leisure access, on offer.