Sam Bowen

As her TEAM GB colleagues go for gold at the Rio 2016 Paralympics, Mountain Ash foster carer Sam Bowen is already champion of the world – to the six year old girl she cares for.

Many children in care look to their Fostering RCT carers as role models and Lily* is no different. She lives with a real-life war heroine who defied death and went on to become a world champion.

Lily inspires Sam and vice versa, but the real reason Lily looks up to Sam is because of the unwavering care, compassion and support she provides, and the challenges they overcome together.

So important are Lily’s needs to Sam that she gave up her spot on Team GB to care for her.

Sam, who delivered an outstanding performance in sitting volleyball in London 2012, had already secured her Rio 2016 Paralympics place when she was approved as a foster carer and Lily, then four, arrived with her in July 2014.

At first Sam continued with her sport and used to take Lily training with her – she would practice while the little girl raced around the track on her scooter.

But the time Sam spent away from home training proved too much for Lily, who faces many challenges, fears and anxieties as a result of the circumstances that led to her being taken into care.

Sam decided Lily comes first and, whatever happens in Rio this summer, she says she has already secured a winner with Lily.

She is someone who has overcome her own challenges and uses her life experience to support and help Lily. Since arriving at Sam’s, Lily has changed from being known as “the foster kid” to the bright, popular, funny, energetic Lily.

Sam is a former soldier who faced the Taliban in Afghanistan. Her army career was ended in a mortar attack which nearly killed her and left her leg severely damaged. She battled back from the brink and recovered from the psychological trauma of war and went on to represent her country in sport.

A former Welsh boxing champion before she joined the Army, Sam used sport as a therapy and rehabilitation and competed in London 2012 with Team GB and many world championships.

While Sam is now happily settled with her partner, Lily and their pet dog, her challenges are not over and she is preparing to have her leg, which has caused her pain for years, to be amputated.

She says this is a challenge Lily will help her to overcome.

Sam explained: “All of my life I have been surrounded by children, whether it was my cousins or friends. I was the one who took the younger kids to the park or entertained them at family parties.

“I always said I wanted to be a foster carer when I was older and my mum said, “Why wait?”.

“I really thought the fact I was in my twenties, single and with no children of my own would go against me when, actually, it has made me the foster carer I am.

“I have been through a lot and experienced things people twice my age never will. The challenges I have faced help me to relate to Lily and understand why she can react the way she does.

“Because of what I have overcome I am tough and that, along with the support of my social worker, has helped me keep pushing on through with Lily.

“Lily had a number of foster homes before she came to me and they didn’t work out. That wasn’t her fault or that of the carers, it just didn’t fit. Every child in care is different. They each have their own experiences and needs and it is about working to find the carer they fit with the best. We need more carers from all walks of life, so we can make that match.600335 10151086047098793 1292382346 n

“Lily is a challenging child but we work together and she has come such a long way since the day she arrived. I am so proud of how hard she tries and I refuse to allow what happened to her to define who she is now.

“When Lily arrived, she had been known as “the foster kid”, but now she is Lily and she has friends, she sings and dances and plays football.

“We have good days, bad days and amazing days. Lily needs care, stability and someone to help her grow. She relies on me and makes me promise each morning at the school gates that I will be there to pick her up in the afternoon.

“Caring for Lily has definitely been a team effort. The patience and understanding she has been shown by her classmates and their parents, her teachers, counsellors and my friends makes a massive difference.

“Every Fostering RCT carer has a dedicated social worker and mine, Allyson, has been incredible. She is there when I need her to offer advice, support, a shoulder to cry on and little tips.

“We had a big issue with Lily’s eating, because she was not used to having regular meals and used food consumption as control. So Allyson came up with a menu, giving Lily a choice of food. Lily still has control, but in a positive way. I could not do it without Allyson and the Fostering Support Team.

“Nothing that has happened to Lily is her fault. The challenges she presents are her reaction to her past. I have a chance to make a difference and change the course of her life, to break the cycle and help her develop into the person she wants to be.”

Allyson added: “What Sam has achieved with Lily makes me so proud. She is an amazing woman who has really been through it in the last two years but her commitment to Lily is solid.

“Our foster carers give so much of themselves to the children, so it is important, as a support social worker, that I commit myself to them and give them as much of me as I can.

“We have worked as a team to help Lily, I have done my part and Sam has been willing to learn and ask for help or advice when she needs to.”

Cllr Geraint Hopkins, Rhondda Cynon Taf Council’s Fostering Champion, said: “When a child in Rhondda Cynon Taf is taken into care, they become the responsibility of the council and we try to place them with our Fostering RCT carers first.

“Sam is one of those people who stepped up to help raise and care for a child who was vulnerable. She has proven it takes all kind of people to make Fostering RCT a success. There is no set criteria or personal specification. People of all ages and from all walks of life can be amazing carers.

“Right now, there are 600 children aged 0-17 in care. Each has their own personality and ambitions, each has their own history and needs.

“They did not choose to be taken into care and they are relying on people to provide them with the care and upbringing they need to be whatever they want to be in life.

“We need more carers so we can continue to provide the families children like Lily need. You don’t have to be perfect, you just have to be perfect for them.”

If you are considering fostering, Fostering RCT has a FREE information pack which contains all the information you need.

All Fostering RCT carers have a dedicated support social worker and are paid fees and allowances that reflect the role. There is also professional training and development and the support of other foster carers.

Fostering RCT is a Stonewall UK Top 100 LGBT employer and welcomes carers from all walks of life. You don’t need to be married, you don’t have to have your own children and you don’t need professional qualifications. If you have a spare room, commitment and a sense of humour, you are halfway there.

Get your information pack now

You can also follow the Foster Care RCT facebook page for the latest news and updates from foster carers like Sam and her colleagues.