FOR Margaret Watson, the most rewarding part of being a foster parent is when one of the children she looks after tells her: “I love you, I love you more and more.”
Watson and her husband James are full-time foster parents who have been helping to bring up children for more than 20 years, after spotting a newspaper appeal for people to come forward.
“We had two children of our own and I always wanted a big family. My own two children are grown up but I treated all the children the same. I still don’t like saying ‘the foster children,’ ” she said.
Today, Scotland on Sunday launches its Christmas Appeal on behalf of Barnardo’s Scotland, which runs a fostering and adoption service to give thousands of children the chance of a better future.
As well as finding homes both permanent and temporary for children, the charity also works to ensure that no child is left unsupported as they encounter problems and milestones in their lives. This includes helping teenagers into the workplace, encouraging young parents to learn how to balance a budget and running an advocacy service so that children are aware of their rights and have their views heard.
Each year Barnardo’s Scotland has to raise £3 million to continue its work. All donations, large or small, make a huge difference to giving children the life they deserve.
With Christmas approaching, this month the charity’s Adoption Placement Service will see, for the first time in a number of years, a young child adopted. The halt in adoptions was in place while the charity worked in line with previous social work polices that aimed to keep children with their birth parents.
However, Stephanie Stone, the charity’s assistant director of fostering and adoption, said such polices were not always in the best interests of the child.
“Now, with hindsight, it is clear that some children grew up in the care system when they should have been adopted. There’s now the recognition that if parents are given every opportunity to turn their lives round and don’t take it, the child comes first,” Stone said.
In addition to looking for more people to come forward to adopt, Barnardo’s Scotland also wants to recruit a wide range of foster carers.
The charity says the most sought-after quality in those wanting to make a child part of their family is that they “enjoy the company of children”.
Recent cases of people being turned down by adoption and fostering agencies for a range of reasons, some seemingly illogical, can act as a deterrent to others.
Last month there was a public outcry when a couple from Rotherham had three foster children removed from their care because of their membership of the UK Independence Party.
Stone said that, while a wide range of checks are carried out, Barnardo’s Scotland did not automatically exclude people on grounds such as age, religion, marital status, sexual orientation, disability, employment status or cultural background.
By law there is a minimum age requirement of 21 for permanent carers or adopters, and certain offences exclude people from adopting.
Since the adoption service was set up in November last year, three families in Stirling, Ayrshire and North Lanarkshire have been approved to give a child a home.
A further seven families – living in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Stirling, Highland, Ayrshire, Lanarkshire and Perthshire – are currently going through the required assessment process.
Watson, from Falkirk, said she sees her goal as “getting the children to independence” and able to make their own way in the world.
Many of the children the Watsons have looked after, one youngster for more than ten years, keep in touch and regard their home as a place of happiness in their childhoods with some, now young adults, returning for Christmas.
The couple are also experienced in “shared care” – where a young person can go home to their parents at weekends or for holidays if circumstances allow.
Barnardo’s Scotland have mandatory training for foster carers and also have link workers to provide support.
Watson’s advice to potential foster carers is to ask Barnardo’s Scotland lots of questions and meet up with experienced foster carers.
She said: “As long as they can remember what they were like when they were young they will do OK.”
Barnardo’s Scotland director Martin Crewe said: “This appeal is a great way for us to showcase the breadth of work we undertake across the country.
“At Barnardo’s Scotland we believe in children – I hope Scotland on Sunday readers will show that they do too. Barnardo’s Scotland transforms the lives of the most vulnerable children and young people and enables them to fulfil their potential. Christmas is stressful for many families so the support of Scotland on Sunday readers is especially important at this time.”