Foster carer shares experience as ‘golden hello’ scheme is extended

Tony Collins.

A foster carer who dedicates his time looking after North Yorkshire’s vulnerable children and young people has shared his “enriching” experience to encourage others to come forward as a scheme to find new recruits has been extended.

Tony Collins OBE and his wife, Julia, who live in Harrogate, started fostering with North Yorkshire Council four years ago and to date have fostered eight children.

Mr Collins, who is also chief executive officer of Saint Michael’s Hospice in Harrogate, Herriot Hospice Homecare, as well as chief executive of specialist bereavement and emotional wellbeing service Just ‘B’, was awarded an OBE in the King’s New Year’s Honours list for services to the community.

He said he wanted to give the young people something his children had and “just wanted to make a difference” through fostering.

Meanwhile, a scheme offering new foster carers in North Yorkshire a £500 “golden hello” payment when they are approved to help to provide a fresh start for young people has been extended after being launched last year.

Until December this year, North Yorkshire Council’s not-for-profit fostering service, Fostering North Yorkshire, is giving £500 to every newly approved foster carer.

“Fostering is something we wanted to do and had been thinking about for a while,” father-of-four Mr Collins said. “My wife had recently retired and we had previously gone through the adoption process for one of our daughters so we wanted to provide a nurturing family environment for children who may have experienced neglect and trauma.

“The fostering process was thorough but very straightforward and we soon discovered that there were different types of fostering with respite, emergency respite, short term, long term and permanent. A number of the children were fostered were emergency respite.

“The impact a foster carer can have on a young person cannot be underestimated, providing a safe and loving home for a child who is going through a really difficult time can have a profound effect on a young person for the rest of their lives.”

Fostering is, of course, not without its challenges, but Mr Collins describes as a “life-changing experience.”

He said: “With fostering there are many challenges, however there are many highlights too and the rewards the fostered children give are everything you could wish for. Many of these children and young people present low confidence and quite a trauma-based background and it is about supporting them.

“Our long-term placement children have become part of our wider family. We have four daughters and six grandchildren and they’ve been very much part of the family coming on holidays with us. It’s been a very enriching and rewarding experience in that sense.”

Mr Collins added: “For anyone considering fostering, I would say think realistically, gather lots of information and do talk to people who are currently fostering.

“Fostering is rewarding, it really is an opportunity for you to make a significant difference in a young person’s life. There is no better feeling than watching a child thrive and flourish so if you are thinking about fostering, go for it, but please do your research as to what it entails.”

Fostering North Yorkshire currently has 300 active fostering households looking after children in care. However, more children are coming into care and there is a national shortage of carers across the UK.

North Yorkshire Council’s assistant director for children and families, Mel Hutchinson, said: “I want to take this opportunity to express my sincere thanks to all our fantastic North Yorkshire foster carers who open their homes to children when they need it the most. Also, congratulations to Mr Colllins on his OBE.

“Our foster carers are there day in, day out giving our local children a loving home and offering them support and guidance. Our foster carers are very much appreciated, and we are fully committed to ensuring our foster carers are properly supported and rewarded.

“We would encourage anyone who has been thinking of fostering to enquire now and take advantage of the £500 golden hello payment for newly approved foster carers.”

Anyone interested in fostering can visit https://www.northyorks.gov.uk/fostering-north-yorkshire