Cathy Saxton has fostered five different children since 2015.
A woman from Chesterfield is calling for more people to consider a career in fostering, at a time when there are a record number of children and young people in the care system across England.
As part of Foster Care Fortnight, which runs from Monday 11th – Sunday 24th May, Cathy Saxton from Tupton is hoping by sharing her story as a foster parent she can encourage more people to consider a career in foster care.
A report shared earlier in the year showed that there are a record 78,150 children in care and in the East Midlands area alone 550 new carers are needed to meet demand and help provide a safe home to vulnerable children and young adults.
Full-time single foster carer Cathy Saxton (55) has looked after five children since she started fostering five years ago. Becoming a foster carer was a natural progression for Cathy, who despite not having children of her own, gained plenty of experience during her 25-year career as a primary school teacher.
It was in 2008 that Cathy decided to take a career break from teaching in the UK and spend some time travelling abroad, working in international schools in Russia, the Middle East and China. Having made the decision to not continue full-time teaching when she returned, Cathy instead took on part-time supply work. It was shortly after this that an advert in a local magazine about a foster carer happened to catch her attention.
Cathy said: “I opened a magazine and there was an advert about fostering and before I knew it I was approved and I left my supply teaching to take on fostering full-time. I decided very quickly that this was my work now, I see it as sharing my home and my life and that’s just part of my duties. It’s not a straightforward nine to five job but I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
Cathy fosters with independent fostering provider and social enterprise, Five Rivers Child Care, which has an office in Chesterfield’s Market Hall. Since she started fostering in 2015, Cathy has cared for children and young people for anything from a few weeks to up to three years. She also provides respite care – which is when a foster child stays with a carer for a period of a few days or up to a week in an emergency or to give their current foster parent a break.
Cathy is currently looking after 13-year-old Olivia, who will have been with her for three years this August and will stay until she’s at least 18. The pair recently welcomed a new addition to the family, Obi-Wan Kenobi, their Jackahuahua puppy.
Having enjoyed her 25 years teaching young children, Cathy finds her career in fostering a positive continuation of caring and nurturing children. She said: “With fostering I’m helping nurture these children in a much deeper way than when I was a teacher and I get to see their emotional development. The success we celebrate is helping them move towards them being the best versions of themselves at every level.”
Cathy’s first long term foster child was Joshua, who came to live with her four years ago at the age of 13. Joshua had been in and out of foster care since the age of two, Cathy explains: “Joshua came to me because he needed a home, but all he really wanted from life was to live with his birth mum. So when he reached the age of 17, I was able to help him do that.”
Once it was established that Joshua’s* birth mum was in a position to be able to see him more, Cathy helped him apply for monthly contact, which was granted. With Cathy’s support throughout the whole process, Joshua* was able to build up his relationship with his mum over a number of years.”
Joshua has now been living with his birth mum since November of last year, but still comes back to visit Cathy and has already planned his birthday party with her later this year where he can celebrate with his extended foster family.
Speaking about the progress Joshua made with her, Cathy said: “He would walk six miles to college every day and six miles back because he wouldn’t get on the bus. Getting to college was like climbing a mountain for him. With a lot of encouragement, he eventually agreed to accept a lift and take the direct bus into town, but it took some persuasion. Now he’s got a job at a restaurant chain and he’s doing incredibly well, travelling on trains, managing his own money and cooking for himself. I’m so proud of him.”
With Cathy now having Olivia living with her on a long-term basis, she decided that she’d like to create more space in the house to be able to provide a home for more children and young people in need. With the intention of growing their family, Cathy had an extension built, with space for an extra bedroom.
With the extension now complete, there’s lots of decorating to be done, something that Cathy and Olivia are doing together, she said: “I give Olivia extra pocket money when she helps me, so there’s an added incentive, but by doing it together it makes this house our family home, rather just mine and she’s helped create that. Olivia thrives around other people, so the idea of having another child in the house means she potentially has someone else to talk to and hang out with.”
With Cathy being a single carer, she values the support she’s able to get from her own mother, who has been approved to support Cathy to look after Olivia. Cathy said: “It’s really nice for Olivia to have a grandmother figure around and means there’s someone else in the family she knows she can go to aside from me. Many people ask how I do this on my own but I’m never without support from my family, my local church, IKON, and Five Rivers.”
Discussing Foster Care Fortnight 2020, Sarah Cooper, team manager for the Chesterfield area for Five Rivers, said: “Fostering can be an extremely fulfilling path for individuals looking for a career change. Cathy’s many years of teaching gave her all the right transferable skills to be able to foster. Cathy’s story is an amazing example of how fostering is not just a rewarding career option but is also an opportunity to change a young person’s life for the better.
“The Coronavirus pandemic hasn’t stopped us recruiting foster carers, as the need for children and young people to have stable and caring foster carers has not diminished, and in some areas we have seen the need increase. We’ve also found that the lockdown period has given people the opportunity for reflection and time to think about future career paths, and becoming a foster carer is one option that more people are now considering. We have adapted the way in which we recruit foster carers as a result of the current situation and much of the process can be done virtually using video calls and interviews so I would urge people not to delay if they are interested in becoming a foster carer. We’re keen to hear from caring individuals from across the East Midlands and who are interested in providing a nurturing home to children in need, whether they’re considering it for the first time like Cathy or already have fostering experience.”
People from all walks of life can be eligible to become a foster carer, but they must be over the age of 21 and have a private and furnished bedroom for each child, with some exceptions for siblings.
Single people, co-habiting couples, same sex couples and people living in rented accommodation can also become foster carers.