Barnardo's is the UK's oldest and largest children's charity and has been operating in Scotland since 1892. The not-for-profit fostering agency's aims have not changed in that time, however - to support its carers as they change the lives of some of the country's most vulnerable children.

The charity provides a 24hr support service so foster carers are never on their own, regular certified training, therapeutic workers, participation events for young people, regular carer meetings, short break allowance, competitive rates of pay and the chance to be part of a wonderful team.

Peter and Elizabeth Smith have been fostering with Barnardo’s Scotland for 17 years and during that time they have looked after more than 30 children, enjoying each and every minute.

The couple are now urging others to consider become foster carers, not only for the huge benefits it can bring for not only the children and young people - but also for the carers themselves.

The couple, who live in South Lanarkshire, explain how they found their way into the world of fostering: “There was a foster carer in our local church who was looking after six children and had transferred from the local authority to Barnardo’s. We were keen to help, but she said you need to become registered, which we did and that’s how it started.

“We chose Barnardo’s for one reason only and that’s because it was an opportunity to bring about some healing in a child’s life and a restoration of hope for the child. It is a full therapeutic type of work and that’s what attracted us to it.”

Liz, 60, and Pete, 61, accept that the application process is both long and intensive, but is necessary - and actually allows for some valuable self-reflection. 

The Herald:

As Liz explains: “It helps you to reflect on your own life. The application process allows you to go into your own background, your own upbringing and your own values.

“And I can still remember things that I learnt from that introductory process because it lets you see where your own values come from, and you can instil those values and what you’ve been through in life to help the children. It was very in-depth, but we didn’t mind it because it’s done very privately and carefully.”

And, from the start, the couple always felt supported by Barnardo’s: “We had a supervising worker at Barnardo’s who would visit us regularly and talk us through some of the very difficult situations and how we would handle that.

"She prepared us well for what was to come. We always felt totally supported and that took away the fear of what we had taken on.

“Although we were experienced parents, we were totally inexperienced when it came to bringing up foster children because of the trauma that they have often suffered before they come into care. You have a lot of work to do to understand that trauma.

"That trauma is different in every child, so we work with Barnardo’s specialists to undo the trauma from those early experiences, and it does take time. “For the first year or so, we started out doing a few weekends just to see how we took to it and how it would be for our children who were living at home at that time. It was a safety valve. It gave us the chance to find out if fostering was for us, but because we were enjoying it and it was working for our own family, we were happy to progress.”

The fact that Liz and Pete already had a family of their own was never a barrier to fostering. Indeed, having three children served to add to the dynamic for both their family and the children they looked after, as Pete explains: “Our own children have been really supportive. They were part of our application process. They have been fully supportive of us. In fact, they are our biggest supporters. Our youngest was 17 when we started and was very much included in all aspects of the process.”

The Herald:

After a while, the couple decided to give up their own careers to focus fully on being foster parents. At the time, Pete was an Area Manager with the Red Cross, while Liz worked in a school for children with learning disabilities.

However, with the funding for foster carers from Barnardo’s Scotland, they were able to leave those jobs behind – and the result was transformational.

Pete says: “We both decided to give up work because the finance from Barnardo’s allowed us to focus fully on the children. It meant that when the children were on school holidays, then so were we, and every year we could take them on a long holiday. We were available the whole time because the funding that Barnardo’s provided was more than enough to be able to do that.”

When looking back on their near-two decades as foster carers, Pete reflects on the ups and downs: “We had a child that came and was described to us as, ‘the boy that nobody wants’.

"They had tried to place him, but nobody wanted him because his behaviour was so extreme. But now he is functioning well after going to university and is qualified as a social worker. He now works with other kids in care. He got engaged recently and his life is completely transformed.”

Liz and Pete are so positive about their years in fostering, and they urge others to consider becoming foster parents themselves: “When you’re a foster carer, you are part of a team. You are not doing it alone and you’re not in it with just your own experience; you’re doing it with a whole team behind you that’s giving you that back-up.

"That’s what Barnardo’s is – it’s a team. That makes a massive difference. “The work of being a foster carer is very challenging, but it’s amazing once you start seeing young people’s lives getting on a solid foundation and them becoming functioning human beings and having a good life.

"And that’s what I would describe fostering as… the opportunity not just to help, but to get involved in somebody’s life and to change it for the better. “It is an opportunity to change a child’s direction in life. It’s very rewarding when you see children becoming successful and building up their self-esteem. Seeing them happy is the most important thing.

“We have had a good life doing this as well as seeing the children’s lives turned around, and, even though the children we looked after are now in their twenties, they are still with us, so to speak. Fostering is a lifelong commitment, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.”