Jim explains why becoming a foster carer is the best decision he ever made.
One night, a few years ago, the 14-year-old boy I had been fostering for four months went missing. He had thrown all the typical teenage stuff at me: staying out late, refusing to clean or tidy his room, leaving a mess everywhere. But that night he just didn't come home.
I managed to track him down the next morning and waited in a car park while he decided whether he wanted to come back with me. In the end he got in the care. Some people might have shouted, or driven off in frustration, to assert their power. I just said 'OK, don't do it again'. He was gobsmacked that I didn't behave in the way he expected.
Patience is one of the key qualities I need as a foster carer. There is now an expectation that foster carers will transform a child's life - children are coming into care with a range of increasingly complex needs and foster carers need to be child care experts to deal with the challenges this brings. I have to be able to listen and not be judgmental, and to communicate both with children and the the other professionals working with them. One of the most important qualities I need is a sense of humour - being able to see the funny side takes the edge off situations that can be difficult to deal with. Sometimes I think that if you don't laugh, you'd cry.
But while fostering can be very challenging, it is also extremely rewarding. A few weeks after the boy went missing it was Mother's Day and he had been out to buy me a card, which read 'For you, mother' on the front. He had crossed out the word 'mother' with blue felt tip and replaced it with 'Jim'. There aren't many rewards greater than knowing that you are not only doing your job as a foster carer but that someone thinks you're a good mum too!
More foster carers are urgently needed. There is a huge shortage across the UK and there are more children coming into care now, which is putting even more pressure on the system. There are many different types of fostering which means that if you feel you have the skills and qualities needed, you should be able to find something that suits you. I started off offering respite care to a teenage boy, looking after him a couple of times a month, and this turned into a permanent arrangement. Since then I have fostered over 80 children, including children who have come on an emergency or short-term basis, as well as at least 15 children who have been here longer term, for between one and four years.
I left behind a career in teaching and youth work to become a full-time foster carer, and it's the best decision I could have made.