Helen and Eddie Brown have fostered more than 60 children during 50 years of being foster carers, an achievement that saw them receive a FosterTalk Foster Carer Award for their exception commitment.
“They have enriched our lives,” she smiles. “They have given us so much fun and pleasure. It has been a privilege to care for every one of the children who have come to us and to have been part of their lives.”
Helen, now 77, and husband Eddie, 81, from West Derby are among Sefton Council’s longest serving carers.
It’s with some regret that getting older has forced the couple to finally stop welcoming children into their home: “Well you don’t have young children when you’re 77 do you?” smiles Helen. “And you have to think what’s best for the children.
“It does sadden me. But we don’t have the energy we used to have and the last thing we’d want to do is let a child down.
“Otherwise, I’d have an ever-open door!”
But it’s nevertheless with joy that they look back on a career of compassion and caring of which they’re both rightly proud.
Helen and Eddie became foster carers when they were young adults, Helen around 23 and Eddie, 27. They already had two children of their own yet, wanting to add to their family, as committed Christians, decided to offer a home to other children in need of a family.
“Although I discovered I was pregnant again after we applied to foster,” says Helen, whose own children, Helen jnr., Alan and Julie are now 57, 55 and 52 respectively, “we decided to still go ahead.
“We felt God was telling us that there were so many children who didn’t have homes and we could welcome them into ours.
“It was an amazing experience – I hardly suffered in that last pregnancy even though I had children coming throughout, for 10 days, or a few weeks, and we fostered until just four weeks before Julie was due because I was too busy pushing other babies around.
“And it was, and has been, wonderful, to support so many children and been a small part of their lives until they could be reunited with their families, which was much of what was needed for some children. To support them until they could return home.”
Such is the love they have, the couple have kept in touch with many of the children they have cared for. Three in particular have become, simply, part of their family, having lived with them for 20 years until they were in their own homes.
They helped them with deposits towards their own homes: “They are part of our family.”
One boy who went to live with them when he was seven stayed until he was 27 and went on to serve in Iraq; still a ‘son and brother’ he is now married himself with a step-daughter and two sons of his own.
Another young girl who came with her sibling when he was three-and-a-half years old. He stayed until he was 14 and she is still a daughter – and sister, married with a son and daughter of her own.
And another boy was nine when he came through their front door and 29 when he left.
Of course it wasn’t always easy and there were troubles and heartache.
Heartache like when one baby arrived aged just four months: “She didn’t go home until she was two,” says Helen, “and I have never forgotten her. I think about her often, it was like losing my own baby.
“Others I still meet up with and buy trainers and presents on their birthday. You don’t stop caring, and I knew when left that God had placed them with us, and that he would keep them safe.”
Many children have, of course, come from difficult backgrounds or situations.
“It does have an impact on all the family. My children were given a hard time by some and put up with a lot, although it always turned out okay in the end, and they learned a lot.
“They learned to be more understanding and caring too, they have patience. Some children were disturbed because of the situations they’d come from which was understandable, and they would wonder how we could love them when their own parents couldn’t care for them.”
Helen adds: “But, above all they, we, had fun and lots of laughter. I remember once going on the bus with my children and foster children -there were eight of them – and we counted them on and counted them off.
“That was in the days where, if you could move over a bed and fit a cot in, you did! So when I was supposed to have two children from a family of five, but then needed to take them all, I did! It was the time of our lives.
“God gives you the gifts you need in your life -and mine were caring and compassion.”
Helen showed them even to adults, like when a woman was walking past her church and Helen asked if she could pray for her: “It would be selfish if we used out gifts only for ourselves. I saw this woman and said ‘you don’t look well, can I pray for you?’. Compassion just welled up and she said I could, but she also came back later and told me that even her family had never shown such kindness and that I had changed her life.
“She was an alcoholic who went to AA and is now helping others – and she’s my best friend.”
Helen concludes: “A little care and compassion goes a long way.
“More than anything fostering has been rewarding. To see the children we have cared for growing up into adults themselves, and having their own children, has been so wonderful. I don’t know about us making them what they are, I think the children we have looked after have made us the people we are.”
By Jan Tansley, Copy Media
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