A grandmother has spent the last half century raising her own family while acting as a foster carer for hundreds of youngsters.
Originally from Newcastle, Maureen Finlay (77) has helped close to 200 children when they needed assistance the most and, although she feels the time is right to stop, she will be upset when her half century of fostering comes to an end.
Maureen, who now stays in Hallglen, is currently looking after a toddler and admits she is finding it hard to come to terms with the fact this will be her last ever foster child.
She said: “Lots of tears are shed because you do get attached to the children and I do get upset at times when they have to go. It’s going to be really hard this time because in the past there was always someone else coming into the house to look after.
“This time there won’t be. I never know how long children will be staying with me, you just take it from day to day. When this toddler goes away that will be it for me. I have been saying I will be retiring for the last few years, but this is definitely it.”
Maureen’s foster care journey began decades earlier.
“I was living in Musselburgh at the time and I saw an advert in the newspaper asking for foster carers, that’s how it all started. I had four daughters at that time and my youngest had just started school – I just felt there was something missing.”
So Maureen fostered other people’s children while she continued to bring up her own family. The committed carer estimates she has looked after over 100 – approaching 200 – youngsters over the years, ranging in age from birth to schoolchildren.
“It ranges from looking after them for days to weeks to months or even a period of years. There’s lots of support and training available now from Falkirk Council – when I started fostering there was nothing like there is now, you just got handed the child.
“The training is important because things change so often these days. I just take it in my stride and work hard getting the young ones to sleep. People say they want to give me their children to see if I can get them to go to sleep – my own grandchildren don’t sleep very well, but that’s okay because they don’t stay with me.
“I enjoy doing it, helping children get over difficult situations they can find themselves in for whatever reason. I keep in touch with quite a few of them – some are now in their 20s and 30s.
“I also have a good relationship with a lot of the parents and enjoyed working with them over the years. Some of them still ask for my advice when they have problems.” Maureen grew so attached to one of her foster children that she adopted her and Stephanie, now 26, is a member of a family which has grown over the years to include grandchildren.
Husband David (81) and her daughters have something planned to mark her “retirement”, but she does not know what form the celebration will take.
Maureen, who has devoted her life to others, admits she “can’t be idle and sit about” so she plans to volunteer in the future.
“I told my husband I won’t be sitting in with him,” she laughed.
Her reluctant decision to move away from fostering coincides with Foster Care Fortnight, which runs from May 14 to May 27 with the aim of raising awareness about the importance of fostering and, of course, recruiting more foster carers.
Maureen said: “When people ask me about fostering I tell them to find out as much as they can. I got a lot back from it.”
The Fostering Network would be over the moon if its annual Foster Care Fortnight campaign to raise the profile of fostering and show how foster care transforms lives uncovered a new “Maureen”.
Across the UK, over 7000 new foster families are needed in the next 12 months alone to care for a range of children and people from all sections of society can be, and are, foster carers.
As well as long-serving stalwarts like Maureen, Falkirk Council’s two week campaign – which will be featured on Facebook and Twitter – highlights local foster carers who are also students, full-time workers and even ex-army personnel.
A Falkirk Council spokesperson said: “Almost 150 Falkirk children are currently cared for by foster carers because they are unable to live with their own families. This can be for lots of different reasons, but living with another family gives them the nurture, care and stability they need.
“Sometimes this is for only a few days, or it can be for the rest of their childhood. Safe, caring foster homes make a huge difference to children’s lives, and many of Falkirk Council foster carers, like Maureen Finlay, have provided homes for local children and young people for over 20 years.
“The greatest need is for foster carers for older children and teenagers, those who can take brothers and sisters to keep them together, those able to look after children on a long term basis and carers who can look after a child with additional needs.”
People can visit www.falkirk.gov.uk/fostering to find out more information about becoming a foster carer.