Stalwart foster carers chalk up 40 years of service

“Maybe we are getting a bit old, but we just do the best job we can and believe that we can make a difference”

This is the simple verdict of one of Oxfordshire’s longest serving fostering couples after clocking up 40 years caring for hundreds of the county’s most vulnerable children.

Abingdon residents Rosalie and Rod James, both 77, have been celebrating their landmark achievement with family, friends and former foster children.

Such has been the couple’s contribution to the service that – not unreasonably – they have lost count of the number of children they have cared for over the decades, though it is comfortably in the hundreds. They are still going strong in the role with three children currently in their care.

Long history of care

“Last year we had 17 children, and of course, some only stay for a very short time”, explains Rosalie. “The youngest child we had was five days old and the oldest was almost 18, so we’ve looked after all ages, often three children at a time.

“To begin with, we looked after a number of children in the family at different times and for different reasons, and thought we might as well do it properly and signed up with the council as foster carers. It’s just carried on from there.”

40 years

Rod, a retired gardener, adds: “Children are often lacking confidence when they first come to you, so it’s really rewarding when they become more comfortable and you find out that they’re really smart and have a lot more about them than you could have imagined.”

The couple held a recent celebratory bash at Abingdon’s Northcourt Centre, surrounded by family, friends and council colleagues (don’t ask them how many people came along, because it might have exceeded the fire regulations!). Most touching of all, though, was the presence of several ex-foster children who have kept in touch with their former carers well into their adult lives.

“Rosalie and Rod are an absolute credit to this county and theirs is a truly magnificent achievement”, says Steve Harrod, Oxfordshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Children and Family Services. “There can’t be many people in Oxfordshire or anywhere else who know more about looking after children, or meeting the needs of young people in care who have often lived through traumatic experiences.”

Years of knowledge

The couple’s longevity as foster carers has certainly given them a rare perspective, and through Rosalie’s involvement as a foster carer co-ordinator they’ve also been able to pass on their knowledge and skills to countless other carers, offering valuable support to new colleagues coming into the role for the first time.

Fostering Service Manager Teresa Rogers says: “Rosalie and Rod are so well known and well-liked by everyone who has had the pleasure to work with them over the years, they have almost become celebrities within the service. When they eventually decide to call it a day – I hope not just yet – it will leave a big hole, but their legacy will be huge, both in terms of their contribution to the role of fostering itself and the immeasurable difference they have made to so many young lives.”

Key qualities

So what does Rosalie think the most important qualities are for a foster carer?

“You certainly need a lot of patience and a sense of humour. And I think you need to be happy in yourself and believe in yourself, and you need to be an advocate for the child, to say what you think they need or what is best for them. It’s important to realise that all children are different and I have always liked the challenge of working out the best way of working with them and getting on with them.”

Hopefully Rosalie and Rod will be continuing to enjoy that challenge for at least a little while longer.

Could you change a child’s life?

Find out more about becoming a foster carer. Visit www.oxfordshire.gov.uk/fostering