It's Foster Care Fortnight and a Manchester gran is on a mission to get more people to think about becoming foster carers.
Growing up as the oldest of ten children meant that 52 year old Stella O’Donnell had a head-start over most when she first decided to become a foster carer.
Surrounded by children all her life, she grew up - as oldest children often do - helping her mum and dad look after her six sisters and three brothers.
With all that experience under her belt she always knew that looking after children was something she was good at and wanted to do.
She said: “I come from a massive family and as the oldest I’ve always looked after children. I’d always wanted to become a foster carer so as soon as my son was older and coming to the end of school I decided to look into it.
“I just really wanted to help as many children as I could – give them a little window of stability and care to help build their confidence and self-esteem, and help them to move on in their lives.”
Stella lives alone now her grown-up son has left home and has been fostering for nearly 14 years. She says she doesn’t regret her decision to become a foster carer at all – in fact, having always been around children, it’s what she lives for.
She said: “I love it, it literally gives me a purpose to get up in the morning. I sometimes think I need the children as much as they need me. Fostering just makes life a much better place.
“I love being around children and helping them develop. I’m immensely proud of the children I look after and tell them all the time how proud I am.”
Stella has cared for 30 children during her time as a foster carer, including looking after very young babies and also older siblings. She has also worked as part of a special team of foster carers with children who need extra support and targeted help to get them through a difficult time in their lives.
She feels strongly that everyone should consider fostering to see if they too can make a difference to a child or young person in need.
With one son, a granddaughter, and 38 nieces and nephews courtesy of her nine siblings, Stella has high hopes that some of her own young relatives may one day follow in her footsteps and also become foster carers when they are older.
She said: “My granddaughter is only 8 but she is already amazing with the children I look after and always wants to get involved and help. Fostering brings so much to your life, it has really enriched mine. Everyone should think about doing it if they can, to give something back. It’s so worthwhile.”
The Council has set itself a target of recruiting an additional 40 foster carers this year and is particularly keen to hear from people who’ve had previous experience of working with or looking after children or young people.
Although the likes of childminders, teaching assistants, youth club leaders, nursery nurses, or teachers are top of our wish-list as potential foster carers, we'd also love to hear from anyone else who likes children and who is interested in fostering.
Foster carers come from all sorts of backgrounds - married or unmarried, living with a partner or on their own, working or not working. They can be home owners or living in rented accommodation, and of any sexuality or ethnicity.
The main requirement is to be over 21, to have a spare bedroom, to love children and want to make a difference to them.
Councillor Sheila Newman, Executive Member for Children's Services Manchester City Council, said: "We know from young people what a difference good foster carers make to them at an often very difficult time in their lives. We want to hear from anyone who thinks they've got what it takes to be there for a vulnerable young person who, through no fault of their own needs some help.”
To find out more about fostering visit manchester.gov.uk/fostering or call Manchester City Council’s fostering team on 0800 988 8931.