“We both benefit because I really enjoy it and it is rewarding. It’s most gratifying when you see the positive effect it has on the children,” said Lonely Sterling, who has been fostering for six years.
Previously, she had worked in special needs for 15 years and had been looking after autistic children and young people aged 11-16 before deciding to retire early.
Lonely, who lives in Southall, said: “I’ve always cared for people – that’s my calling. It’s in me and I still wanted to make a difference. That’s why I considered fostering. There are so many children needing help and I wanted to make a difference in any way to children who could do with my help.
“I had the energy and the time, and it has been lovely ever since. It has its challenges too, but in lots of ways it is not much different to the challenges you have with your own children.”
Like all foster carers, Lonely receives ongoing training and support and is part of a network of other carers through Ealing Council who support each other. Foster carers also receive an allowance.
“Having the support group with the other local foster carers is enormously helpful,” said Lonely. “We discuss strategies, and we pull ideas from each other and support each other in all kinds of ways. And I also have very good support from a social worker from the council, too. They are excellent and help me so that I can help the child. I know I can get hold of them; and they will get back to me as soon as possible. It makes such a difference.”
Making the children feel loved and secure is at the heart of how Lonely approaches fostering and what drives her on.
Lonely explained: “I want the child to feel secure, and to know that someone cares about them and realise that there are people who want the best for them – and just to show them some love. It helps to give them a different mindset.
“It can take weeks, sometimes months, for them to come out of themselves and know they can put their trust fully in me. It depends on their past and what they’ve experienced.
“One of the challenges they face is seeing children not in care and with parents, and it makes them think ‘what is wrong with me?’
“I want to change their mindset and, although that trauma will always be there in some way, I let them know that, although I might not be their family, I care very much and I want them to be happy.
“I hope that feeling will stay with at least some of the children – knowing that there are other people who care and that they can be who they want to be.
“It is what makes it all worth it.”
More carers needed
Councillor Kamaljit Nagpal, Ealing Council’s cabinet member for a fairer start, said: “Currently, our borough has approximately 100 fostering households but, with around 350 looked after children, more carers from all backgrounds, ethnicity and ages are needed – and especially those who can look after teenagers and sibling groups.
“People like Lonely are an inspiration and it is hearing stories like hers and about how rewarding fostering can be that often encourages others to find out more. Foster carers make such a difference to children’s lives; and I’d urge anyone who thinks fostering might be for them to have a chat to our team.”
Find out more
Foster Care Fortnight takes place in May. But, to find out more about fostering any time, call the team on freephone 0800 731 6550, email email@example.com or visit the fostering and adoption website for Ealing.
You can read more of our stories about local foster carers, such as: