“The first one that went, I really wanted to keep her actually – and I remember standing on the drive, waving goodbye, crying my eyes out and I said, ‘I can never do this again’.”
But Judith Harper, from Buckinghamshire, went on to foster about 100 children in need of a home over the past 25 years – and is being honoured for her commitment in the Queen’s Birthday Honours.
After saying goodbye to her first foster child, she recalls: “The phone was ringing and we walked back into the house and somebody handed me the phone.
“‘A little boy needs somewhere this weekend, will you consider it?’ ‘OK, bring him over then.’ It was supposed to be for a weekend and he was with us six months, I think. From then, we just carried on and on.”
Mrs Harper fostered some of those children until they were adopted, while others she cared for until they were old enough to look after themselves.
She and her husband – and their five children – also adopted two daughters.
Mrs Harper is among a number of foster carers receiving an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours.
This year’s list includes a group of 15 foster carers who, between them, have fostered more than 1,000 children. They have been singled out for their help in transforming the lives of young people.
Mrs Harper particularly wanted to ensure siblings who had been taken into care were able to stay together, and also to provide a loving home for children with special needs.
“It’s very rewarding. My adopted daughter, she came to us and we were told she wouldn’t walk or talk. She’s now running around, chattering – and fantastic,” says Mrs Harper.
“The progress is different: it’s so rewarding when they change from a child that people say is unmanageable to somebody who is clearly happy.
“One of my foster daughters is just so happy all the time now, whereas she used to be quite frantic when she first moved in with us.”
‘Every child is different’
Gordon and Brenda Potter, from Surrey, have been fostering for 43 years and have taken in approximately 200 children. The married couple are both being awarded an MBE this year.
Mrs Potter says she’s “very proud and very humble that something we’ve enjoyed doing for so long has actually won us this award. I would hate never to have done it”.
“We’ve enjoyed doing it, and the different children. They say every child is different – they certainly are,” says Mr Potter.
Since being registered as foster carers in 1976, the Potters have continuously had at least one foster child in their care, as well as raising seven children of their own and adopting three more.
Mrs Potter recalls the faces of those parents who adopted the children she had been fostering.
“As you placed the child in their arms, knowing that this was something they had dreamed of for so long… that was so rewarding, that was how it started.
“From there, we started having children who had more problems when they came into care; watching them change from frightened, little, insecure children that then moved on to adoption when that time came for them.”
Like the others, John Ankers, from Suffolk – who has also been appointed MBE – says he is surprised, but very proud. He also pays tribute to his wife’s contribution.
Mr Ankers and his wife fostered about 100 children over 17 years, until 1990. The experience led him to work in a number of areas with young people; he is also nominated for his work as a Suffolk bench magistrate.
“I think we’ve learned an awful lot about children. I think we’ve learned an awful lot about ourselves as well and what kind of people we are,” says Mr Ankers.
“And it’s certainly changed our lives: I now work with young people at the edge of care, which is even more challenging than [working] with the foster ones. So yes, it’s changed us an awful lot and I wouldn’t have missed it one bit.”
Others in this year’s Birthday Honours’ list recognised for their work in education include Jonathan Coles, chief executive of United Learning, who receives a knighthood.
Lee Major, of the Sutton Trust, and Sonia Watson, of the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust, receive OBEs, and David and Elizabeth Carney-Haworth – co-founders of Operation Encompass – are awarded an OBE for their work with children affected by domestic abuse.
Professor Anna Vignoles, of the University of Cambridge, and Frank Norris, of the Co-op Academies Trust, have been awarded MBEs.