HSC NI Foster Carers Recognised at NI Foster Care Awards11th September 2023
Foster carers from across Northern Ireland came together at the weekend for the Northern Ireland Foster Care Awards at the Hilton Hotel, Belfast hosted by The Fostering Network in partnership with HSC NI Foster Care.
In their seventeenth year, the awards recognise the pivotal role foster carers have in providing stability, love and care for children and young people in foster care. A number of HSC NI foster carers and kinship foster carers received special recognition for their outstanding contribution to fostering.
Kerrylee Weatherall, Interim Director of Children’s Community Services who represented HSC NI Foster Care at the event said: “The Northern Ireland Foster Care Awards provides an opportunity for us to celebrate the enormous contribution that all foster carers make to the lives of our children and young people.
We are delighted to have so many HSC NI foster carers receiving the recognition they deserve. Their continued commitment to providing the best care and support for children and young people in foster care is quite simply inspirational, thank you to each and every one of them.
Our foster carers are all extraordinary people, giving of themselves every day to provide a safe, loving and nurturing environment to the children and young people who need this. We hope this event goes some way to showing how much we value our carers and appreciate the work they do and the kindness they show every day.”
Kathleen Toner, Director of The Fostering Network Northern Ireland, said: “The awards are the absolute highlight of our year when we get together with people from fostering families, and fostering services, across NI to highlight the incredibly positive impact of foster care. Fostering a child can be transformational for that child and we are privileged to support more than 3,300 foster carers and kinship foster carers in Northern Ireland, who care for more than eighty percent of children in care.
As chair of the awards panel, it is always a pleasure to meet the nominees and listen to their experiences, each one as inspiring as the next. The awards are also our opportunity to raise the public’s awareness of the importance of foster care for children in our communities and to thank all those who daily make a child feel safe, secure and loved.”
Some of the winners are outlined below:
Norma and David Tennis – South Eastern foster carers
Lifetime Achievement Award
Norma and David Tennis, from Millisle, are retiring after more than 35 years caring for over 40 children. In that time, they have cared for newborn babies, toddlers, sibling groups, children with additional needs and young teens. They have also adopted a child who initially came to their home as a foster child. They count all the children they have cared for as their family. They have made an immeasurable contribution to their community in that time and will continue to support other foster carers who need their advice and guidance, despite their retirement.
Norma said: “David and I are very honoured to have been presented with this award, it’s something that’s very precious to us. To be acknowledged for our part in helping the children and having so many years behind us is great. We have really enjoyed our time.”
“Without them I don’t know what my life would be like, they have made me the person I am today.” – The words from one of the young people David and Norma welcomed into their home over the years.
Watch their interview with UTV here
Watch SE Trust’s video about Norma and David here
Sinead Harley and Aaron Deehan – Western foster carers
Young Foster Carers of Excellence Award
Sinead and Aaron from Derry are a kind and caring couple, offering their home for as long as a child or young person needs it for. During the pandemic they stepped in and offered several young people a short-term home. They took in two young males, one of whom remains with them to date. He has thrived under their care and has a bright future ahead of him – on track to achieve the equivalent of seven GCSEs, attends boxing, loves walking with the family and is learning to cook.
Sinead and Aaron have achieved incredible things working in partnership with young people and professionals to ensure those in their care have best possible opportunities in life. Their daughter, who is now three, is a big part of fostering and enjoys the company of the young people who have come to stay.
Joanne and Laurence Shaw – Belfast foster carers
Excellence in Foster Care Award
Joanne and Laurence from Belfast have been fostering for 21 years during which time they have cared for 40 children.
The family have supported a number of small children and babies who have gone on to be adopted by other families. Joanne admits the whole family finds this difficult as such close bonds are formed. They still miss those children who they had grown to know and love but recognise their role in such situations is to help the child making the transition to their “forever home.”
After one such experience, Joanne started to care for another baby who was experiencing the effects of withdrawal at birth. Within no time J was thriving and progressing well in Joanne’s care but his health remained precarious, and he needed hospital support right at the start of Covid pandemic in March 2020. At that really scary time when most people were at home protecting themselves and their families from the virus, Joanne remained by the baby’s side in hospital for two months.
Joanne’s social worker, Lynsey says; “During this difficult time when the world was facing the uncertainty of Covid, Joanne was incredible, her love and care and her desire to help this little baby shone through. The whole family pulled together to assist Joanne with the complex caring needs, ensuring all the children remained happy and well cared for.
Joanne and Laurence are exceptional foster carers dedicated to caring for children with additional needs and who understand the importance of and are committed to providing permanence for children.
Jenni and Paul Morren – Belfast foster carers
Excellence in Foster Care Award
Jenni’s parents fostered for more than 30 years and when they decided to retire from fostering due to illness, they still had an eight-year-old in their care. Jenni and Paul from Belfast made the decision to undergo the foster carer assessment process so the child could remain with the family.
Since then, Jenni and Paul and been huge supporters of the fostering service, providing several short breaks for children and young people and are now fostering two sisters, who have made incredible progress – growing emotionally and doing well in school.
Their nominating social worker said: “Jenni and Paul have such a stable and loving home and family. Jenni is very calming and nurturing and every child in their home is thriving. Their focus is always on doing whatever is needed for the children in their care.”
Joanne Donnelly McAteer and Seamus McAteer – Northern foster carers
Excellence in Foster Care Award
Joanne from Ballymoney started fostering nine years ago as a single foster carer. She has two birth children and three foster children, who she’s caring for on a long-term basis. Over the last nine years, Joanne has welcomed thirty children into her home with open arms, some staying only a few days, others staying much longer.
She has a natural ability to adapt to any situation and to respond in an honest, loving and empathic way that puts children and young people at ease. The young people she cares for describe her as ‘approachable, realistic and fair’.
Her zest for life, ability to laugh, cry and not take herself too seriously has enabled Joanne to make a huge difference to the lives of teenagers, so much so that one young person she cares for has chosen to stay with her long-term, having reached the age of 18.
Her positive energy creates a sense of fun, adventure and solace for the children in her care. Joanne is a carer who provides incredible support to each individual child she cares for.
Joanne summed up her experiences as a foster carer: “All are welcome, no challenge is insurmountable, no problem needs to be carried alone.”
Cathy and Jason Gordon – Southern foster carers
Excellence in Foster Care Award
Cathy and Jason Gordon from Portadown foster alongside their children Daniel, Molly and Joel. For the last ten years they have looked after children who needed short-term foster care – including short breaks and emergency placements.
Cathy continues to support parents where children have returned home, acting as part of their support network. She maintains contact with young people who have moved onto other foster homes. The family goes above and beyond to find ways to build relationships with young people, having a home where the children feel loved, unique and special.
Cathy has offered her wisdom and advice to newly approved foster carers, helping to support them at the beginning of their journey. The empathy and compassion the family show to everyone around them is amazing, and their positive energy rubs off on anyone they meet.
Sharon, their social worker said: “Cathy and Jason’s attitude towards fostering and caring for children who have experienced trauma, is truly inspirational. They see the good in everyone and are keen to explore the hidden talents and strengths of all the children they have cared for.”