Being a school dinner lady opened Julie Lowe’s eyes to less fortunate children and inspired her to take on a new vocation as a foster carer.
The 53-year-old, from Wanborough, is backing Swindon Borough Council’s call to recruit more foster carers because she knows what a vital difference they can make to children’s lives and how much it has helped her blossom too.
Julie said: “Foster carers fill such an important role, but not everyone recognises or knows much about it. It was only by chance that I found out about this opportunity and I’m so glad I did because it’s so rewarding. That’s why I’m sharing my experience, in the hope of encouraging others to find out more and see if it also could be something for them.
Julie has been fostering for the past 12 years and is currently looking after two young boys, aged three and four.
She said: “Fostering is all about nurturing and that’s such a satisfying thing to do. Every time you make a step forward, for example developments with speech so you can understand them better or sleeping through the night, there’s a wonderful sense of achievement and you remember why you’re doing it.
Julie was a single mum with two girls of her own to look after when she first took on the role.
She said: “I wanted to do something different to working in an office or shop – something which would help me put my caring nature to good use, she said.
“I first learned about it from a little boy who had caught my attention when I was a dinner lady. I got talking to his foster carer, who told me all about it. There were no set qualification requirements and all the training was provided, so it sounded ideal and I’ve been doing it ever since.
Now her daughters are grown-up and have left home Julie thinks fostering is a great way to tackle empty-nest syndrome.
She said: “I’m never bored or lonely and can imagine life would be terribly quiet without anyone in the house or someone to look out for. My daughters have always been very supportive and I think it has also helped them to be more compassionate, understanding people. There are so many knock-on benefits.
Julie also really enjoys being part of a network of foster carers in the borough, who can turn to each other for support and advice.
She said: “The professional help and guidance is great but the peer support is equally powerful. I’ve made lots of friends through fostering and we meet regularly for lunch, coffee or social trips to share experience and generally help each other out. It’s like having an extended family and is a great source of reassurance and support – you’re never on your own.
The council is looking for foster carers for children of all ages, with placements lasting anything from a few days to many years. It needs foster carers from a range of ethnic backgrounds to reflect Swindon’s diverse population and the needs of children coming into care. Marital status, sexuality, age and whether you have children or not are no barrier to fostering. Carers receive payment and allowances to help cover their time and expenses, as well as free ongoing training to develop new skills.
Julie said: “I honestly can’t imagine doing anything more fulfilling than this. If you’re a caring person and enjoy spending time with children and young people, then it’s definitely worth considering. The best thing about it is that every day you really can tell you’re making a difference.