The former leader of Swindon Borough Council is backing a campaign to recruit more foster carers locally – a role which he has also taken on himself.
Having stepped down as leader three years ago, Rod Bluh, who turned 60 last November, wanted to continue making a contribution to society and helping those less fortunate.
He has been fostering with his partner Jeff for the past two and a half years and is appealing for others to consider following in their footsteps, urging them not to feel held back by their sexuality, age or marital status.
Rod, from Old Town, said: “Through my work with the council, I knew it wouldn’t be an issue, but there are probably people out there who may not realise fostering is a real option for them. The Council has a really strong network of foster carers and many of them are gay, some are retired and others are single and have never had any children of their own. Your ability to be a foster carer starts with one thing – an ability to care. People from all walks of life and in so many different circumstances can do that.”
Rod and Jeff are currently fostering a 17-year-old boy, who was more or less homeless and needed a more supportive environment.
He said: “As well as showing you care, it’s also about trying to create a structure and routine. He is getting into Taekwondo and also doing vocational training. Like all kids, he’s good at heart and we are constantly building a stronger rapport. It’s a long process, but you feel you’re doing something right and it’s appreciated when little things happen, like he’ll make you a cup of tea.”
The couple, who have five now grown-up children between them from previous relationships, decided to foster for various reasons.
Rod said: “I knew, from my involvement with the Troubled Families programme at the Council, that there were children of all ages in need of a second chance in life and different levels of support. We knew we wanted to help and could provide a stable environment, so it went from there.”
Although some of their friends and family question why they would want to take on this role at such a stage in their life, the couple passionately believe in what they’re doing and hope others may also be interested.
He said: “I would be lying if I said it was easy, but it is hugely important, worthwhile and rewarding. Many children in Swindon find themselves, through no fault of their own, in unimaginable situations of physical and emotional difficulty. They all need and deserve something better. If we can give them that helping hand and lead them to a brighter future, I feel incredibly proud to play that part.”
The Council needs foster carers for children of all ages, with placements lasting anything from a few days to several years. Carers receive payment and allowances to help cover their time and expenses as well as free ongoing training. Help is also available 24/7 and there’s a strong network of peer support, with fellow carers exchanging advice and experience over lunch and coffee.
Cllr Fionuala Foley, Swindon Borough Council Cabinet Member for Children Services, said: “It was a great privilege to work with someone like Rod, who was and remains so incredibly devoted to trying to make life better for people. He is hugely caring and compassionate, so perfectly suits the role of being a foster carer. I hope his experience will inspire others to consider whether they could do it too and help to change a child’s life forever.”