Harsh experiences during her own childhood inspired Judy Diaz to become a foster carer so she could create an environment full of kindness, affection and understanding.
The 49-year-old Swindon mum-of-five, from Stratton, is glad she made the decision because her dedication is already helping to turn around the lives of two troubled teenagers.
She is sharing her experience during Foster Care Fortnight, which starts on Monday 16th May, in the hope of encouraging other caring people to take on this challenging but hugely rewarding role.
Judy said: “I had a really tough, strict childhood. There was no warmth so I was determined to change that with my own family as well as anyone else who needed to feel supported and loved.”
Her caring and generous nature was soon recognised by her teenage children’s friends, who often called in for advice and to feel accepted.
“They would often say ‘mum and dad never listen.’ They probably felt more understood in our home because we listen and don’t judge. Our house became a bit of a sanctuary, so we thought why not do it more formally and foster,” she said.
That was three years ago and Judy with her partner Stephen, a lift engineer, now look after two girls, aged 13 and 16.
Judy said: “The 13-year-old is doing really well at school and we’re helping her to have empathy with others. The older one has two big things on the horizon, like my own 16-year-old daughter, which are exams and the prom. It’s nice to be able to support them through a challenging and stressful time.”
A listening ear and shoulder to cry on are always an option in the Diaz household and they are committed to breaking down barriers and stereotypes.
“There is no pressure to conform. Regardless of your race, religion or sexuality, everyone needs to feel wanted and free to be who they want,” she said.
“But that doesn’t mean we don’t have boundaries. There are still rules – like bedtimes and skipping homework is not an option. Learning to have a routine is really important.”
Fun is also never in short supply, with sport, board games and baking sessions topping the agenda.
Judy said: “Football is a big thing in our house, and we’ll often go swimming, ice skating or trampolining. We make cakes, play Monopoly and also make up our own games. There’s never a dull moment and at the end of the day you always feel like you’ve made a difference.”
But the role isn’t easy and Judy has found the support from social workers as well as fellow foster carers invaluable.
“It’s important to have guidance because you don’t always know how to deal with certain situations and need advice as well as reassurance. I really enjoy meeting up with other foster carers over a coffee, so we can talk things through – having that network is so helpful,” she said.
With five children living under the same roof, life gets pretty hectic although Judy wouldn’t have it any other way because it’s a world apart from her own experience.
Judy said: “Having a close family that allows you to be yourself and helps you reach your goals is vital. I really missed out on that and want to make sure others don’t. I see fostering as showing children that there really are nice people out there and that they can be nice too. It has helped my kids too because they see how lucky they are. One of my proudest moments was when my daughter said: ‘Even my friends aspire to be like you.’ I didn’t set out to be a role model, but it’s lovely to think that young people want to care too.”
The council needs foster carers of all ages 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 barriers to fostering. Carers receive payment and allowances to help cover their time and expenses, as well as free ongoing training to develop existing and acquire new skills.
Cllr Fionuala Foley, Swindon Borough Council Cabinet Member for Children Services, said: “I feel in awe of Judy’s tremendous generosity and tireless ability to help so many teenagers who are going through tough times. Foster carers are the unsung stars of society and I hope Foster Care Fortnight will help to shine a light on the truly wonderful endeavours of people like Judy and make them feel special. My message to all foster carers in Swindon is thank you so much and to anyone who thinks they may also be able to help, please get in touch. You really could change a child’s life forever.”
To find out more or register interest, get in contact by calling: (01793) 464329 or emailing email@example.com