A Fermanagh woman who has fostered children for almost 25 years has spoken about the enjoyment that fostering has brought to her and her family’s life.

Jean Henry from Lisbellaw spoke to this newspaper about the life-changing impact it has had on her family’s life.

Discussing her interest in fostering, Jean said: “Initially my first job ever was in the children’s home in Enniskillen, and I thought of those children when I got married myself and had my own children. It was advertised in the local paper for children to go into foster care and I took my first child coming up on 25 years ago.”

When asked was it a difficult decision to begin fostering, Jean said: “It was a very easy decision for me, it was something I always wanted to do from coming from working in the children’s home to seeing the life they had there to the life they could have in a home with a family.”

Jean and her family have fostered over 20 children in both short-term and long-term fostering placements, Jean explained that the family have fostered children of all ages for as short a time as six months.

However, the Henry family have had a special lifelong relationship with many of the children they have fostered.

“One of my long-term fosters was a boy, he came to me when he was 12 from India and he turned 30 last September and he is still with me, he is a very big part of my family. His name is Tito and he changed his surname to our surname by deed poll. He is very much one of us,” said Jean explaining one of the special connections.

“We have enjoyed it myself and Ivan, my late husband, enjoyed it all the years [that we have fostered] and so did my son Stephen and daughter Cheryl, they took a big part in it over the years.”

Jean still actively fosters children and was praising of the support available from the Western Health and Social Care Trust, she said: “We have always had had a lot of support from the Trust both from the child’s social worker and my own. I always felt like we had a lot of back-up from them.”

The Western Trust has the third largest number of children in care in Northern Ireland. 82 per cent of these children live in foster care. This equates to approximately 688 children and young people.

The Trust’s Fostering Recruitment and Assessment Team will be holding a number information events across the Trust area, where the fostering team will be available to answer any questions people may have.

Catherine McKevitt, Head of Fostering and Adoption Services at the Western Trust said: “Being a foster carer can be a really rewarding and enriching experience. People often think they can’t foster because they are single, work, or are too old, but none of these things matter.

"People from all walks of life can foster – don’t rule yourself out. If you are resilient, flexible and have the energy, time, commitment and feel that you could help a child to grow and develop through your care and support, then come along to our information events to find out more and we can help answer any queries you might have."

An event on fostering will be held at the Westville Hotel, Enniskillen next week on Saturday, April 24 from 2-4pm. To register for the event, email info@fostering.hscni.net or call 0800 0720 137.