Page last updated at 16:47 GMT, Monday, 12 May 2008 17:47 UK

'Foster care turned my life around'

By Lucy Rodgers
BBC News

Family in silhouette
More than 42,000 children in England live with a foster family

With a predicted shortage of more than 5,000 foster carers across the UK during the next year, experts have warned hundreds of children will be denied the family stability they need.

As a result of the shortfall, Fostering Network says some children will be placed far from their parents' home, siblings will be split up and many others will be shunted from institution to institution.

One young person who knows what it is like to be moved from place to place is 17-year-old Andy Eagleson, from Bangor, County Down.

Before I was always trying to get into trouble, fighting with people. That has stopped now and I have got a job as a carpet fitter
Andy Eagleson
Teenager in foster care

After leaving home aged 14, Andy spent almost two years in three different homes before being placed with his current foster parents.

The worst part was having to make friends and get to know staff every time he moved, he says.

"You knew no-one when you moved. It was really difficult. The staff at the care homes didn't know you and didn't care about you."

'Drink and drugs'

During this time of instability, Andy dealt with his problems through drink and drugs, but feels things have now changed for the better.

"Before I was always trying to get into trouble, fighting with people. That has stopped now and I have got a job as a carpet fitter."

Andy says he feels secure at his new home with his foster carers Karen and Andrew Eagleson, who also foster other children.

When asked what makes a good foster carer, Andy is quick to respond.

"You have to be flexible, be nice and respectful," he says. "In the children's home no-one respects you - that is what you feel."

Andy has done very well and we are hoping he is going places. You get a sense of achievement from that, especially if they are able to return home
Karen Eagleson
Foster parent

Mr and Mrs Eagleson, aged 45 and 44, have two children of their own and, as well as Andy, foster two other young children.

The couple got into fostering because of Mr Eagleson's own turbulent childhood and, they say, wanted to do something to help others in the same situation.

After providing a stable family life for many children and teenagers, Mrs Eagleson is in no doubt what is needed from good foster carers.

"Patience and being able to listen," she says. "I have had other teenagers and they all just wanted to be listened to. Once you discover what is behind it and why they are angry, it gets better."

But it is also important to have rules, she says.

"We try to treat all the children as equals - with their own space and own rooms.

"I do try to teach them to respect each other and each other's feelings - just because they are hurt and angry doesn't mean they can take it out on others."

'Going places'

The family go away together at weekends in a caravan or jet skiing, and get on well, Mrs Eagleson says.

But she laughs: "They fight and argue like a proper family."

For the Eaglesons, the rewards of fostering are great, especially when the youngsters' lives change for the better, like Andy's.

"Andy has done very well and we are hoping he is going places. You get a sense of achievement from that, especially if they are able to return home," Mrs Eagleson says.

Now working with his uncle and earning his own money, Andy feels independent and has even started to apply to join the armed forces.

"I always wanted to join the Army, but now I want to join the RAF because you learn more with them. I want to be a gunner," he says.

Asked if he was ready for a tour of duty in Afghanistan or Iraq, he adds: "I am prepared for that."




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