'Empty nesters' urged to consider rewarding role in foster care

Martin and Sheila Rowbury

Martin and Sheila Rowbury - Credit: SUBMITTED

When a Wymondham couple waved goodbye to their daughter as she headed to university, they decided rather than putting their feet up it was time for a new challenge. 

Martin and Sheila Rowbury, both aged 64, took up the call to be foster carers more than four years ago. 

And as hundreds of students head to university this month, Norfolk County Council is calling on other “empty nester” parents to think about doing the same. 

Instead of embracing retirement or dedicating more time for leisure, Mr and Mrs Rowbury went back to a world of nappy changes, school runs, and childhood milestones. They said the experience has been really rewarding. 

“We came into fostering later in life – following a career in mental health nursing,” said Mrs Rowbury. 


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“We had a daughter who was going away to university and doing up a very old bungalow ready for our dotage, we found ourselves at a bit of a loss – lacking in purpose and no longer making a difference to those around us. 

“So, at the grand age of 60, we thought why not. We had loved bringing up our daughter and at the time were involved with several friends and their children.” 

More foster carers have been urged to come forward.

Norfolk County Council is encouraging "empty nesters" to sign up to fostering - Credit: Getty Images/Pixland

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There are currently 400 foster children in Norfolk being cared for by 300 families. Foster carers come from a huge variety of backgrounds and different ages. As well as young families or couples, "empty nesters" are being encouraged to open their homes when their own children leave to go to university or live on their own. 

Foster carers also provide a variety of different levels of support to children and other foster families. For example, foster carers could sign up to provide short breaks for children staying with other foster carers, offering support to the whole fostering community as well as fostering longer term. 

Prospective foster carers are offered full support and in-depth training, ensuring that they feel ready to support any children placed in their care. Carers work closely with social workers who will offer ongoing support throughout placements, advocating for the child’s needs. 

A security review has been carried out at Norfolk County Council after an intruder was able to wande

To find out more, search online for Fostering - Norfolk County Council - Credit: Archant

Mr and Mrs Rowbury looked after different children and young people for short periods, some as young as three, as well as teenagers from different backgrounds. They spoke about the impact it has had on their home and their lives. 

“Having a giggly young person in the house again doing the stuff we loved with our own daughter – play parks, activity centres, joining up with other foster carers for days out – it’s been such great fun. 

“When your children grow up you sometimes lose some connections, such as their friends coming round, and in our case we also retired. You don’t have the connections you once did. Fostering changes that. 

“The other foster carers are amazing, so supportive, and there’s a mutual understanding we have of each other. The training is second to none and although we are both ex-nurses, we have learnt so much. You always have your allocated supervising social worker who is there just for you, to help and give advice when required.”   

Groups of up to six or from two households can meet outdoors from Monday, March 29.

Have you ever considered fostering? - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

The couple are currently caring for a teenager, who has been staying with them since January 2020. As they head off to university soon, the couple are planning to offer her continued support as they go to study. 

“We can honestly say we have had a ball fostering, and every challenge we have met head on as a learning experience.  

“Foster carers do not look at behaviour as good or bad; it’s a result of what the young person has experienced in life. It’s our job to fill in the missing bits without judgement, and we will always remain in awe of the trauma our young people have endured and how they heal.” 

To find out more about becoming a foster carer in Norfolk, search online for Fostering - Norfolk County Council

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