The precious moment when you become a parent is hard to forget.
For Heather and John Lambert, pictured left, it’s a joy they have experienced time and time again.
In fact the couple’s family is so big they’ve almost lost count of the number of children they have looked after.
It takes some time for the couple, who live in Totton, to come up with the figure – 65 youngsters over the best part of a decade.
For Heather and John are full time foster carers. It’s their job to provide a loving and supportive home for however long a child needs.
Granted, Heather admits there have been hard times but after both growing up in a big family it’s only natural for them to be surrounded by children.
They’ve worked as full time carers for nine years and can’t imagine the journey ever ending.
Before having their first son, the couple contemplated fostering but couldn’t imagine having the strength to let the children go when their time with them was over.
But 12 years ago they decided to adopt a child, and met a foster carer who would change their lives forever.
With three sons of their own, they adopted a beautiful six-year-old girl.
When they spent time with the foster mother who helped raise her, it was clear to Heather and John that fostering was the perfect thing their family could do.
Not long after the adoption, they signed up to become foster parents and haven’t looked back.
“We just love it,” says Heather, 50.
“I can’t imagine doing anything else. When we met the foster carer who gave us our daughter she said: you have to think of it like this, if you shed a tear after that child leaves, it shows that you cared for that child and they can move onto a better life.
“I’m not saying it’s easy to say goodbye, because it’s not. I’ve always loved seeing how much they achieve when living in a stable environment.
These kids are coming from all sorts of backgrounds, but they won’t leave you until they have a new, safe and permanent home, so we get to see them go off and start their life which is just the best feeling.
“Over nine years we have seen 65 children come through those doors and still, every time we get a call to say a child needs us we all get so excited, it’s like a new challenge.”
In Southampton alone there are 270 foster households and 500 children in local authority care. The council currently has 20 children who need a placement and hope that its campaign Foster February will encourage new carers.
Children’s services bosses hope to create 40 more foster homes in Southampton this year. Hampshire County Council have 530 fostering households and are responsible for 888 children.
Heather says: “Ideally it would be good if we could get to a stage where there are a few foster homes for a child to choose from, so that they are better suited, at the moment it’s more a case of a child needs a bed, where can we fit them.”
“If you’re not sure then arrange to see a foster carer through a social worker or go to the council’s event, they can really help to explain what this is all about.”
Husband, John, 59, adds: “We’re just one big happy family really, you take them in and treat them like your own children and slowly they start to feel more stable. I love having the younger ones, because some of your most precious memories are with your children as babies, and we get to experience that all over again.
“They’re a part of us, I’ve seen their first steps and heard a little girl singing in her cot, and those little things are what make this the best job in the world. We still get to see and hear from all the children we looked after and see the person they are becoming.”
Helen Kendall, pictured above,doesn’t let a disability stop her being a foster mum.
Helen, 46, from Southampton, is deaf and proof that the most important part of being a foster carer is giving a child a safe and caring home.
As a full time carer for the past two years, Helen has looked after four young babies – even using British Sign language to communicate with them as well as normal speech.
She explains: “More and more hearing people are now going to baby signing classes as it has been recognised that babies understands sign at a very early age. It seems to calm them down and helps them to sleep.
“If you want to foster but think there’s a reason why you can’t, I would urge you to find out where you really stand as it’s likely you can.
“I always wanted to foster as I’m good with young children and although it was a big step, nothing was going to stop me.
“My social worker is very good and the fostering team is supportive and lovely to deal with.
“Being deaf doesn’t stop me from being a good foster mum in any way. Knowing that I put some good into my foster child’s life is so rewarding and I hope I will be able to do the same for many more children.
“It’s been a really good couple of years , I recently had a cochlear implant operation which means I can now hear sounds that I’d never heard before, like the birds in the morning.
“I really hope that my story will inspire more people to become foster carers – there are children in Southampton who need us.”
ANYONE can become a foster parent if they are able to provide a safe environment for a child.
You can be married, single or with a partner, a homeowner or tenant, any sexuality. There is no legal age limit if you are suitable for the job and a spare room is preferable.
To find out more go to Southampton City Council’s Foster February event on Thursday February 20 at the Central Library from 10am-5pm, ring the city council’s foster care service 08005 19 18 18 or log on to southampton.gov.uk/fostering.