ANNETTE and Andrew Mays' almost two decades as foster carers started with a leaflet in a doctors' surgery.

Having spent years living in a city, the couple and their two young children had moved to a village.

It felt like an idyllic life and one they wanted to share with children who weren't so fortunate.

"We were in our early 30s with a young son and daughter, aged six and eight," says Annette, who now lives in Lymington.

"After years in central Peterborough, we were enjoying a lovely rural life, in a village house with a large garden and lots of animals.

"I felt very lucky to be where we were and wanted to share that. The decision was as simple as that."

Annette admits that while they were going through their training to become foster carers, they did wonder about any possible negative impact on their children of taking in foster placements.

"You wonder if how your children behave will rub off on the foster children, or vice versa," she says.

"But we felt we were a tight family and we were very positive about it, and they have conformed to our lifestyle."

At first the couple offered respite care, taking three brothers for long weekends once every three weeks.

"Our children found it very exciting," she adds.

"They met these children who grew up in cities and had more street cred. You don't want to bring them up in a bubble. It makes your own children more aware, so it's mutually beneficial.

"We feel it's helped our children to develop to be the well-rounded, caring young professionals that they are today. Our daughter is a children's nurse and our son is training to be a veterinary surgeon."

Annette and Andy now foster through TACT (The Adolescent and Children’s Trust), but previously fostered for their local authority for 18 years.

"Our first placement was a little bit of a shock as it came as a sibling group of three young boys aged six, seven and nine," says Annette.

"Our home suddenly became very alive and full of laughter and sunny days in the garden with happy faces and group fun.

"My son always said he wanted a football team so he was delighted when these boys came to stay with us!

"My children have always brought their friends home, so if you have two or three children in the garden then why not have five or six!

"Cooking and dishing up seven hot meals was tricky to start with but it brought Andrew and I together, as we both needed to be hands on with five under tens to supervise."

Annette adds that having extra children in the house meant that everyone got more family time, as the children could not be left to their own devices, so they did more things together.

The couple began fostering one of the brothers full-time when he was 14, and after he moved out at 18, it then felt natural for them to take on another full-time placement, rather than respite care.

"He had run away and he used to call us up to stay that he'd stop it all if he came and lived with us, so we talked to the social worker and that's what happened."

Annette and Andy's children have now moved out of home, but there are still children in the house, as the couple are currently fostering a sibling group of three girls, who have been with them for eight years, since they were six, seven and nine.

"It is so important for them to be together," says Annette.

"Contact with their birth mother is limited to just six hours a year and their birth father is dead, so these girls really only have each other.

"The strength of belonging that they gain from living alongside each other shouldn’t be underestimated. They realise they are amongst the lucky ones who have managed to travel through the care system and maintain a sibling status. Sadly, it is not the case for many. Knowing they are placed on a permanency arrangement to remain together, enables them to focus on themselves. Now they can move forward educationally and focus on their future without worrying about the next day and losing each other."

Annette adds that fostering has been good for her and Andy, as well as for the children they have given a home to.

"Fostering has made us make time for ourselves" she says.

"It has encouraged us to organise fun days out and to spend quality time together as a family. Andrew and I are both big on being active and outside, we love walking, cycling and horse riding. We have travelled and have enjoyed taking our foster children with us and introducing them to new experiences.

"Fostering can be an emotional and logistical roller coaster. During almost 20 years of fostering, we’ve taken children for respite placements whilst birth parent has been recovering from hospital treatments. Many young children come from neglected backgrounds, some having suffered emotional and/or physical abuse. We’ve collected several placements from the police station, and others arrive in the middle of the night with a social worker. We’ve had a young lad who was a run away and sleeping rough, a young Afghan lady who was escaping from an arranged marriage situation and had been beaten, and even refugees from Eritrea. "Life’s never dull and that’s just the way I like it.

"All these children touch you in so many ways, small little progress steps in how they handle their own personal situation, or milestones. They may test your patience sometimes, but when you drop them off at school, the backward glance to check that you’ve bothered to wait for them to get through the gates, knowing that your care is consistent, is just the warmest thing ever.

"Bonds made in fostering can last a life time. I received six Mothers' Day cards from former foster placements. Many still keep in touch and visit, some with their own offspring now."

And Annette may well find herself receiving more Mothers' Day cards in future, as she has no plans to stop fostering anytime soon.

"I hate a quiet house," she says.

"I like life in the house, and children bring that. And I'm an organiser, and children need to be organised!"

* TACT is the UK's largest fostering and adoption charity. They are always on the lookout for foster carers and adopters. For more information, visit or call 0330 123 2250 for fostering inquiries.