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Couple who fostered 1,000 young people retire after almost 40 years

Wendy & Steve Taylor

A couple who have been foster carers for almost 40 years are retiring having provided a loving and supportive home for around 1,000 young people in Swansea during their career.

This year Christmas will be a little quieter than usual for Wendy and Steve Taylor MBE.

Over this extraordinary period, the Foster Wales Swansea carers, have not only provided a home, but an excellent standard of care for some of the city’s most vulnerable young people.

The couple, from Winch Wen, started fostering after they had their daughter, Becky, in 1984. Steve always wanted to be part of a bigger family and they didn’t want their daughter to grow up as an only child.

Wendy said: “We were unable to have any more children but did not want her to be an only child though she now jokes she’s been brought up with half of Swansea.”

Over nearly four decades, the couple have excelled and specialised in caring for teenagers. Many of those, particularly at the beginning of their fostering career, were youth offenders who they helped and supported to rehabilitate.

Wendy & Steve Taylor with some of the people they have fostered over the years

By their own admission, they spent a lot of time in police stations, asking to go into the cells to speak to the young person in question.

Wendy and Steve have continuously advocated for teenagers and children on remand, supporting them and helping them to have a voice.

Steve said: “We feel it’s important for young people to feel supported, and they are listened to and feel safe.”

Wendy added: “Many have come from a background where education isn’t seen to be important so going to school and college can be very frightening for them. But sometimes, when they are given an opportunity and a guiding hand, they can surprise you. We have been so proud to see some of our children go on to college and make a good life for themselves.”

The Taylors say they have enjoyed managing challenging behaviours, supporting the development of independent living skills, and supporting the young people in their care to move onto independence. They have strived to equip the young people for life after they leave.

This, they say, is their biggest achievement as foster carers.

Steve said: “Helping young people move on to independence successfully, or back home to their parents, is one of our main achievements. Knowing that we have played a part in allowing them to mature and move on to adulthood, in a world which can be scary, is very satisfying. As much as we can, we continue supporting the young people after they have left us so they know we are still there for them.”

Wendy said: “Every child is different but facing the world as an adult can be very stressful and it’s a shock for them. Just grasping the concept of bills is hard so Steve and I try hard to educate and prepare them.”

In 2015, the couple received MBEs for their work in helping young people, one of their favourite memories of fostering.

Steve said: “Receiving our MBE from the Queen in 2015 is definitely up there as one of our fondest memories of fostering. Another favourite memory is when our daughter was a bridesmaid at a foster son’s wedding.”

But when they embarked on the training to become foster carers, they actually had their minds set on fostering babies. It was only after speaking to another foster carer that they soon realised they would find moving a baby on to adoption or back home would be too difficult for them.

One day, Steve was talking to a work colleague who was part of a family placement scheme which specialised in fostering teenagers. They decided that this would suit them better and as the saying goes, the rest is history.

Steve said: “We felt we could not get attached to teenagers – we were very wrong – so we went on the Family Placement Scheme; the second couple on the scheme.”

In their long career as foster carers, specialising in caring for teenagers, they have displayed a positive attitude to developing relationships with birth families and have also successfully rehabilitated children back home to their birth families.

Wendy and Steve have had such an impact on many young people’s lives that many of them continue to keep in touch with them.

Wendy said: “We still keep in touch with many of the young people we looked after and they are all welcome to visit. You never know who will show up at Christmas time and that’s lovely. One of our ex-foster sons visits us regularly. He’s 54 years old now. Though if everyone we fostered came to visit us, we wouldn’t be able to afford all the tea and coffee.”

Over the years, Wendy in particular, has been a mentor to new foster carers, undertaking work and offering advice and invaluable information relating to her experiences.

But what has kept them going for nearly 40 years?

Steve said: “It does not seem like 40 years at all. We have enjoyed fostering and would do it all again. Realising that we could help to change a young person’s life for the better, and having some happy memories has been amazing and rewarding. Fostering has also brought some sad memories, but you can’t have one without the other.

“We have loved being part of so many young people’s lives and help them get ready for adulthood. And when the young people come to visit us years later with their own children, it just feels all worthwhile.”

Wendy added: “On the whole, fostering has been such a rewarding job. At times, it has been difficult as you’re taking on other people’s problems and trying to manage them. Unlike most children, they don’t have a mum or dad who they can turn to for help. They have also been through a lot in their lives already. That’s why we have wanted to do all we can to help the young people in our care.”

And do they think they’ve learnt anything from fostering?

Wendy said: “I think fostering has taught us loads, it’s definitely been a huge learning curve. My confidence has grown and I have learned a lot over the years. When I first starting fostering teenagers, I used to feel threatened by their families but that soon changes and I ended up loving working with them.”

Even though they have now retired, they will continue to encourage people to considering fostering, especially to help teenagers.

Wendy said: “I know that more foster carers are needed in general, but there is an increased need for people to care for teenagers.”

Steve said: “We would tell anyone who is interested in fostering to give it a go, but also give it time. Our first foster son was very difficult until we had another two young people placed with us. It was surprising to see how a different dynamic could change the behaviour of a young person. Also, the support you will receive from Foster Wales Swansea, and other foster carers, will help when you’re having challenging times.”

Wendy said: “I know I will miss it all so much, it’s a wonderful thing taking in children. We have loved fostering. It’s been lovely having them all with us – I suppose it’s a feeling of belonging.”

On Monday the Taylors were invited to Guildhall by the Lord Mayor of Swansea so that they could be thanked for all they have done for young people in Swansea.

Cllr Louise Gibbard, Cabinet Member for Care Services, said: “The commitment that Wendy and Steve have shown to the lives of so many young people in Swansea is truly remarkable. To dedicate nearly 40 years caring for vulnerable children and providing them with a voice, safety, and opportunities for a brighter future is inspirational.

“During their time as foster carers, they have provided unconditional love and nurture, and we’re delighted to be celebrating this amazing achievement with them. I hope they can take a moment to reflect on the contribution they have made and the difference they have made to the lives of young people in Swansea.

“We are so grateful for their dedication. Thirty-nine years is a long time and there are not many people who will have reached that incredible milestone. I’m sure they have experienced many ups and downs during their time fostering but it’s undeniable that they achieved much success in supporting vulnerable young people in Swansea.

“We would like to thank Wendy and Steve for everything they have done and wish them well on their much-deserved retirement. We are very fortunate to have such inspirational people fostering with Swansea Council.

“We do need more people who are willing to take on this rewarding challenge. If you are interested in fostering, then contact the Foster Wales Swansea Team for an informal chat.”