“A BIT of a shock to the system”.
That is how Andrew Bain describes the effects of taking on young foster children, having brought up his two daughters who are now in or approaching their teens.
He and his wife Lisa have found their daily routine turned upside down.
Lisa even gave up her job with Hartlepool Borough Council’s social services department to take up fostering.
And their home is now filled with toys and nappies, just when they thought their days of nurturing very young kids were over.
But the couple and their two daughters, Ashleigh, 15, and 12-year-old Amy wouldn’t swap their new lives for anything.
Lisa, 38, worked for the council for eight years before becoming a full-time foster mum.
“I left my job because I was enjoying it so much and because of practical reasons”, she said.
“I was going out to work and Andrew was coming in from work and it felt like we weren’t doing it as a family at first.
“It feels strange but it’s so rewarding to be able to help someone.
“We do get a lot out of it and so do our girls and it has brought us closer.
“It makes them respect more what they’ve got. It has made them realise what’s out there and that other kids are less fortunate.
“It’s turned our lives upside down but we wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s lovely.”
Lisa praised the support system in place to help them whenever they need it.
“It is tiring, but the agency we work for is so supportive, they are on call 24 hours a day for us.”
After much discussion the Hartlepool couple decided to take the plunge and apply to be foster parents last January.
As Andrew and Lisa both worked for the local authority, rather than apply through the council, they went through a company based in Newton Aycliffe, called Reach Out Care.
A number of visits and rigorous vetting followed, including checking out the Bains’ family tree and everyone who would come into contact with their foster children.
“They even risk-assessed the dog, garden and house to make sure everything was suitable”, said Andrew.
Andrew said Ashleigh and Amy played an active part in the decision to foster.
Andrew and Lisa chose to foster children aged from birth to eight years old as they felt they could pass on more parenting experience than with teenagers.
They took on their first child in October and she is still with the family.
A second young child was welcomed into the home soon afterwards and the Bains are still looking after her.
Andrew, 42, said: “We were initially told we would have them a couple of weeks but it looks like it will be a year.
“It will be a wrench when they go.
“But apparently 70 per cent of adoptive parents keep in touch with foster parents and we hope they will remain in our lives in some way.”
Andrew said the children are “no bother” and they can sleep up to 11 hours.
Speaking during Foster Care Fortnight, which runs until May 29, Andrew added: “You do get sleepless nights, or one might be ill.
“It’s a bit of a shock to the system, but it’s amazing how quickly you can get used to five or six hours sleep a night again.”
He said the couple no longer go down to the pub for a couple of drinks as easily as they could before.
Now if they want to go out, they have to arrange for a Reach Out Care worker to mind the children.
The family’s house is now full of toys and nappies and there is a slide in the garden.
They also have to make sure they are more safety-conscious around their home, as with any other young children.
The couple also had to buy a bigger car to accommodate the new arrivals, as well as two push-chairs.
Andrew said relatives and neighbours had been really supportive and the youngsters are treated as part of the family.
The family are helped out with a grant to help finance the youngsters’ needs.
He said the joys outweighed the pitfalls.
“You do feel like you are changing their lives,” he said.
“You see them the first time they smile or laugh or take their first footsteps.
“Even little things like the first time they see the swing or the first time you take them to the beach or swimming baths can be really satisfying.”
Andrew said you can get foster children with a variety of needs, including temporary stays where a single parent has to go into hospital, or if a parent has had a breakdown, or it could be more serious cases, where the child has been abused.
He added: “I would recommend our agency and fostering.
“It changes your entire life completely.”