WHEN Jill Mellersh met Sean Kearney on holiday in Ibiza 24 years ago neither could have expected how quickly their lives would turn upside down.
The pair fell in love on the balearic island and just five months later they were married. Jill, originally from Kent moved to Tandragee to be with her new husband but this was only the start of the major changes to their lives.
Just two months in to married life the couple read an advert seeking Foster carers. The both immediately knew this is what they wanted to do and they set about getting approval from the Trust.
“We saw the advert and decided immediately that this is what we wanted to do,” said Jill. “By December of that year we were fully approved – I remember the approval came through at 10am and by 2pm we had three children put into our care – it was a complete whirlwind.
“Since then our home has never been without children and over the years we have given a home to over 20 children.
“We also had a daughter of our own who is now grown up with her own children and we adopted two of the boys who were in our care – the boys are all now grown up and doing really well. They had been with us in Foster care for about six years when we attended a meeting to hear that they were being put forward for adoption – to us they were our children and for their part they knew us as mum and dad so it felt completely natural to want to adopt them.”
Over the years the Kearney’s have opened their home for short-term, long-term and respite Foster care and have built up some wonderful relationships with the young people who have lived with them.
And their work hasn’t gone unnoticed as last week the couple were awarded the Foster Carers of Distinction accolade by The Fostering Network at Northern Ireland’s Foster Carer of the Year Awards at the Hilton Hotel in Belfast.
“There is a young girl who is now a teenager and reunited with her family but she still comes along to visit – she calls me nanny and it’s lovely to see how well she is doing.
“I can’t say there haven’t been tough times down through the years but then what family doesn’t have tough times. But overall I have to say our experience of Fostering has been so rewarding and we would encourage anyone who is thinking of doing it just to give it a go – register your interest with the Trust and take it from there, I can honestly say it will be a truly rewarding experience.
“If you can give a child love and security then you can Foster. It is not the child’s fault that they are born into situations where they need to go into care. These young people just need love and someone to be there for the, to push for them and to help them in whatever way you can.
“My husband and I try to push them in their education. If they can get through their young years in a loving Foster home and achieve some qualifications then they have a real chance in life.
“It is wonderful to see the changes in the young people from when they arrive at our home and then return to visit years later. We are very proud of them all.
“Young people are the future of Northern Ireland and again I would encourage anyone who is thinking of Fostering to just go for it. The Trusts desperately need more people to come forward, I can honestly say you’ll be glad you did.”
The number of looked after children in Northern Ireland is the highest on record (NSPCC, 2017). As the number of children becoming looked after continues to increase the need to recruit new foster carers remains a priority.
If you live within the Southern Health and Social Care Trust and wish to find out more about fostering or adoption please call the Family Placement Team on 028 37 560 750. For more information visit www.adoptionandfostering.hscni.net