It”s a time when most want to ease up. So meet the inspiring couples who are fostering instead of retiring
At 65, retired nurse June Singleton doesn’t fit the profile of a typical X Factor viewer, yet she is as knowledgeable about the contestants as any teenager.
In fact, over the past few years, June has not only become an expert on pop stars, she spends most weekends standing on touchlines watching rugby matches or making trips to the swimming pool.
But these outings are not with her grandchildren — they live thousands of miles away — nor is she one of Britain’s oldest mothers.
Revelation: Roger and Caroline March with their 17-year-old foster son Leon
In fact, June is one of an increasing number of men and women who are choosing to foster children at an age when they could be forgiven for easing back in life.
And while becoming an ‘empty nest’ or ‘retirement’ foster carer certainly isn’t without its stresses, June says it has quite simply transformed her life and that of her husband Peter, also 65.
‘I honestly think it’s the best thing we’ve ever done,’ says June. ‘It’s made us feel young again.’
Five years ago, the couple were about to slip into a comfortable, if rather staid, retirement together after 37 years of marriage.
‘Like lots of couples, we’d been married so long we’d almost run out of things to say to each other,’ she says.
‘We would have rattled around the house getting more and more stuck in our ways.’
Then the couple saw a TV advert appealing for foster carers and it struck a chord.
‘We’d always been aware that there were children who didn’t have families or who had bad starts in life, but never had the time to pursue it,’ says June.
Wendy Phillips, 61, with foster child William Morris, 17 in Bexlyheath. He had 10 years of foster parents and childrens homes before he was placed with Wendy
‘When we saw the advert my husband said that, because we were then 60, we would be too old. I also had angina, so I thought there would be no way we would be approved.’
But June rang the next day to find out more, and discovered that being of more advanced years was no barrier to fostering.
Within a week the couple were snapped up by their local county council in Ayrshire for training.
‘Some people thought we were mad and tried to put us off,’ says June.
‘My sister-in-law told Peter he was daft to do it at his age when he should be putting his feet up.
‘I am friends with a councillor and an MP and they warned me that children who need fostering can be troubled and that we didn’t know how difficult it would be. We decided to give it a go anyway.’
Given June’s state of health, the Singletons were approved for weekend-only emergency fostering and respite care, which enables long-term foster carers or struggling families to have a break.
‘The idea was that I could recover during the week, but it didn’t quite happen like that,’ says June. ‘In the first year, we had 152 children through our doors — most just for a night, so we didn’t have the chance to bond with them. There was a ten-month-old baby and the rest were aged between five and 15.
‘Some of the teenagers were especially challenging. They wouldn’t come home at night and we’d have to call the police.’
‘Rhys is transformed, his behaviour is so much better, but he has brought so much to us, too,’ says June.
However, the couple loved it enough to carry on and since June’s angina was cured by a heart operation in 2009 she has never looked back.
Around the same time, eight-year-old Rhys was sent to them.
For confidentiality reasons June can’t give details about his early life, except to say it was a ‘really terrible upbringing’ in which he had to take on responsibilities beyond his age.
A problem child, social services struggled to find him a permanent foster home.
As a result, he carried on living with the Singletons — and has stayed for so long he has become part of the family.
They are in the process of making it official with a ‘permanent placement’ order, a development that thrills June.
Rhys also fills the grandchild-sized hole in the couple’s daily lives left since their son Andrew, 39, moved to New Zealand 15 years ago and then had his two sons, now aged 12 and 14.
Molly Evans, 57, and her partner Osgood, 54, from Brixton, south London, have fostered two teenage boys, aged 18 and 13
‘Rhys is transformed, his behaviour is so much better, but he has brought so much to us, too,’ says June.
‘He’s brought a lot of love and we do so much together as a family. We go to watch him play football and rugby and we go swimming at the weekends. I’m fitter than I’ve ever been.
“Peter helps him with his homework and on Saturday nights Rhys and I watch The X Factor together — we’ve each got a 1 bet on who will win. I think it’s Marcus, while he likes Little Mix.’
Peter, a retired joiner, has enjoyed such a new lease of life that he has returned to work, as a caretaker at local sheltered flats.
While the couple’s more advanced years haven’t caused problems, June says there has been the occasional misunderstanding.
She recalls the time she and Rhys bought an Eminem album and played it in the car on the way home.
“I’m much less selfish and materialistic than I used to be.’
‘There was all this swearing, which was a bit of a surprise,’ says June. ‘So we had to take it back and buy one with all the rude words bleeped out. I never thought I’d spend my retirement doing things like this.’
Roger March is another sixtysomething whose retirement is not panning out as planned.
When he retired in 1997, he was deputy chief executive of Dyfed Powys Magistrates’ Courts after a career in which he admits work had been his priority.
‘I did a lot for my family, but I have also been a selfish person over the years,’ he says.
‘I did a lot of what I wanted, whether it was going out to watch plays four or five nights a week or buying myself the best golf clubs or driving sports cars — I liked Mercedes and Audi TTs.
‘The irony is that now I drive a Volkswagen people carrier and never have time to play golf. But, honestly, these things don’t seem important any more. I’m much less selfish and materialistic than I used to be.’
Instead, the 64-year-old can find himself woken in the middle of the night by one of the newborn babies he and his second wife, Caroline, often have sleeping in a crib alongside their own bed as part of a mother and baby placement.
These are when a vulnerable, often teenage mother needs support in developing her parenting skills, and where there is concern about the safety of the baby.
Miggy Todd with her foster child Daniel aged 10. She has fostered more than 70 children over 20 years
Mothers stay for up to the first 12 weeks of the baby’s life, closely monitored by the foster parents.
Roger’s rather dramatic life change began in 2003 when his first wife died of cancer.
As a widower, he threw himself into his hobbies and started up an amateur dramatics society, where he met Caroline, a 48-year-old divorcee with four children.
She had just started fostering and, following their whirlwind romance, the couple decided to extend what she had been doing, especially as all their own children had by then flown the nest.
They married in 2007 and bought a large, five-bedroom family home in west Wales with the aim of making fostering the focus of their lives.
‘Leon, who is 17, was the first child we fostered and he’s still with us. He is under a special guardianship order, which basically means he’s our son,’ says Roger.
‘As well as him, we’ve had 11 short-term placements, and we’re on our fourth mother-and-baby placement.
‘Yes, the sleepless nights can be tiring, but it’s amazing what you can do when you’re determined.
‘Fostering has been an utter revelation. In the job I was in, I saw so many people retire, then die within 12 months, but fostering gives you the momentum to stay young. And it’s so rewarding.
“The downsides of coming to it later in life are that you need a lot of energy — which isn’t a problem for me — and you may have become set in your ways.’
Dealing with often very damaged children is not easy either, and Roger says there have been times when he and Caroline have wept because they simply couldn’t connect with a child.
But he has obviously taken to his new life with gusto and says that last year they had 24 people for Christmas dinner, including their own children and their foster children.
Foster parent Rio Hogarty looks after Rebecca Murphy, 12
‘I am an extraordinarily fortunate person to have had two lives,’ he says.
‘All our children are supportive of us. My son and daughter were initially surprised that I was fostering, because I was older, but they are 100 per cent behind us now.
‘They are just pleased to see me happy, and I know my first wife would have been proud of me. I have no intention of retiring from fostering any time soon.’
In Britain, there are approximately 59,000 children living with 45,000 foster families. A recent report showed that the average age of foster carers is rising significantly, with more becoming ‘empty nest’ foster carers. Some 65 per cent of carers are over 50, with more than a quarter over the age of 60, with even some in their 70s.
In 2000, the average age of a foster mother was 46; now it is 53. For male foster carers, the age had risen from 47 to 54.
The Fostering Network — the leading charity for foster care — says that more younger people need to be encouraged to come forward because of the shorter working life of those nearer the top end of the age scale.
But educational psychologist Dr Kairen Cullen says being older has many benefits.
‘A foster carer has to have a lot of patience and tolerance and I think it’s fair to say that people with a larger amount of life experience are more likely to have developed these qualities,’ she says.
‘With their own families grown up, people in their 50s and 60s can focus fully on the foster child and they have a wealth of life skills to pass on.
‘People in this age group are also often fired up by the idea of giving something back and that altruistic motivation makes them enthusiastic carers.’
Delia Moorhouse is the foster mother of Tomas Erickson Antezana, age 8
Retired architect David Chisholm, 64, was approved as a foster carer last year.
Like Roger, his life is unrecognisable from the days he spent running a successful practice with offices in London and Edinburgh.
Now he’s more likely to be running after one of the foster children who come to stay with him and his second wife Kay, 54, on their 30-acre small-holding in the Fife countryside.
They specialise in short-term respite care, where children come from their own homes or other foster carers, so their full-time carers can have a break.
David says watching a troubled child blossom is incredibly rewarding.
‘Children come here and they can be free,’ he says.
‘We provide them with an idealised idea of what children should be up to — climbing trees and getting muddy. We also have chickens, Shetland ponies and rabbits and build nest boxes to put in trees.
‘Sometimes children come here with dreadful emotional scars, and it’s a chance to set them aside and help them heal.’
David didn’t have children with his first wife, who suffered from chronic kidney problems for 35 years until she died in 2005.
So he has come to ‘fatherhood’ late in life after meeting Kay, who has three grown-up children, in a coffee shop near his company’s offices. He decided to join her in fostering.
There are experiences he would be happy not to repeat — the time one of his charges was frog-marched over to him in a supermarket after he was caught shoplifting on New Year’s Eve, for example.
But there are many more he cherishes. David particularly treasures his first Father’s Day card — given to him by two brothers who ended up staying with the couple longer than planned.
Jenny and Ivor, from Kennington, near Oxford, are both in their fifties. They smile here with their foster child Joe
‘When they gave it to me, I cried,’ he says.
He believes being older enables him to handle the difficulties with more patience and tact.
‘I had to do a lot of negotiation and mediation in my work as an architect, and that is an asset now. In a challenging situation I don’t panic,’ he says, though he admits his energy levels are often put to the test.
For June Singleton, one of the biggest challenges she faces these days is explaining to friends that she can meet them for coffee only in the mornings.
‘I have to be home at 3pm for when Rhys gets back from school,’ she says.
But to June, and the many thousands like her, inconveniences such as this are a small price to pay for giving a troubled child a family — and a future.
Some names have been changed.For more information, call the Fosterline advice service on 0800 040 7675 or log on to couldyoufoster.org.uk