Twenty years ago Jeanette and Gary Denison and their young children lost everything – even the roof over their head.
As one-time pub landlords, the couple fell on hard times after Gary, who had sustained spinal injuries at work in the past, was also diagnosed with arthritis.
This resulted in him being forced to give up work which, in turn, meant the family losing their home.
As a result they had no other option but to seek refuge in a homeless unit.
“As pub landlords the hours were long and unsociable but at the time it was everything we could have wished for and we felt content with our lot. When this was cut short because of Gary’s injuries things quickly took a turn for the worse,” explains Jeanette, 49.
“With two young children to support – our youngest was only ten months old at the time – and no income, we lost the pub which was also our home. We were left with no choice but to move into a homeless unit. Those months were some of the most difficult we’d ever experienced. We’d lost everything and, with no immediate solution in sight, we felt desperate, like we’d hit rock bottom.”
But it was while living in the homeless unit with other families in dire circumstances that the Denisons hit upon the unlikely idea – that their future could lie in fostering.
“Whilst living there we met other families in a similar situation. Some had social workers and it was during a chance conversation with one of them that we learned about the massive shortage of foster carers. This is something that stuck with me,” says mum-of-three and grandmother Jeanette, from Batley.
“Bit by bit we slowly managed to get back on our feet and were re-housed.
“We kept in touch with a couple of the families from the unit and we’d sometimes have their children round for sleepovers.
“I remember thinking how satisfying it felt being able to help someone out, even if it was just with a bit of babysitting. I then considered those words from the social worker and we asked ourselves; why not do this permanently?”
And so the couple contacted Kirklees Council and things went from there, changing their lives and those of their children.
Since then, they have given a vital loving home to more than 50 vulnerable children and this year mark 20 years as foster carers.
In recognition of this milestone, Jeanette and Gary are to be presented with an award at a foster carer celebration event on October 5 , which is being held by Kirklees Council in partnership with The Kirklees Fostering Network.
With a major shortage of foster carers, Jeanette and Gary are also supporting the local authority’s latest drive in encouraging others to take up the role.
Having overcome so much during their own lives has undoubtedly helped Jeanette and Gary see many children through difficult times.
Now aged 49 and 56, Jeanette and Gary have watched their own children grow up and are also grandparents.
But this hasn’t stopped them from continuing to help vulnerable children and they’ve looked after children of varying ages and abilities, including some with complex medical needs.
As well as being long-term foster carers to one child, they also foster other children on a short-term basis.
“It’s difficult to remember a time when our house wasn’t filled with children,” says 56-year-old Gary . “As well as having three of our own, we’d usually foster two. At one point we had seven children in the house.
“Thankfully our children have always been very supportive and our son and his wife, who themselves are parents, are considering becoming foster carers.
“One thing we’ve learned over the years is that, even if a child comes from the most traumatic of backgrounds, they can overcome pretty much anything if they are shown unconditional love. Even after 20 years you think you’ve seen it all but each child brings something new.
“For the most part we love it and although it isn’t for everyone I would say if you’re one of those people who says they’ve always wanted to do it, why not go ahead and enquire about it?”
Rob Finney, Interim Fostering Service Manager at Kirklees Council, added: “The Denisons’ story tells us that people get into fostering from all walks of life, even having suffered adversity themselves, and then go on to be amongst the best in their profession.
“Right now we have 657 children in our care, 66 of whom need long-term families. We urgently need more people like the Denisons as without them it would be impossible to help the children who come into our care on a daily basis. Some come to us from the most tragic of circumstances, including neglect, abuse and even the death of a parent.
“Without a doubt fostering can be challenging but we have families who have been doing it from anything between a few weeks right up to 32 years.
“These people have all been unwavering in their dedication in helping these children; seeing them through thick and thin, often taking them in at short notice and during unsociable hours.
“While there are many emotional rewards attached to helping a child it’s also important that they are recognised for their efforts.
“I hope next month’s event will go some way towards celebrating those achievements and thanking our foster carers for the amazing work they do.”
Could you be a foster carer?
Kirklees Council is running a fostering campaign until October 15.
Foster carers come from all ages and backgrounds:
Single – male or female, gay, lesbian, bisexual, married or living as a couple
Divorced or widowed
With or without children
Any religious faith or none at all
Any cultural background
Homeowners or renting
Employed, retired or on benefits
With or without professional childcare experience
With or without qualifications
To find out more speak to one of Kirklees Council’s fostering team on 0800 389 0086 or visit www.kirklees.gov.uk/fostering