Since my childhood I’ve always been drawn to fresh starts. So I was drawn into Bill Nighy’s new film, ‘Living’, in which he plays a plodding civil servant (nicknamed ‘Mr. Zombie’ by his colleagues) in the 1950s, working in a local council office. Every day is the same – until he is given a terminal cancer diagnosis – at which point he kicks over the traces and tries to live a bit. But his forays into decadent self-indulgence really don’t work for him – and he returns to the chains of his desk. From there, however, a metamorphosis does begin as he galvanises his young team to build a children’s playground on an abandoned bomb site – ultimately finding redemption through purpose. If it sounds a bit kitsch – it really isn’t, probably due to Bill Nighy’s acting and Kazuo Ishiguro’s script. My sort of film, my sort of life.
And then this past week I read of Sir John Timpson’s support for a new initiative, ‘Now Foster’. About twenty years ago, I can remember hearing about his family’s decision to become foster parents; I recall it was his wife, Alex’s, initiative but one in which he fully participated and they ended up looking after numerous children in a thirty-three year fostering career. He is now eighty (still running about 2,000 high-street shoe shops!) and Alex died in 2016 – but he is supporting this new charity that encourages professional empty-nesters to become foster parents.
It’s a much-needed initiative. There are currently about 100,000 children in care (more than 14% up from 2016) and, due to a lack of fostering families, a third of those children are in residential children’s homes. The latter were set up to accommodate those children who, due to the level of their trauma and complexity, cannot manage the demands of a fostering family life – but they are increasingly utilised by Children’s Services who have no foster families available for their more mainstream children who would probably benefit far more from being in a family.
Now Foster is targeting the middle-class and middle-aged empty-nesters with spare bedrooms, books on their shelves and space in their lives. This group is not currently well represented in the fostering profession and yet they are often those whose ambition for children to do well is a given – and they are able to offer the sort of focused energy and thoughtfulness that children require whose birth parents were unable to prioritise their needs – or work to meet them – for whatever reason.
Perhaps it’s time to make a fresh start with a new career in fostering?
Martha and Rachel