Foster carers who have looked after more than 150 children from Wolverhampton over the last four decades have been rewarded for their services by being named MBEs in the Queen's New Year's Honours List. Kath and Roy Shayler fostered their first child way back in February 1972 – and haven’t looked back since, going on to offer a loving home to scores of other local children over the last 43 years.
"I just love caring for babies and children,” said Kath, who is 67. “Even though we already had two young children of our own, we thought we'd offer our services by fostering – and we haven’t looked back since.
"We were so surprised to get the letter saying we were to be made MBEs; we couldn't believe it and I'd like to say a huge thank you to whoever it was who put our names forward. We are bursting with pride and cannot wait to share the news with family and friends.”
Over the years, Kath and Roy – who went on to have six children of their own – have fostered more than 150 children for the City of Wolverhampton Council, from babies and toddlers through to teenage girls with their own children.
At one point, they even provided a loving home to a group of seven sisters. Kath said: "When I look back, I cannot believe how we coped at the time – because we also had some of our own children living with us at that point. I was also working part time at the local doctor's surgery while Roy was a welder, but somehow we managed.
"We couldn't have done it without the support of our own children, who are incredibly caring and have always been only too willing to help out. Fostering is definitely in the family; my son Steven, who lives just up the road from me, has become a foster carer, as has my sister.”
The pair, who first met when they were 14, continued to foster children from Wolverhampton on long-term placements since moving from their home in Fallings Park to Weymouth on the Dorset coast in the 1990s. Kath said: "As we'd been fostering for the council for 20 years, they were very keen for us to continue doing so, and therefore we switched from providing short term support to long term placements.
"It means we can offer a loving home to young people from Wolverhampton who don't necessarily need a home in the local area – and because our house is only five minutes from the beach it's a very different environment for them to grow up in."
Kath, who still works part time caring for people with mental health issues, and Roy, who is 66 and now retired, continue to foster to this day, with two children aged eight and nine currently on long term placements, and Kath cannot see why the pair cannot keep on fostering for many years to come.
She said: “We haven't known it any differently. Our house has always been busy, and even now every weekend we have 25 people round for Sunday lunch; our children come over to join us and our foster children – and bring their partners and our 13 grandchildren with them!
"This is our life and we couldn't think of anything we'd rather be doing. We're still in touch with lots of our former foster children on Facebook who are now living their own lives. They are all over the world, with one working as a chef in Dubai, and it's so nice to think that we've helped them on their way.
"Fostering is absolutely wonderful and I would recommend it to anyone."
Councillor Val Gibson, the City of Wolverhampton Council's Cabinet Member for Children and Young People, said: “We are very lucky to have so many dedicated foster carers – like Kath and Roy Shayler – who combine a desire to help children from Wolverhampton with a commitment to providing the best possible care for them.
"Fostering is not always easy – as Kath and Roy have no doubt found out, it can be very hard work, but it also hugely worthwhile, satisfying and a lot of fun.
“I am delighted their commitment over the last four decades has been recognised in this way, though I am sure they will be the first to say that the greatest reward of fostering is knowing that they have helped a child or young person when they needed it most.”
Anyone who is interested in becoming a foster carer with the City of Wolverhampton Council is invited to visit www.wolverhampton.gov.uk/fostering or calling the Fostering for Wolverhampton team on 01902 551133.
Foster carers can be sole carers, married or in a relationship. Placements can be anything from a few days to a number of years, and carers receive a regular, tax exempt allowance to cover the cost of bringing up the child.
Help and support is available 24 hours a day, while first-time foster carers also receive six months' "buddy support" from experienced carers who are there to guide them through the system.
Councillor Gibson added: "Fostering can truly be a life-changing experience, both for the foster carers and the young people they care for, and we'd love to hear from anyone else who is interested in helping local children by becoming a foster carer."