Norfolk's foster carers celebrated

PUBLISHED: 10:22 27 March 2014 | UPDATED: 10:22 27 March 2014

Norfolk foster carers have been presented with long service awards at a ceremony at Gressenhall Museum - 45 years service Irene Couse at the front, with some of the long service award recipents. Picture: Matthew Usher.

Norfolk foster carers have been presented with long service awards at a ceremony at Gressenhall Museum - 45 years service Irene Couse at the front, with some of the long service award recipents. Picture: Matthew Usher.

© Archant Norfolk 2014

Fostering in Norfolk is embarking on a "transformational journey", according to county council officials as the hard work, dedication and commitment of long-term foster carers was celebrated.

Forty-five years of transforming children’s lives

Irene Couse, from Cromer, has been fostering children in Norfolk for 45 years.

Now 71, she became a foster carer after seeing fostering featured on the television.

Over the last four-and-a-half decades she has helped to transform the lives of more than 100 children.

She has had one girl in her care since she was 10 – she is now 32.

Mrs Couse, who has her own son, Alistair, aged 44, said: “When I saw something on TV about fostering, I thought I would have a go.

“I didn’t realise I was going to do it for 45 years.

“There have been ups and downs over the years, good and bad times.”

At one time, Mrs Couse had six foster children living with her.

“That was quite a lot,” she said. “But we were like one big, happy family.”

Mrs Couse said she was pleased to be presented with her award for 45 years service.

She added: “It’s lovely, it’s really nice.

“It was quite a surprise to be recognised.”

More than 40 carers, with a combined total of more than 400 years service, were yesterday recognised for the contribution they have made to the lives of some of Norfolk’s most vulnerable children.

Awards were presented to foster carers with more than five years service at a special ceremony at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse – with the long-serving foster carer, Irene Couse from Cromer, recognised for her 45 years service.

The event comes as Norfolk County Council chiefs vowed to improve its foster care service, taking it from “satisfactory” to “outstanding”.

Sheila Lock, the county council’s interim director of children’s services, who presented the awards, said: “What makes a good service is putting a child at the centre of what we do and there’s only one way we can do that – and that’s by working as a team. It’s been really tough for people but there is a real sense of optimism. The government told me this week that they can see the progress we have made in Norfolk.

‘We have loved every minute’

It was her own sad upbringing which inspired Barbie Howell to become a foster carer.

Now, together with her husband, David, she has taken more than 150 children into her care over the last 30 years.

Mrs Howell, 56, who lives in East Rudham, near Fakenham, said: “I lost my mother when I was five so I had quite a sad upbringing while David came from a big family.

“Even before we had our own children, it was something we talked about doing.”

The couple, who have three children of their own, Ben, 33, Amy, 30, and Katy, 29, have taken in children of all ages, from babies to 18-year-olds and have offered short-term, long-term and emergency respite care.

“It’s been really rewarding,” said Mrs Howell. “We have loved every minute and we have kept in touch with the children we’ve fostered.”

Mrs Howell said they could not have done it without the support of their own children. “Our three children have been incredible,” she said. There have been times when we’ve had to pick a child up on Christmas Eve and they have had to share their presents, but most of all they have had to share their parents and grandparents.”

She added: “It’s been a privilege for us to look after the children we have had.”

“Over the next year, I hope that we can take children’s services from strength to strength and build on some of the really good ingredients that we have got: great foster carers and fantastic staff.”

At the start of 2012, the council was downgraded from “good” to “satisfactory” by Ofsted inspectors. Last year, its arrangements for the protection of children and services for looked-after children were deemed “inadequate”.

Peter Ronan, operations manager for fostering, said: “We’re hoping this year we will start a transformational journey and it’s hoped within the next three years we will go from a ‘good’ to an ‘outstanding’ fostering service.” He added: “Foster caring is a complete way of life. When you become a foster carer, you completely transform your life with the aim of transforming the life of a child. Today represents 400 years of dedication to public service.”

Yesterday’s event was the ninth year that the county council has held the awards to celebrate its own foster carers. There are currently 360 foster carers across Norfolk and the county council needs more to support the more than 1,000 children in its care.

Foster carers can come from any background but they must have the time and commitment needed to care for a looked-after child or children.

To find out more about fostering, go to

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