Fo I have had vision problems for a long time: macular degeneration meant that I did not have central vision in one eye. Then one morning in 2013, my other eye, the good one, hemorrhaged. They told me it was permanently damaged and nothing would improve it. I officially registered as blind or severely visually impaired.
It was a huge shock. The little things became much more difficult, like making a cup of tea, since I had boiling water everywhere. People I know used to stop talking in the street and I didn’t know who they were.
I was able to cope, but my biggest fear was that because I was blind, the local council would prevent me from being a foster caregiver. I started fostering children 30 years ago when I was just divorced and was a single mother of three, after seeing an ad in the Oldham Chronicle. At the time, I was babysitting my friends’ kids when they were at work, but I liked the idea of helping kids who really needed it. I didn’t think the council would like me because I was single, but they didn’t seem to care.
It was an arduous application process, but less than an hour after I was approved for parenting, I received a phone call asking if I would accept a five-week-old baby. He stayed with us until shortly before his first birthday and since then I have raised over 150 children.
Councils and host agencies rarely let people with disabilities become adoptive parents. When I came home from the eye hospital, I thought they would say that I couldn’t do it anymore and they would take the children I was caring for. The only foster caregiver I know who has a disability has MS, but they have a partner to help. I thought they wouldn’t want someone disabled and single, and it broke my heart to think about it. He couldn’t stop thinking about what would happen to the children. But someone from the city council came to see me, and after asking a lot of questions and doing new risk assessments, they said they wanted me to continue.
I have lost count of how many children I have raised since then. Right now, I have a three week old baby and a 15 year old girl. The teenager tries to show me things on her phone, which I can’t see at all, and I have to remind her not to leave things like shoes in the middle of the floor, because when I look down I don’t see anything. . Fortunately, I have not had a bad fall at home yet, but I have tripped when leaving the house. I fell badly on the street a few weeks ago because I didn’t see the sidewalk. It’s easier with the baby, as long as the clothes don’t have complicated buttons. I have my twin daughters come to see things like rashes to see if I need to go to the doctor.
For safety reasons, I stopped taking children between the ages of two and five because they are more likely to run away in the park and I can’t do things like clip babies’ nails. Fortunately, my two daughters are now foster carers as well, and all of my children live within a 10-minute walk, so I have a lot of support. My adopted son, who is 24 years old and has Asperger’s, still lives with me.
The biggest problem is that I can no longer drive, so if the children have days of contact with their families, they have to live nearby so that I can get there easily. Even without foster care, that was the hardest thing for me because it meant losing my independence. I know my eyes won’t get better, but I also know that I’ll get better from dealing with it.
The hardest part of parenting hasn’t changed since I lost my sight: it’s still saying goodbye. I don’t think you can be a good foster caregiver if you don’t stick with it. It breaks your heart when they leave, but I always think, if I had stayed with the first one, where would the other 150 children have gone?
I’m 63 now and I don’t know when I’ll stop doing this. I don’t think there is any better job in the world. I love seeing a childless couple walk into my home and meet their son for the first time. Or when a father turns things around and gets his son back. When suddenly a father sees the light, it is an incredible feeling for the child, but also for me.
As he told Nicola Slawson
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George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism