Retired police officer Gabrielle Whyman is enjoying a completely new and fulfilling career thanks to Fostering, providing care and an upbringing for a beautiful six-month-old girl.
As Rhondda Cynon Taf Council marks Foster Care Fortnight (May 12 to 25), working to recruit even more foster carers to help care for the 500 plus children and young people in its care, Gabrielle has spoken out about her experiences.
She is one of the Council’s newest foster carers, having only been approved at the end of last year, and she joins an army of xx people from all walks of life who provide loving, stable homes for the 514 looked-after children in Rhondda Cynon Taf.
Gabrielle, who is mum to two young sons, grew up in a large family with parents who were also foster carers, providing a stable supportive home for some 40 boys who were looked-after, helping them to flourish into confident young men.
There was never any doubt Gabrielle would go on to live a life filled with children and she and her husband, Lee, were thrilled at the arrival of their sons, who are now seven and eight.
When Gabrielle was offered early retirement from the police after 13 years in the force, she took the opportunity to begin a career and, last year, she and Lee began the process to become foster carers for Rhondda Cynon Taf Council.
They chose to work for the council due to the support they were offered and because they wanted to help the children the local authority secures care for.
Less than a week after being approved as foster carers, Lee and Gabrielle received the call they had been waiting for, a then seven-week-old baby girl was being brought to their Church Village home.
Since then, the baby has become part of the Whyman’s lives and is the centre of attention for her “big brothers”. With the Council’s support, Gabrielle is able to remain at home full-time and care for the baby girl, as well as her own two sons.
While she was understandably nervous at first about her massive lifestyle change, Gabrielle is thrilled at how well it has worked out and is now looking forward to her new, challenging career ensuring looked-after children have the best possible start to life.
She is determined the baby she is caring for now, as well as any other foster children her family welcome into their home are given all the opportunities and support they deserve.
She is looking forward to being able to use her natural skills as a person, as well as the teacher training she secured during her time in the police, to encourage and nurture the children in her care, alongside her own family.
Gabrielle explained: “I am one of four girls and my parents were foster carers also. They helped older boys who needed foster homes and it was my dad who really took them under his wing and tried to raise them as his sons, preparing them for adult life.
“There were some with whom it didn’t work out, but there are many fully-grown men who still, to this day, consider my parents as their “mum and dad” also and have gone on to enjoy happy, successful lives as a result of the time and care they were given.
“Because I was raised in this environment and am from such a large family, it was inevitable it was something I was always going to do.”
She explained the application process seemed longer than she expected it to be, due to the level of detail her social worker went into. (Each foster family has a dedicated social worker who works with them every step of the way).
However, as soon as they had been approved by the board, the process then accelerated, with just a few days between them being approved as foster carers and their first child arriving.
Gabrielle said: “It was almost surreal. We were approved just before Christmas and then waited only a few days for her to be here. The boys took to her straight away and she is a wonderful addition to our house, which was previously dominated by males!
“They are so gentle and caring towards her and she has fitted right in. We are an active family who love time outdoors in the park, on the beach or just going for a walk locally and she now enjoys that too.
“I was very nervous when I first made the decision to leave my police career to start a new one as a foster carer. I kept asking everyone if they thought I had done the right thing as it was a big change. A few months later and I know I have done the right thing.
“I love being at home, I love the company of children and I love being able to invest my time into bringing up children, both my own sons and the baby we currently have in our care. It is not just a hobby or an interest, it is a true vocation and a good career choice.
“Our little girl is part of our family for as long as she is with us. Not just mine and Lee’s, but the wider unit with aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents. We hope by welcoming her into our family, she can benefit from our lifestyle and we can focus our time and attention on supporting her and our sons to be the best they can be.”
Rhondda Cynon Taf Council’s foster carers come from all walks of life. Some are retired and some work. Some are married and some are single or separated. Many have left their first careers in order to focus their time on doing something they have always wanted to do – care for children.
Each applicant has a dedicated social worker to help them through the process and, when approved, Rhondda Cynon Taf Council foster carers benefit from extensive support – from council staff and other foster carers – generous fees and allowances, training opportunities and more.
Cllr Annette Davies, Rhondda Cynon Taf Council’s Cabinet Member for Children’s Social Services, said: “Foster Care Fortnight is an important date in our calendar as it gives us a chance to showcase fostering as a rewarding, challenging career alternative for so many.
“Our existing foster carers are always hugely supportive and take the time to tell their stories and answer some of the question others, who may be considering fostering a child, want to ask.
“There is no set template for what makes a good foster carer. We have older residents, single mums and dads and same sex couples. Some have their own children and some don’t. It takes people from all walks of life.”
Find out more by visiting the Foster Care Pages or call 0800 085 26 35 or email the Foster Care Team