A foster carer in South West England has finally retired at 74 years old, having fostered more than 150 teenagers over the past three decades.
“It’s a privilege that I’ve been able to share in the lives of so many young people.”
A Bristol foster carer retired last year after three decades of fostering more than 150 children, local news outlet Bristol Post reported at the time. Andy Hider, aged 74, from Keynsham, has fostered some of the most challenging and vulnerable young people in and around the South West England city. But after 35 years of fostering, she decided to retire last year.
Mrs Hider, who began changing the lives of teenagers when she saw an advert in the local library looking for foster carers, felt it was her calling to look after young teenagers who have had a difficult start in life. Since then, she has worked hard to publicise the importance and value of fostering through TV, radio and press whilst actively helping other foster carers.
She said: “I’ve been fostering for 35 years and I cannot believe it – even saying those words sounds crazy to me. It’s a privilege that I’ve been able to share in the lives of so many young people."
“Andy helped me become independent and now I’m a mum of three”
43- year-old Claire Vernoum from Bedminster told Bristol Post: “I arrived at Andy’s house at the age of 15, I was a very scared teenager with no independence and no clue of anything really. Andy made me feel welcome and before I knew it, I was settled in and had routine back in my life.”
“I had some amazing and some crazy times and met some very special people along the way. Andy helped me become independent and now I’m a mum of three, I work full time and I also have a granddaughter so I’m proud of what I’ve achieved. Apart from my children, living at Andy’s were the best days of my life.”
Mrs Hider says she often felt divided fostering as a single mother, raising three children of her own in the 1980s even though the career path she chose had been “rewarding”.
She said: “I’ve felt a little bit guilty that my own children have had to share me with so many other kids and I have felt at times that there is not enough of me to go around. But there are often touching parts of the work that I do and that’s why I’m able to say, if I had my time all over again I would do it.”
“It was my decision to foster, it wasn’t my sons’, and they’ve had to share me with so many. They’ve had to witness other young people we’ve been living with that have been threatening towards me, who have disrespected me but I’ve always said to them, I’ll deal with this.”
“I would do this all over again – 100 percent.”
34-year-old Mel Rogers who lives in Stockwood, South Bristol, said: “Andy changed by life by not sending me away. Every other foster carer refused to have me back as soon as I ran away or got arrested, they would tell social services to find me somewhere else – I felt like a throw away child.
“Andy refused to give up on me and after having no stable home for three years she gave me a place to call home. I tested her, ran away, got arrested – done pretty much everything that made others abandon me and she stood firm. She gave me hope that I was actually wanted and deserved to be loved, she made me believe that I could be somebody. She still supports me to this day – she is my second mother and always will be.”
Mrs Hider says there is “nothing special” about her and the work she does. Instead, she focuses on supporting others who are considering fostering as she believes it’s a gratifying job role.
She told Bristol Post: “You could even offer me the winning lottery but it would not change a thing. I would do this all over again – 100 percent.”
Andy began changing teenagers’ lives when she saw an advert in the local library
Andy first started fostering 35 years ago when a bookmark fell out of a book in her local library. It had an advert on it for a fostering scheme for teenagers. Though she has now finally retired from fostering, she says she hopes her story could inspire other carers to come forward.
“There have been some difficult times over the years,” she told Bristol Post, “but if I went back to 1985 and you offered me a choice to do whatever I wanted, or the same again, I wouldn’t change a thing. I’m that passionate about it. It’s a privilege to share in the lives of these children and I’m honoured to have been part of their journeys. But enough’s enough now. I’m 75 in the summer so I’m going to finish. However, even 35 years since I started the same issues are still relevant. These children are in desperate need of love and stability and that’s something which is never going to change.”
Her sentiments were echoed by Nasareen Ahmed, the founder of Amicus Foster Care.
The organisation works with local authorities in Bristol, Wiltshire, Swindon, Bath & North East Somerset, Gloucestershire, South Gloucestershire, North Somerset and Somerset to offer loving homes to children in need.
Since it started life in 2009, Amicus – which has been rated outstanding by Ofsted since it was first inspected – has placed more than 500 young people, a high proportion of whom had already experienced several placement moves before coming to the agency.
Ms Ahmed said: “Andy’s achievement is incredible and we are so proud to have worked with her for the past decade since Amicus was founded.”
Ahmed continued, “She’s right that the need for foster carers is as pressing as ever. Nationwide, some 5,000 fostering families are needed to fulfil the requirement. Hopefully this awareness of Andy’s story can help change some of the common misconceptions about fostering. Andy has shown that it’s a vocation – apart from the lifestyle there’s an allowance paid by agencies to foster carers which would match many salaries. So we hope Andy’s legacy will be to inspire others to try and match what she has achieved over the years.”
Andy received her MBE at Buckingham Palace last March.
Andy, from Keynsham, who worked for independent agency Amicus Foster Care, was given her new award by The Queen at the investiture ceremony last March. She joined hundreds of other extraordinary people from across the UK who were recognised for their achievements in the New Year’s Honours List for 2020.
74-year-old Andy said she wanted to accept the honour on behalf of all foster carers and the valuable work they do. And she called on other potential foster carers to come forward and help address the serious need for people to look after children needing homes.
“Of course I enjoyed the occasion and I’m thrilled to be honoured in this way,” she said. “But at the back of my head is always the reality – I’m no more special than any of the other people who look after foster children. I go to meetings weekly with other foster carers and support groups, and when I listen to what they’ve had to cope with, I’m in awe. “We all do the same thing – it just so happens that I’ve been doing it for a long time and someone’s nominated me.”
On her nomination, she said: “I’m delighted, of course, and it’s particularly nice that one of my sons nominated me. That almost meant more to me than the award itself. And of course receiving the award from The Queen herself made the day extra special. I don’t know how I got chosen, but I did and of course I’m thrilled to bits.”
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