When I was two years old, my mum fostered two boys called Norman and Paul Rhodes, When Dad got a job in the Manchester police force, we had to leave them behind with my grandparents.
This is them in the gardens of the house called Woodcoate, in Oswestry, Shropshire. They were beautiful blonde haired boys and I have fond memories of them.
It was 1962, when our family moved as Dad got a job with the Manchester and Salford Police. Mum began working for Social Services and continued until she died aged seventy five in 2010.
I grew up with foster children, it was normal to me. I don’t recall a time when we didn’t have other children. It enabled Mum to be at home with her own four, but more so because she just loved children.
Many of them passed through our door. If I remember correctly, the little boy above was called Ian. The little girl is Susie, and she came to us in sad circumstances at the age of two. She was a long term foster child, as there was no plan in place for her and nobody who could take her. Susie soon became our sister, and we four became five. She is now over fifty, and still part of the family.
This is my mum with her sister Mavis, who later also became a foster mum. You can read more about her here. The photograph above, shows my sister, my cousins and a foster child. This is what Mum and her sister loved – being surrounded by children.
This is me in 1979 with two children, I expect people thought they were mine. In fact, they did one day when I took one of the boys above, and his brother Robert to town one day. Kevin was two and Robert four. We walked round the shops and finally caught the bus home.
I was sitting at the front of the bus, with Kevin on my knee. Robert wandered off toward the door the driver had left open. It was dangerous. I wanted to call him back. I could hear people muttering – What kind of mother is she? Why doesn’t she call him ? There was daggers in my back and their eyes burned a hole in my coat. The reason I didn’t say anything was because I completely forgot what he was called! Luckly, he returned to his seat safely.
Another story was about two sisters whose names I’ve forgotten and were under five years old. Mum organised a birthday party for my eight-year old sister. All the food was in the front room, I was upstairs and apparently, according to Mum, everything went quiet, then I heard her shout Oh no! (or something similar!) I came downstairs and the sisters had gone into the front room and eaten most of the party food!
One little boy was called Elliot and suddenly had a bad odour about him. His breath got worse everyday. When it showed no sign of improving, Mum took him our local hospital. The doctor looked into his mouth and nose and then produced a pair of tweezers and pulled out a long piece of fetid newspaper.
Generally, after a child had left us, we never heard of them again. However, with two of them we saw their names in the newspaper.
One was eighteen month old Leroy, who we christened, Lee-Lee. We loved that child. He was a fighter. He came to us suffering from Rickets, Malutrition and Scabies. Social Services back then always thought the best place for a child was with its mother.
People used to think that he was my dad’s son because they looked alike. I love this photo.
Three times they tried and failed to get him back with his mother, and each time he came back to us.
Lee-Lee eventually thrived and he left us a happy boy. When he left for the final time, Mum saw him holding his mother’s hand walking through town. She couldn’t approach him, even though it had been nine months since he was in her care. He turned and saw her. She knew he recognised her and desperately wanted to go to him. When he held out arm to her, she said it really upset her and she had to go home.
Lee made his way through the care system in the end living in various children’s homes. One day when he was fourteen, he and a friend were playing in a culvert in park and they got into trouble and shouted for help. A passer by when in to try and rescue the boys. He saved one, but he and Lee drowned.
Another sad story was Elliot, he had an unusual surname and thirty years later it was in the newspaper where a 32 year old man with the same name, and the father of two children had been shot dead in a gang killing.
I often wonder what became of the other children we had. If they spent their early years in care, they probably wouldn’t even remember us. They wouldn’t have any photographs of themselves as children, there would be no stories, nothing about their childhood and I find it sad, I can’t share them.
A few years ago I rang Manchester Social Services after watching a programme where a women who had been brought up in care approached them asking for information on herself. She was thrilled to find out where she was and to fill in details of her past. My parent’s files were in an archive, so there was no information available. I agreed to put all my photographs together along with stories about children I could remember in a file and send it electronically. Then if anyone came looking, they would at least know what they looked like as a child.
Some months later, I put the info together, sent it to the email address and it came bouncing back. It seemed she had left and no one was doing her job. I couldn’t get any help or anyone to pick up the phone. So now I have this information and nowhere to pass it on to, which I think is sad.