When Portadown woman Donna Whitten gave up teaching dance after 30 years to become a foster carer, she really was taking a leap of faith.
But more than two years down the line, seeing the difference she has made to one little girl’s life has made it one of the most rewarding things she has ever done.
Donna, who taught hundreds of young girls and boys as head of Donna Whitten School of Dance, was approved for fostering on July 8, 2015, met her foster daughter on the 9th and she moved in the next day.
Said Donna, “She was eight and she had been in quite a number of foster homes before she came to me. She was a very unsettled little girl at the start and had some very challenging behaviour.
“I had been given maximum training and I had 24/7 support but you are never really prepared.
“They don’t trust you at the start, you are just another home. But my daughter Leah was living at home at the time and she got closer to her quicker. I was the disciplinarian.”
Donna admits that after the first three months she was struggling and beginning to doubt her decision but it was some insightful advice from Leah that made her see things more clearly.
“Leah said to me, ‘If that was your own child, you couldn’t pick up the phone and say come and take her’ and that was so true,” said Donna.
Patience and perseverance eventually began to pay off and after about eight months, Donna began to notice a big difference in her foster daughter’s behaviour.
Today, says Donna, she is “brilliant” and very much part of the family. “She got moved up three groups at school, she goes to dancing and singing and she plays netball.
“We have been to Lapland and Florida and last year she was bridesmaid at Leah’s wedding. She loves my mummy and daddy and she hugs me all the time.”
And in February this year, Donna was told that her foster daughter’s short-term placement had been changed to a long-term one meaning that she will be with her until she is 18.
“When I told her she said, ‘Donna, you are going to be my forever home’ and hugged me,” said Donna.
Donna says the shortage of foster carers is acute across the province. She was recently shocked to learn that a 10-year-old boy had to stay in a mental health unit as there was nowhere else for him.
Anyone interested in fostering should phone Foster Care Associates on 028 9076 9310.