The Coventry family had a really positive experience fostering more than 50 children over the years

By Aideen O'Flaherty

COMING home from school and not knowing which children would be at the dinner table that night was an exciting part of Catherine Coventry’s childhood, as her foster parents offered placements for over 50 foster children over the years.

Bernie and Robert Coventry, from Glenview Lawns in Tallaght, decided to start fostering children after their third child was born in the early 1980s, as they had always wanted a big family and realised that there were other children out there who were in need of a home.

Catherine Coventry 02 1

Catherine and Bernie Coventry

They went to an office for foster carers in Tallaght to explore their options, and then went on a course called Parenting Plus, before being passed a foster child with a view to adoption shortly before Christmas 1984, which marked the start of the Coventrys’ unwavering commitment to fostering.

The couple, who are now 70, retired from fostering three years ago, after fostering over 50 children over the years through a variety of placements, including short-term, long-term, emergency and day fostering.

The Conventrys’ biological children and foster children blended seamlessly and created a tight family unit for the children, no matter how long their stay, with Bernie telling The Echo that her three biological children “were excited about having other children coming in”.

Catherine, 27, who was fostered at six weeks old by the Coventrys in the early 90s and has lived with them ever since, speaks positively about the experience and the strong bonds she has with her six foster siblings.

“Growing up, the house was mad but it was brilliant,” remembered Catherine. “You never knew who you’d be coming in to have dinner with each evening.

“I was never treated any differently to their biological kids, but obviously me and the boys [who’d been fostered] would’ve had our own families that we spent time with.

“I know there’s a lot of people my age who wouldn’t have had a good life, but had a better life in foster homes.

“I never had to worry about anything, even what other people would say. Nothing was ever kept hidden from me about where I came from and the people I came from, which I think was really important.”

While Catherine still has sporadic contact with her biological mother, she calls Bernie Mam and, when she turned 18, she legally changed her surname to Coventry, such was the enormous impact the Coventry family had on her.

“One good family can have an impact,” added Catherine. “If people are considering fostering or wondering how it would impact them, they should know that it would be a positive experience for most people, whether they foster a baby or a teenager.

The positive impact that fostering had on Catherine is clear to see, but it’s not only foster children who can benefit from a safe home – as Bernie and Robert found being foster parents an eye-opening and fulfilling experience.

“For me, it brought home what goes on in other people’s homes,” explained Bernie. “I’m privileged to be able to look after kids, mind them and care for their needs, while some parents find it difficult to do that.

“I just enjoyed the children being here, and seeing them being able to function themselves.

“Some of the children went on to other placements, but I always tried to give them the best I could while they were here, and I hope that stayed with them.”

A variety of placements are available, including short-term, long-term and day fostering, and anyone who is interested will be invited to meet with a social worker where they can ascertain what type of placement would best suit them 

– the basic requirements to foster a child are you need to have space in your life for a foster child, and also a stable and secure home, (rented or owned) where a child can put down roots.

Tusla-Child and Family Agency launched Tusla National Fostering Week 2020, a public awareness campaign running from 12th-18th October aimed at recruiting new foster carers across Ireland. 

The campaign, with a theme of ‘Raising Amazing’, celebrates how Tusla foster carers have positively transformed the lives of vulnerable children and young people, and appeals to others to join with Tusla in helping to provide a child with a safe and loving home environment.

If you are interested in learning more about fostering with Tusla you can visit www.fostering.ie or alternatively can call Tusla fostering information enquiry phone line on FREEPHONE 1800 226 771

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