Julia and Alan's story
Julia and Alan are foster carers.
Julia and Alan smiled at the girl in front of them as she excitedly tore open the wrapping paper round her birthday present. But when she got to the blue denim handbag inside, suddenly she burst into tears.
"What's the matter?" Julia asked, putting an arm around the 12-year-old as she sobbed.
At last she stopped crying, looked up and said: "I've never had a birthday present before."
It was a moment that made Julia, 48, feel more certain than ever that she was right to give up her career as a bank manager to become a foster carer with Kent County Council. It was a decision she took partly because she found she was working all day and late into the evening six days a week. But, thanks to friends who had been fostering for 20 years, she had also seen the highs and lows at close quarters and had a really good idea of what fostering was about.
Alan, 52, a self-employed air conditioning salesman, admits he was horrified by the idea at first. The couple have no children of their own and their home at Leybourne, is immaculate. But three years after they completed their training and were approved by a panel, neither of them has any regrets. They have looked after nine children since then – giving the youngsters routine, stability, treats and the chance to talk, run about, laugh and have fun.
"It is just about letting them be children, really," says Julia. "We get a lot out of it – seeing a child repair their relationship with their family, with support from social services, so they can go back home."