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Foster care ‘successes’ provide an ongoing inspiration 7

Foster care home for Neil Morrissey

Foster care experience for Neil Morrissey

Introduction.

Foster carers will know today is the final day of the annual Foster Care Fortnight. Devised by The Fostering Network, it looks already like being highly successful in throwing a much-needed focus on fostering here in the UK. In their latest blog they are stressing the urgent need to find more foster carers nationally. Especially people who might have an interest in wanting to foster teenagers and sibling groups. If you are on social media you can follow the campaign using the  hashtags #FCF10 and #changeafuture. 

Visit https://www.thefosteringnetwork.org.uk/advice-information/publications for useful information on fostering.

Foster carers put vulnerable lives back together.

Ask the average person in the street about foster care and what fostering is all about and the likelihood is they will be unclear. This is what the campaign aims to do. To provide some clarity and make far more people understand that we are in the grip of a serious situation in relation to the care of vulnerable children. The need to do this is increasing dramatically. More children are coming into care every day of the week. And there are simply not enough fostering families to cope with the demand. Who exactly might these children be so desperately needing foster parents? The answer is that children of all backgrounds, ethnicities and ages need to be looked after. They might need the support and care of foster carers – even if only for a single night. Alternatively, they might require care for a few weeks, or in some cases, this will be for the whole of their childhood. ‘Staying Put’ provision now means that some young people will remain in foster care past the age of eighteen.

The latest estimates produced by The Fostering Network point toward the need to find just over 8,600 new foster families in the coming year. By far and away the greatest number of children arriving in the care of a local authority, are over ten years old. This means that the skills of foster parents experienced in caring for older children are at a premium. There is all a severe shortage of foster carer with the experience and skill to foster therapeutically where children have complex needs to be catered for.

Why do children need looking after in the first place?

Youngsters will be taken into care for an extremely wide range of reasons. It may be as a consequence of them being neglected. A rising number have experienced sexual or physical abuse. Then there are parents who are found to be addicted to drugs or alcohol – sometimes both – who pose a direct risk to their own children. It may on occasions be the result of a parent becoming ill and unable to look after their child for a short period of time only. In recent years, children and young people have entered the country seeking asylum from unstable parts of the world. Finding people to foster these children can be particularly challenging. This is why considerable efforts are being made to recruit foster parents from ethnic minority groups. They are often better placed with the languages asylum-seeking children speak.

Changing futures; #changeafuture

When a fostering placement works out well, the results can be dramatic for everyone involved. This includes the child in care – but also the foster carers and their own children, if they have them. Several lives can be transformed in positive, and often surprising ways. As the Fostering Network says this is the “transformational power of foster care.”

At the end of this year’s campaign, it will be encouraging to see if it will have improved on the success of last years. This  generated around nine hundred different pieces of valuable coverage in the media. There is a lot of press coverage at the moment highlighting the poverty and vulnerability of far too many children in modern society. Youngsters even arrive in school not having had a proper breakfast. These are not foster children. This is happening in wider society. It does mean that the welfare of children is high on the political agenda, creating awareness amongst the public. It is to be hoped that Foster Care Fortnight will be successful in tapping into the rising general level of concern that is evident. And that this will translate into greater numbers of people applying to foster.

There is an urgent need for foster carers from all corners of society. But there are some great stories out there. It’s important that the public does not perceive fostering as a tragic consequence of social ills. It would be fantastic if no child ever had to come into care. That’s obviously unrealistic. So there will always be a demand for foster parents. What the charities, related organisations, local authorities and independent fostering agencies must work to do, is to remain positive. There are some fantastic stories out there to be told. For some children, being fostered opens the door to love and security that they would not; left in their dysfunctional birth homes, ever be likely to experience. Foster Care Fortnight does a great job and if it always remains a celebration of the accomplishments of our foster carers then we can be optimistic.

Our way, this year, of supporting Foster Care Fortnight is to create this short series of blogs which focus on the lives and amazing careers of people who have been in the care system. They may have grown up in foster homes, care homes or even been adopted. What they all demonstrate is that having hope, drive and ambition means that anything can be achieved – however, disadvantaged an individual’s early life may have been. So we have selected a few people who have definitely impressed themselves on the public’s imagination. All are featured on a list that the poet Lemn Sissay compiled. He was brought up in care himself:

“I have compiled this small list of 100 people from the UK who were fostered adopted or in children’s homes. I have met most of them on my travels.”

As this list includes so many inspirational lives, we will be including others over the coming months. That way we sustain awareness – which is crucial to making sure ordinary people – should they choose to foster – can bring off extraordinary results.

Foster care background: British actor, voice actor, singer and comedian Neil Morrissey.

For millions in the nineteen-nineties, one sitcom on BBC 1 came to define the experiences, hope and aspirations of an entire generation. The genius of the programme was to pitch four ‘thirty-somethings’ together living in an atmosphere of expectant mild sexual tension. If not exactly in the mould of that other iconic and anarchic comedy, ‘The Young Ones’, this series ‘Men Behaving Badly’, captured the life lived in those first few years after college. The casting was perfect, and between the years 1992 to 1998, the characters played by Martin Clunes, Caroline Quentin, Leslie Ash and – our subject – Neil Morrissey drew huge audiences. Gary, Dorothy, Deborah and Tony respectively became people that repulsed and fascinated as they became embroiled in laddish adventures or scams of one sort or another destined to fail. Gary and Tony are the main protagonists living slovenly and faintly misogynistic lives.

What is tempting; and as so often happens with actors, is to believe that in real life Neil resembles the feckless and touchingly naive character of Tony that he played. He was well aware of the danger of being typecast as a comedy actor from the huge exposure the series gave him. But the years have passed and as he says – “there’s a whole generation of people that haven’t got a clue about ‘Men Behaving Badly’ or ‘Bob the Builder’. ‘Bob’ was a character he voiced for a children’s TV series, which also led to him achieving two No 1 singles in the music charts. Neal also voiced other characters in the ‘Bob the Builder’ series – Roley, Farmer Pickles, Mr. Fothergil and Lofty.

It was after he had been in care for six months that his life moved into a new direction. He attended Thistley Hough High School in Penkull An English teacher, Sheila Steele, gave him some advice that proved to be a turning point for Neil. And this was after he had; as he admits been cheeking her:

“She put me against the wall, slapped a script on my chest and and said, ‘You’re in the school play.’ And I loved it so much. Number one, I was getting attention; number two, I was being praised; and number three, I was being occupied.”

It was whilst working for his A-levels at the City of Stoke-on-Trent Sixth Form College that he came to the realisation that the end of his time in care was scheduled to finish at the end of his first year, aged seventeen. This could have derailed both his academic and future acting career. It looked like he would have to give these up and move to a working boys hostel. Fortunately for Neil, this did not happen as a way forward was found through the family of a friend of his, Mark Langston, who became Neil’s foster carer until he turned eighteen.

Proving acting is ‘in the blood’, Neil developed his dramatic skills through his teen years at Stoke Schools Theatre, Stoke Repertory Theatre and Stoke Original Theatre. This led to performances at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 1979. This was followed by an application to the prestigious Guildhall School of Musical and Drama where he was given an unconditional offer of a place. Neil Morrissey arrived with no educational grant and consequently no funds for living. The school assisted him in getting an educational grant and during this period, he and another student began a street act. This was important as it led to them getting an agent which led to him getting the necessary forty hours of bookings meaning he got the all-important actors Equity card. He was than offered the leading role in The Theatre Chipping Norton’s 1982 pantomime production of Robin Hood which resulted in him leaving the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in the first term of his third year. He quickly landed some parts pin theatre and film productions. 1984 was a landmark year as he played the part of Able Seaman Matthew Quintal in ‘The Bounty’ acting alongside a trio of acting and film legends: Laurence Olivier, Anthony Hopkins and Mel Gibson. So even before Neil landed the role in ‘Men Behaving Badly’, he already had experience of working alongside three acting legends.

In more recent times, he is contented that he still gets auditions for serious dramatic roles – and lands them. He appeared in the ITV crime drama ‘Grantchester’. This was followed playing the character Harry Palfrey in ‘The Night Manager’ in an adaptation of the John le Carre produced by the BBC. Some of his other notable acting roles have included Eddie Lawson in ‘Waterloo Road’, Nigel Morton in ‘Line of Duty’ as well as Rocky in ‘Boob’.A very different project involved filming with Bear Grylls in South Africa.

Over the years, he has had the most varied acting career, appearing in plays and television productions. He has also appeared in a number of pantomimes. Its and impressive roll call: the part of Fagin in ’Oliver’ at Palace Theatre in Manchester; and appearance in ‘Skins Pure’; starring alongside Adrian Edmondson, Robert Webb and Miles Jump in ‘Neville’s Island at the Duke of Yorks Theatre in London. He received critical acclaim for his performance in ‘A Passionate Woman’, staged in London’s West End. in 2018, he played the part of Peter Carr in series three of ‘Unforgotten’.

Fame for Neil Morrissey had looked far from inevitable.

Success, famously does not come overnight. And the early life and experiences of Neil Morrissey were far from auspicious. It gave no clue as to the varied and interesting professional acting career that awaited him. His story when it began was far from propitious. Neal Morrissey was born in Stafford and was age third of fours sons. He and his youngest brother Stephen were in separate foster homes during much of their childhood. Most of his time was spent at Penkhull Children’s Home under the jurisdiction and care of Margaret Cartlidge.

When only ten years of age, he was standing alongside his older brother in a courtroom. The two boys had to listen to a magistrate order being read out saying they were to be taken into care. The behaviour of the two boys was judged by Social Services to be putting them at risk. This was despite the fact their Irish Catholic parents were both psychiatric nurses. They were getting into trouble with the police for smashing windows, and also committing acts of burglary. Neil said that they felt loved by their parents but they would go to the pub regularly and failed to supervise Neil and his brother. Neil was very much affected by being placed in care: “That rip from your family home is something that stays with you for ever.” 

Having the right attitude.

Neil’s life and career to date demonstrate just what is possible depending on one’s own individual reaction to their life experiences – whatever they may be. Neil said he had long ago come to terms with the circumstances of his upbringing. He has rejected the idea that his childhood was unhappy and he is not embittered. When asked how he felt about it generally he said: “Just restricted.” And “I made friends with both my parents, but not to the point where I felt any kind of major connection.” It’s clear that his experience of being in foster care has not left him troubled. Neil seems to have a very healthy perspective on those early childhood years and much else that hasn’t always been easy to deal with in his later personal life:

“I don’t blame anybody for my situation. I forgive people for what’s happened in my life, the same as I would like to be forgiven if I’ve ever made a faux-pas. They were genuine mistakes and there was genuine love there.”

Foster Care Fortnight 2019 draws to a close.

The stories we have told over this fortnight have many elements in common. The individuals concerned have shown an indomitable spirit. A resilience and determination combined with a willingness to succeed. In their early lives it is not been at all clear what direction they will follow. But they have ventured forth with a positive attitude. And often it is the very smallest intervention that proves; looking back, to have had a huge significance in shaping the course of their lives. And this can turn on a mere suggestion or act from a person. What might have happened if Neil Morrissey’s teacher had responded to his cheek all those years ago with harsh words and threats. A different person may well have done. Instead, she perhaps saw the possibilities in a youngster that made her put him in a school production. She wasn’t his carer, just someone committed to the idea of teaching and spotting potential.

This will hopefully inspire anyone thinking seriously about fostering. If, by caring for a child, you can help them discover their own potential and that inner spirit we all have, then support them whilst their ideas and ambitions come to fruition, you will have made all the difference to their world…and your own.

Foster with Rainbow – simply make an enquiry today.

It’s entirely up to you to choose what area of foster care you might want to get involved with. We are here to help you make the right choice for you and your family. Emergency, respite, short-term, long-term and permanent placements are only a few examples of the fostering options open to you.

When you foster with Rainbow, you can be confident of being offered a wide selection of different training courses – all, of course, free. You will be expected to attend courses so add to your knowledge and confidence about fostering. We know that confident foster parents are more likely to produce children and young people that are confident and outward looking.

Rainbow wants people to foster: areas we are covering – London, Birmingham, Manchester and Hampshire.

Please contact Rainbow’s Head Office on 020 8427 3355. If the line is busy, make use of our National Line 0330 311 2845. Both numbers will get you through to our recruitment team. Meantime, you can also register your details on our website. We will call back when you tell us it’s convenient. From previous foster care applicant’s we know it can be helpful looking at other pages on our website. Please read

http://rainbowfostering.co.uk/becoming-a-foster-carer/

http://rainbowfostering.co.uk/what-makes-a-foster-carer/

And for general interest: http://rainbowfostering.co.uk/foster-care-kinship-care-sgos/

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