A Burnley mother who has faced the odds to help transform the lives of 22 children is urging more adults to foster.
Mother-of-four Lisa Bannister opened up her heart and home to children in need - even when her husband fell seriously ill.
And now the 51 year-old is backing competition, Inspiring Stories, encouraging children and young people in foster care to share their experiences to spark a new wave of carers.
“It’s the most rewarding and exciting job I’ve ever had,” she said. “It’s made a remarkable difference to children’s lives: they’re more confident, smiling more and are up-to-date with schooling. I think everyone should have a good childhood.”
In the last five years, Lisa has worked tirelessly to provide long and short-term care to youths.
“My husband Graeme has been seriously ill for two years but he helps out when he can,” she said.
“He didn’t want to foster at first because we have children of our own but once he did the training he realised what a difference we could make. It gives him something to live for.”
While fostering has always been her dream, it was during her recovery from an operation that she mustered the determination to go for it, even giving up her own business.
“I used to be a carer for elderly people but I realised I couldn’t carry on with the business as my two first placements were babies. I gave it up but I have no regrets.”
And having struggled herself, Lisa knows that anyone can offer a safe and loving home to a child, no matter their background.
“You don’t have to be perfect or well-off. You just have to love children, be passionate and patient and have a spare bedroom! All children want is love.”
And while life has been tough, Lisa has never felt alone. The family undergoes ongoing training, is supported by a social worker and has access to a 24-hour emergency team.
“Lancashire County Council has been fabulous,” she said. “Some youngsters come with issues but someone has been there for us every step of the way, even offering the children lifts to school. I can’t praise LCC enough.”
There is even a Sons and Daughters Group giving carers’ biological children a chance to talk about their experiences and take part in days out.
“I’d urge anyone to ring LCC. It’s not a hard process,” Lisa said. “It only took me six months.”
And the impact of their work can be seen in their continuing relationship with the children.
“We keep in touch with most of them once they’ve left our home and one of the girls still texts me nearly every night - it’s brilliant.”
And for Lisa, there’s nothing quite like the look on a child’s face when treated to something many of us take for granted.
“The most memorable thing is when we’ve taken them abroad for the first time,” she said. “Seeing their faces light up as they enjoy life and experience things they might never have got to is fantastic.
“It’s why we’ve never looked back.”
You Can Foster’s competition has five age categories, which will be judged by poet Tony Walsh and children’s authors Frank Cottrell-Boyce, Cathy Cassidy, Livi Michael and Dan Worsley.
Entries can be fiction or non-fiction and completed in written or picture form.
Children should submit their stories of no longer than 800 words at www.youcanfoster.org/competition before 5pm on Friday, November 17th.