A GAY couple will become the first in Southend to be allowed to foster children.

Chiefs at Southend Council have revealed the unnamed partners were one of 43 households on the verge of being approved to look after vulnerable youngsters last year.

The move has been welcomed by gay rights campaigners, and veteran fosterers, as an important step on the road to equality.

Barbara Hobbs-Hurrell, 66, and her husband Maurice, 67, of Connaught Gardens, Shoebury, have fostered more than 80 children over the past 36 years.

Mrs Hobbs-Hurrell said: “I think it is a very good move. The world is a changing place and fostering needs to reflect that.

“The most important thing for any fostering couples is that their relationship is a strong one, because the children pick up on that.

“That is what matters.”

A spokesman for Stonewall, the lesbian, gay and bisexual equality charity, added: “This is great news, and we wish the family every success.

“Stonewall fought hard for many years to make sure same-sex couples could adopt and foster children who might otherwise have spent many years in care.

“Hundreds of children are now adopted from care every year by same-sex couples, who provide them with loving homes. Those families deserve society’s full support and respect.”

The Southend couple, believed to be two men, reached the last stage of the application to be considered for fostering between April 2010 and March 2011. The other 42 households consisted of 29 heterosexual couples, ten single women and three single men.

So far 28 couples have been fully approved. However Helen Flinders, the council’s interim head of children’s specialist services, said she was unable to confirm whether the gay couple were among those approved due to confidentiality.

But she said the council did not discriminate against homosexual applicants.

She said: “There is a careful matching of individual children and young people with their carers to ensure placements last for the duration of childhood and adolescence. There are no specific regulations to preclude same-sex couples from fostering or adopting children and young people.”

Under the Adoption and Children Act 2002, the Government cleared the way for same-sex couples to be considered for adoption or fostering if they could demonstrate they had an “enduring family relationship”.