A COUPLE who have been changing lives for foster children for a decade have spoken about the joy it brings.

With up to 500 children expected to come into care in Essex this year, South Essex foster parents Paul Ilett and his husband Gerry Murnane are pushing for new foster carers to come forward and help change the lives of foster children across the area, alongside Essex County Council.

Currently, Paul and Gerry have one 17-year-old foster child together who they’ve been with for seven years, but they have had more than 30 children in their care since they began fostering 14 years ago.

During this time, the pair have seen first-hand how welcoming a child into your hearts and home and can turn a young person’s life around, and how rewarding it can be.

Paul said: “One girl didn’t like physical contact at all and there wasn’t any reason for it. I remember it was my birthday and she just walked up to me, gave me a hug and said she loved me.

“It was an incredibly emotional moment, and one of the many occasions that confirmed we’d made the right decision to foster.”

With both Paul and Gerry coming from big families, having children in their own lives seemed the logical step.

Gerry added: “One of our foster children has been with us for seven years. She’s now 17 and is at college.

“From our perspective, it’s been fantastic having a child with us for that length of time and we have been able to provide her with a stable loving home.

“We put a big emphasis on her education because we could tell she had the capacity to do really well. We are so proud of her.”

Foster parents are needed on a full and part-time basis for either short or long-term placements.

They can be single, married, from a same-sex family or retired. There is also an active network of support groups that provides opportunities to meet and learn from other foster carers.

To foster you need to be over 21 and have a spare room. Councillor Louise McKinlay, cabinet member for children and families, said: “Fostering children and giving them a loving home dramatically changes young lives for the better.

“New homes are desperately needed on an ongoing basis so that children can have the childhood they deserve.

“All our foster carers are very well supported through training and their own social workers and the fees paid to them enable foster carers to follow their passion and make a real difference to a young person’s life.”

For more information about fostering, call 0800 801 530, or visit Essexadoptionandfostering.co.uk/fostering/events to find out about attending an information event.

Social workers and foster carers will also be on hand.