Ahead of Father's Day, Essex County Council is encouraging men to become foster carers, following in the footsteps of one full-time carer from Wickford.

Mike, who is a passionate Southend United fan, has been providing a loving home for vulnerable children for more than two decades.

He has been a primary foster carer since 2005, following the loss of his wife, Kate.

At the time of her passing, they were fostering 10-year-old Tasha.

Mike chose to continue as Tasha’s primary foster carer and raise her alongside his two daughters.

Mike said: "I'm so pleased that I made the decision to continue fostering.

"At the time, Tasha had no family and no one else to turn to."

Mike gave Tasha a place to call home and treated her like a part of his family.

Today, Tasha lives in Wickford with her own family, but she still maintains a close bond with Mike.

Speaking about her time growing up in foster care, Tasha said: "Growing up with the family was lovely, and I had such a strong support network.

"Mike raised me like his own daughter; I don’t call Mike my ‘foster dad’ – he’s my dad.

"To this day, we are one big happy family, and I’m still really close with Mike."

In 2011, Mike turned his part-time role into a full-time job when he started fostering teenage boys.

He says that his role as a single male carer allows him to relate to the boys in his care.

He added: "There is a shortage of carers for this age group, but it works for me as a single male carer – we enjoy going places together, like the football.

"I’m an avid Southend supporter and, when the boys first come to me, they are usually supporters of the bigger clubs.

"But by the time they’ve been living with me for a while, they are hardened Southend supporters!"

Echoing Essex County Council's Father’s Day message, Mike added: "To other men who are considering fostering as a single carer, I’d say go for it: fostering teenagers is so rewarding."

To learn more about fostering. visit essex.gov.uk/foster or call 0800 801 530.