A FOSTER couple from Camelsdale have told of the hundreds of children they have encountered throughout the decades.
Pauline and Roger Fitter, aged 81 and 86, have fostered more than 600 children throughout West Sussex, as well as having four children of their own.
Pauline said: “We don’t know the exact number but it is more than 600.
“We did count up to 500 – when we thought we were almost finished – and then worked towards 600 but stopped counting.”
Children fostered by Pauline and Roger have come from all across West Sussex, and the couple have also provided a port of call for airports dealing with unaccompanied minors and working alongside the Chernobyl Children’s Lifeline charity, welcoming children from Belarus for recuperative stays in the UK.
Pauline said: “People used to say ‘are they from Tower Hamlets’ because in the 60s it had a bad reputation.
“Nobody ever thought for a minute children could come from beautiful, leafy Sussex – but it makes no difference, children and families get into trouble anywhere.”
And while the couple admitted not all children fostered stay in touch – that is down to the new parents who adopt the children later – their memory lives on through plenty of pictures in the house.
Hanging in the front room of their home is a collection of photographs from children who had visited the couple most recently.
Pauline said: “Every time I have a new child and a new photo, the picture that has been there the longest goes into our photo albums.
“Occasionally, someone just turns up and they like to see they are still remembered.
“And when the children are here living with us, they know they are important enough to be put on the wall.”
The couple now have six photo albums spanning 56 years of children.
And there are plenty they will never forget – including twin boys.
“The 13-year-old twins stayed with us until they were 17,” Pauline said.
“One of them went off to Australia and got married out there, and sent us a video of the wedding at Sydney harbour.
“And the other one used to phone us out of the blue and say ‘I’m standing guarding this hole why my foreman goes to get the lights’ – he worked for a construction company.
“He would then just tell me what his two daughters were doing at school and just say ‘I’m doing all right, aren’t I?’ He still needed that reassurance.”
And on the impact of children in the home, Pauline said the couple try to make a difference to all those visiting.
She said: “You can’t win them all, sadly. We have had more successes than failures, because otherwise we wouldn’t have done it for so long.
“I think almost all the children know how to push your buttons, because whatever the reason they have come into care, at the very least they have been taken away from their home or their parents.
“They know not to trust, so they push and push to see whether you are going to stick with them.
“I’ve told a lot of new foster carers to not take it personally, because they’ll scream and shout and tell you they hate you, but it is not you they hate really.”
Pauline has had a passion for working with children from a young age, leaving school at 15 to start her nursery nurses training course. She also helped to open what is now Camelsdale Preschool in 1968, and was a Guide leader from 1988 to 2008. Roger worked as a forester and was chairman of the Camelsdale Scout group.
While the couple’s time as foster carers has come to a close, they urged those with an interest to contact their local authority and register an interest in fostering.
“If anyone thought they might be able to do it, then they should make an enquiry – a lot of people could, but do not think they can,” they said.