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Belfast Trust staff member becomes foster carer

10th April 2019

Karen McGrillen, together with her husband Peter, became a foster carer for the Trust in 2018.

As well as their own three children aged 11, 9 and 6, the McGrillens have a lively four year old dog and are currently foster carers for a 15 month old boy.

Karen, a nurse at the Royal, had always wanted to foster although she can’t pinpoint when it first occurred to her. “I have always wanted to foster. My youngest had started primary one and we had just extended our home which gave us extra room. I suggested the idea of fostering to Peter thinking that he would probably say no. Instead, he replied, ‘Yes, I think we have room in our hearts to love another child’. He was all for it, although perhaps at the beginning of the process he was a bit naïve!

“Jordan (not his real name) has been with us since he was 6 weeks. We had to go back to sleepless nights and he has spent time in hospital too which was difficult. Our employers have both been supportive of our roles as foster carers. We are a good team – we knew we were strong enough in our relationship. The children help out too. All three of them love Jordan, although like any children, they don’t love the occasional baby screaming!

“Our eldest has really taken on a lot of responsibility. I would say our middle child is a little bit more ‘needy’ and needs to know that he is loved. I make time for ‘date days’ with him. Sometimes it’s only half an hour to get an ice-cream alone together, but I would be doing that anyway.”

Karen recalls that the process to becoming a foster care involved exploring her own past and that of her husband. “If I’m honest, the prospect of invasive questions about my life put me off for years. I was anxious about going over the past but the social worker who took us through the process made it so much easier.”

There were a few other barriers for Karen to overcome in her own mind, such as the couple coming from different backgrounds. “The fact that we are a mixed marriage, that our extended family weren’t readily available to help, or that we had a dog – these were some of the things I worried about. But in the end none of these stopped us from becoming approved HSC foster carers.”

When asked about contact with the baby’s birth parents which is part of fostering, Karen is measured and respectful. “We have a good relationship with mum and dad. They are nice people who have just struggled a bit in life. People whose children are fostered sometimes aren’t equipped with the skills to parent. I haven’t walked in their shoes so I don’t judge them.

“I find myself putting my nursing head on. I tell myself this is a professional arrangement. Jordan will eventually be moving on. Harsh as it seems, I hope that our children cope well and that they will move on quickly knowing that we are going to help another child when he is no longer with us.”

If you are interested in finding out more about fostering for Belfast Trust, please visit or call 0800 0720 137.