By Walter Young
'Monday 7th January will mark 10 years since we lost Peter Richardson, a founding director of Team Fostering. Those of us lucky enough to have known and worked with Peter remember him as a funny, passionate and charismatic man who cared deeply about the futures of children and young people.
When Peter, Elaine and I set up Team Fostering in 2001, most Independent Fostering Agencies (IFAs) were operating for-profit, or heading towards doing so. At the time, Peter and I were working for another IFA that was planning to change the way it operated, moving from being a not-for-profit agency to a for-profit one. Peter had previous experience of working in for-profit organisations and recognised the way this changes the focus from what’s best for children to what’s best for shareholders. He helped to persuade me that the only way we could keep doing what we believed in and putting children’s futures before profit would be for us to leave and start our own fostering agency. Together, with a handful of colleagues and foster carers that shared our beliefs, that’s what we did.
We believed in the transformative power of foster care and couldn’t bear the idea of children being exploited for financial gain. In Team Fostering’s early days, Peter and I carried out the home visits together, and it was a joy to hear him speaking with potential foster carers about why children belong in families. We worked from a very small office on the banks of the Tyne, and everyone supported each other through uncertain times as Team Fostering gradually became sustainable and developed its outstanding reputation for quality care.
Team Fostering continued to grow. By 2008 the agency already covered a large part of the North of England. We had managed to recruit excellent foster carers and staff, and no-one could doubt the strength of the ethical nature of Team’s values or how these echoed throughout the agency. These values, still in action, represent Peter’s legacy to looked after children and young people. Not everyone at Team Fostering had the chance to meet Peter, but everyone understands his values because they’re embedded in everything that the agency continues to do.
Across the years we have had to adapt continuously to meet different challenges that come our way, from changes to regulations and local authority requirements to growth in competitors that put profit first. But, children are still children and what they need is still fundamentally the same: caring, loving, skilled families, supported by a committed workforce that knows what they’re doing; staff and carers who believe in putting children’s futures first. Peter would be proud of the way the agency has continued to put children before profit, and this is something the agency will always do.'
In 2010, Team Fostering planted a tree in Peter's memory (pictured below). Douglas Shearer recalls:
'On Tuesday 26th January 2010, shortly after the first anniversary of his death, a tree was planted in Peter’s memory in the grounds of Wallington Hall in Northumberland. At the time this seemed so appropriate for not only was Wallington one of Peter’s favourite places, the estate belonged to the National Trust, and Peter was a long standing National Trust member as well as sitting on the Committee of the Co. Durham Centre of The National Trust. It seemed absolutely fitting that we should choose to plant an oak tree as this remains the emblem of the National Trust.
The crowd that turned out on that very wintery January morning included family, friends, Team Foster Carers and Staff and all will no doubt remember that snow lay on the ground and the temperature was distinctly chilly however we followed the tree planting with very welcome and warming refreshments served in the Clock Tower Tearoom.
I know that I am not the only one who has continued to visit Peter’s tree over the past nine years but if you have not had the opportunity I can tell you, with some pride, that what was little more than a sapling in 2010 is now well-established and developing into a sturdy oak tree. I can see that in not too many years’ time it will have grown into a mighty oak. I can’t help but see an analogy between the tree and the company that Peter and Walter established in 2001 for just as Peter’s tree now has sturdy roots and strong limbs, Team Fostering also continues to develop and flourish; as we grow the tree grows, and I am in no doubt that Peter is looking down on us all with immense pride.'
“It is my hope for the future that all of us; staff, carers and children, will always remember why Team Fostering exists, and that the very special feeling we have of everyone working together as part of a team will always carry on and on.”
- Peter Richardson, 1956 - 2009
When Peter Richardson passed away, Team Fostering set up The Peter Richardson Fund, which is available to pay for opportunities and experiences for children that cannot be paid for by the local authority. Such examples of these have included attendance at stage schools over the holiday period and activities that enhance skills and confidence building, funding school trips, charity or project work, and other activities that may enhance a child or young person's felling of self-worth or self-esteem.
You can read more about it by clicking here: The Peter Richardson Fund